Kid Icarus: Uprising is one of the best Nintendo games ever created. It is the best game to have come out of the company in a very long time now, the best game on the 3DS, and it is almost certainly the greatest handheld game ever created. According to Nintendo, when they started development on Uprising, their aim was to create a game that would be the definitive must own title for the system. If that was the case, they have succeeded beyond reasonable expectation. Kid Icarus: Uprising shall forever be known as the single game that shall define the 3DS, to the extent that the game and the system will become synonymous with each other, like Super Mario 64 and the N64, like Super Smash Bros Melee and the Gamecube, like Wii Sports and the Wii.
But before we move on any further, let’s just stop, right here, right now. I am not going to say the game is perfect. It’s not, it has a few problems that almost certainly hold it back, and problems that I hope will be addressed in the inevitable sequel. However, these problems, individually OR cumulatively, do nothing whatsoever to diminish the experience, nothing at all. In the interests of fairness, however, I believe that I should go ahead and list them out for you.
The big one that you’ve probably been hearing is the game’s control scheme. It’s been under a lot of scrutiny, and you’ve probably heard that it’s asymmetrical. Let’s put that notion to rest: the control scheme isn’t as difficult as it is unusual. You will, after a few minutes’ worth of experimenting, almost definitely come to terms with it, and assuming that you don’t, one slight glance at the options menu will likely overwhelm you as to the sheer wealth of customization options on offer. You’ll be allowed to remap camera control, shooting, movement, camera sensitivity on the Y axis, camera sensitivity on the X axis, and more. Seriously, some experimenting and a little time is all you will need. The controls might seem unusual at first, but they should not be a problem at all. Assuming you’re left handed, and all the offered schemes just flat out don’t feel right, the Circle Pad Pro is supported, and will offer a lefty specific control scheme, so they’ve got that covered too.
What else is there that this game does wrong? Actually, nothing. Yes, there are a few platforming sections that feel loose due to the nature and structuring of the game’s movement controls. There are a few vehicle sections that feel redundant. And the AR Cards mode, while heavily advertised, is literally nothing but eye candy, that adds almost nothing to the game from a gameplay perspective.
But that’s it. That’s all this game does less than perfectly well.
Everything else? Well, on to that.
Let’s start at the beginning. For those of you who are uninitiated- and that means pretty much all of you, especially considering that the last Kid Icarus game was released twenty one years ago, and it didn’t even see a worldwide release- Uprising is the third installment in a long forgotten Nintendo series that is loosely based on Greek myths. The original NES game told the story of Pit, a wingless angel, and his quest to save the world. The game was renowned for being tooth shatteringly hard, and for its famed vertical platforming.
The new game is almost nothing like the old game. Whereas it continues the story twenty five years after the NES game, and has the same characters, everything, from the focus of the story, to the gameplay, to the way the game handles difficulty, to hell, even the genre of the game itself- has changed. Uprising plays as equal parts on rails shooter in the spirit of classics such as Star Fox, Sin and Punishment and, Panzer Dragoon, and equal parts third person shooter (the latter being like really nothing else in its genre).
Every chapter in Kid Icarus- and there are a lot of chapters- starts with a five minute long on rails section, as Pit flies through the skies and takes down forces of the Underworld armies. The game explains this as Pit finally having been given the gift of flight by Lady Paletuna. However, since he can’t really fly himself, his passage through the skies has to be directly controlled by Paletuna, leaving Pit free to shoot. These on rails sections are breathtaking, and fast paced and frantic. The screen literally swells with waves upon waves of enemies, and taking them down one by one can feel incredibly satisfying.
The on rails sections are where the game’s controls really shine. The touch screen provides unparalleled accuracy that really cannot be achieved using analog sticks, and it is easy to see, based only on these portions at least, why the decision was made to make this game for the 3DS. Frantically circling around the screen and taking down enemies one by one yields lots of hearts (the game’s currency- more on this later), and provides for some genuinely exhilarating thrills.
