Kid Icarus: Uprising - 3DS
I’ve long thought that one of the biggest gaming mysteries is why Nintendo chose to abandon Kid Icarus. After debuting on the NES more than two decades ago (and its Game Boy sequel), he was essentially tossed on the same pile as Urban Champion and Wrecking Crew. That decision always baffled me, since I considered the game one of the high points of the 8-bit era. Sure, it was maddeningly difficult and unforgiving, but it had a certain charm to it that made me crave more. Pit’s appearance in Super Smash Bros. Brawl gave the series’ remaining fans a glimmer of hope that our hero hadn’t completely flamed out. With Kid Icarus: Uprising, we finally get to see how he stacks up against contemporary offerings. The result? Pit flaps his wings to stay aloft as best he can, but he’s facing bigger issues than Medusa.
Many of the game’s enemies and locations are updated versions of Kid Icarus’ familiar (and otherwise) foes. Eggplant Wizard is back, though to my relief he won’t have you running in search of a cure for eggplantism. It’s a great blast of nostalgia, especially when coupled with the excellent score, which takes some of the game’s classic themes and twists them in unexpected directions. Pit was something of a cipher in the original, and here he’s fully fleshed out as a plucky optimist. I thought he was obnoxious at first, but his enthusiastic approach and humor grew on me over the course of our adventure.
With Uprising, Pit’s adventures are split into two different gameplay types: sky and land battles. In the sky missions, Pit’s mentor Palutena grants pit the temporary gift of flight and takes control of his path in rail-shooting segments. These are brief, which Palutena attributes to a five-minute limitation. Any longer, and his wings will catch fire and he’ll plummet to the Earth. That’s too bad, considering these are definitely the game’s strongest portions.
Kid Icarus veterans looking for a challenge will definitely find it in Uprising. Unfortunately, however, the game’s most trying aspect doesn’t have anything to do with Eggplant Wizards or frustrating one-hit kills. I almost begged off this review entirely at first, thanks to the physical discomfort the game’s stylus-heavy control scheme provided. When Pit’s airborne, things are fine; the meat of these rail-shooter sections is based on firing willy-nilly at everything that moves, targeting foes with the stylus, shooting with the left bumper, and darting away from enemy fire with the circle pad. When things go off the rails, well, they do.
The game’s inputs stay the same when Pit puts his sandals to the ground, even though the gameplay becomes significantly more complex. While you can continue to hold down on the bumper for a stream of rapid-fire attacks, they generally aren’t as effective as charged shots. The act of pressing the bumper button repeatedly while darting through groups of enemies with the circle pad, and wielding the stylus to both target enemies and shift the camera is a painful exercise that skirts becoming an outright OSHA violation. Don’t think that Uprising’s Circle Pad Pro support will save the day, either – it only provides relief for lefties.
I originally scoffed when Nintendo revealed that a little plastic 3DS stand was bundled with the game. After tinkering with various control configurations and hand positions, using the stand was the only way to tone down the game from being excruciating to play to merely uncomfortable. It does cut down on the game’s portability, but it’ll probably save people money on ice packs and splints.
The horrible controls get in the way of what’s actually a really good game. As Pit defeats enemies and explores areas, he gains a variety of new weapons. These can be fused with one another between chapters, creating newer and more powerful weapons. Some, like fists, are better at melee encounters, while rail cannons and bows excel at long-range combat. I’m a collector at heart, and I got a kick out of merging the weapons. Pit also earns new abilities, such as minor health recharges and homing-shot improvements, which are arranged in a Tetris-like box, challenging players to think a bit as they maximize their loadouts.
The hearts that Pit collects along his journey are also the center of the game’s clever economy. Pit can exchange them for new items at the store. There’s a slick difficulty system at play, where you can slide the difficulty up by wagering more hearts. If you manage to blast through a chapter without dying, you can score additional hearts for your efforts. If you die, however, you lose the hearts you bet, and difficulty automatically slides down. Some doors are blocked unless you’re playing at harder settings, and the best weapons won’t drop. It’s an addicting case of risk/reward game design that gave me a little pause before starting most of the levels.
Multiplayer supports up to six players, either locally or online in team-based or free-for-all matches. You can enter matches with gear that you’ve acquired in the campaign, but don’t assume that means you’ll be unstoppable. The higher the value of your gear, the more points your opponents will earn for taking you out. Multiplayer is a fun way to get together with friends, but the emphasis on melee encounters (which require mashing the attack button) means you’ll see a lot of wrist-rubbing between rounds.
Kid Icarus: Uprising is a series of good ideas that ultimately suffer from its poor controls. There’s a lot to do in the game, and more importantly, I felt compelled to do all of it. As the credits rolled I looked back fondly at the experience, as my hand throbbed along with the music. I’m looking forward to doing more with Pit in the future, just not like this.