After five minutes, Pit lands on to the ground, and takes the action directly to the streets. The game controls petty much as it did in the air, with some minor changes. You are now directly in charge of Pit’s movement as well as the camera control, so that’s one more thing you need to keep in mind as you make your way through the waves of enemies. On the ground, Pit can dodge attacks, charge straight at the enemy, or do backflips and sideflips while attacking to dodge enemy fire. Any of these maneuvers is achieved by just flicking the analog slider in the desired direction- a la ‘smashing’ in Super Smash Bros.
Ground combat also allows for close range melee combat. Whereas you automatically shoot at any enemies in the distance, if you’re in close quarters with them, Pit automatically switches to melee attacks. Melee attacks are important to keep to consider, because several enemies can only be defeated in this manner, being completely impervious to ranged shots. Of course, in several cases, you might find yourself screwed, because your weapon might not exactly be cut out for melee.
This brings me to the next point- the sheer, staggering amount of weapons the game offers. There are nine different types of weapons that Kid Icarus offers, from cannons to bows, from orbitars to bows, and clubs and palms and everything in between. Some of these weapon classes are more suited to close range combat- like clubs- while others are great for ranged combat, but fail at melee- like bows.
Adding more layers to all of this is the fact that individual weapons in given categories act differently. Whereas generally clubs might not be the most effective weapons for ranged combat, a particular club might have a great range rating (denoted by stars) in addition to its inherent great melee rating. Then, every individual weapon has extra enhancements and bonuses- HP bonuses, speed, range, attack, defense, status, rate of fire, resistance to magic, and so on and so forth. It can get overwhelmingly mind boggling.
In general, the overall effectiveness of a weapon is denoted by its Rating number. The higher the rating, the better the weapon. Getting higher powered weapons becomes necessary to play in the game’s multiplayer modes competitively, and to clear out chapters on higher difficulties. However, getting higher powered weapons is contingent on playing chapters on higher difficulties in the first place. And this brings me to the game’s novel difficulty system.
Unlike other recent Nintendo games, which focus entirely on being accessible to everyone by providing one, easy difficulty level, Uprising offers the player a staggering ninety difficulty levels, denoted by the range 0.0-9.0. The standard difficulty level is 2.0. To play at a higher difficulty, you must ‘bet’ some of the hearts you have earned to ‘buy’ your way into a higher difficulty. Higher difficulty levels will have more enemies, but with higher heart yields, and better weapons dropped. They will also open up some exclusive and secret hidden areas, with some treasure and loot otherwise inaccessible. However, if you die even once when playing on a higher difficulty, you ‘lose the bet,’ therefore losing the hearts you had paid, and are knocked back down to a lower difficulty level. Any weapons and loot you might have earned are also downgraded.
Conversely, to play on a lower difficulty level than the standard 2.0, you have to ‘pay’ the game to open them up for you. It is almost impossible to die at lower difficulties. The game more or less plays itself for you, and it’s a good way for casual players who are only interested in seeing the game through to its end to play without any of the stress associated with the higher difficulties. However, the heart yield on lower difficulties is significantly low, and any weapons and loot you earn are mostly worthless.
Hearts are not just needed to buy difficulty levels. They can also be used to buy more weapons. Whereas the weapons that the game’s weapon store offers are not always the most powerful, they are almost always incredibly useful in weapon fusion. Weapon fusion has you fusing two individual weapons you own into a new kind of weapon. The new weapon might be more, less, or equally powerful than the ones you are fusing- the game lets you know- but it will almost always be of a different class, and this brings new questions to the table. For a player who likes playing with blades, is it worth it to fuse a slightly less powerful blade into a slightly more powerful club, especially given that he does not like clubs at all?
Success in Kid Icarus is contingent not only on your weapons, but also on powers. The game bestows Pit with powers, which include everything from the ability to jump (don’t ask) to setting off a minor explosion, to becoming a phantom so all attacks pass through you, and so on. Powers are denoted by their levels, and you’re supposed to pack them in at the beginning of every level in a manner vaguely reminiscent of Tetris (down to the same shapes). You’ll get better and higher leveled powers at higher difficulties, and vice versa.
Pretty much all of this- your weapon class and type, your weapon effectiveness, your powers- will come into play in the game’s excellent multiplayer mode, which basically plays like Smash Bros. in 3D. There are two modes- a Free For All deathmatch, that is exactly what it sounds like, and a much more interesting Light vs Dark mode, where players are split into groups of three and have to take the other team down. Each team has a collective Team HP meter, and the better, higher rated the weapon that you carry, the more HP the team loses as a whole each time you die. Once the Team HP meter is down to zero, the last person to have died becomes the angel for their team, a VIP that the rest of the team has to protect from dying. It’s incredibly chaotic, and when items are thrown into the mix, it’s veritably anarchy.
Multiplayer modes are offered both locally and online, and there is absolutely no lag in both instances. If you’re playing locally, then you have the ability to fill in empty player slots with bots, meaning that you could theoretically play the multiplayer modes all by yourself. In a baffling omission, multiplayer does not allow players to select the map, and instead randomly cycles through maps itself. All the maps are well amde and well balanced, though, so it isn’t as much of a problem as it should be.
Uprising is staggering not only in terms of the amount of content and options it offers, but also in how well made it is. Visually speaking, this is the best looking 3DS game yet bar none. Screenshots and videos don’t do it justice, this game has to be seen to be believed. It is also perhaps the first 3DS game ever to benefit visually from the inclusion of 3D, in that the game looks noticeably worse when the 3D is turned off. The graphics are gorgeous, the environments jaw dropping, especially in terms of their scale, the sheer number of enemies and explosions on screen epilepsy inducing. Graphically speaking, Kid Icarus is flat out one of the best looking handheld games ever created.
The great graphics are accompanied by an excellent soundtrack, and, in a rare departure from the norm for Nintendo games, great voice acting. Kid Icarus: Uprising is a Nintendo game that has a genuinely interesting story to tell, and yet, it is also a game that fails to take itself seriously completely. The characters and the dialog in the game are consistently hilarious and cheesy, and they know it and play on it, constantly breaking the fourth wall, referring to the fact that they are characters in a game, referring to enemies as bosses and minobosses, referring to real world events such as the economic recession, and the overuse of the cliche ‘Dark Lord,’ referring to objects that appeared in the NES original, and the new game as well by pointing out how they item looks less pixelated than they remember… this is some Portal level humor right here folks, and the dialog in this game is not to be missed.
The story itself is genuinely interesting and suitably epic, though it takes a lot of liberties with its source material. It takes a lot of unexpected terms, it build its characters very well, and fools you into thinking it’s about to end at least twice, both times revealing that it’s not even anywhere close to the end yet. It’s a story focused game done with typical Nintendo style, and we seriously need more games like this coming from the publisher.
Great graphics, great music, great story and voice acting, great dialog, excellent gameplay, insane replayibility, incredible depth and a wealth of options… is there anything Kid Icarus does wrong? Maybe the rare platforming sections in the game could have been handled better. And the vehicles could have been better thought out (thankfully, they don’t appear all that often). But that’s it. The controls are unusual, but they become second nature once you get used to them and find your own desired settings, the game offers a wide range of options and modes, and it pretty much utilizes every trick the 3DS has under its belt. As far as killer apps go, Kid Icarus is practically the definition.
It is a game that is as good as the best of the best ever produced by Nintendo. Possibly the greatest handheld game ever created, and another Nintendo series boldly taking the transition into 3D triumphantly. It’s fully recommended to everyone without hesitation.
Nintendo now has another major series to sit alongside the likes of Mario, Metroid, Zelda, and Pokemon.
This game was reviewed on the Nintendo 3DS.
Incredible graphics, intense gameplay, insane depth, wonderful music, great dialog and voice acting, a nice story that is also genuinely funny, wonderful online and offline modes, lots of variety in terms of options, gameplay, customization, and depth; best use of 3D in a 3DS game yet
Controls take some getting used to, platforming and vehicle sections slightly weaker than the rest of the game, some modes like the AR mode just feel tacked on
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