Kid Icarus: Uprising is a straight sequel to the original Kid Icarus. He is the angelic servant of the goddess Palutena, a vague reference to the Greek goddess Athena, but not in a particularly recognizable way. Palutena sends Pit off to battle the forces of the Underworld, led by the evil Medusa who seeks revenge of Palutena for turning her into a monster. It is pretty much the same plot as the original game, only with more flair and polish.
The plot is crazy in all the right ways. The first quarter of the game seems like a straightforward, if silly, remake of the original game. You fight the old bosses, collect sacred treasures, and fight Medusa. Then things go crazy, but it isn't fair to spoil it for players. The game keeps topping itself in a way that would make Hideo Kojima proud, but it never feels out of place.
Kid Icarus is one of the most charming and funny games that I've ever played. The dialogue is snappy and silly and comes so frequently that there is never a dull moment. The interplay between the characters is frequently amusing and often laugh-out-loud funny. There's a certain meta-humor to the game, where everyone involved is aware that they're in a video game, and that helps temper the moments when it tries to do something serious. There are few things funnier than seeing a villain who rants about terrible and selfish humans as he storms off in a huff. The G-rated dialogue may seem a tad hokey, but it is quickly apparent that the game wouldn't be the same without it.
The gameplay consists of air battles and ground battles. The air battles are rail shooter segments, not unlike Star Fox. Pit soars through the air, blasting bad guys with a wide assortment of weapons. Due to magical limitations, Pit can only fly for about five minutes before his wings catch on fire and burn up, so each rail segment is about five minutes long. You move with the Circle Pad and aim the reticle with the touch-screen. These controls can be adjusted to use the ABXY buttons or the d-pad to aim, but neither has the fine control of the touch-screen. Your weapon fires using the L button, and holding it down fires a steady stream of shots. Don't fire for a bit, and Pit charges up a Charge Shot, which does more damage and has special effects. You can also earn Special Attacks, which are basically screen-clearing bombs, by defeating enemies. Enemies who get up close can also be attacked with a melee attack, which does far more damage than a ranged one.
By far, the controls are the biggest barrier to enjoying Kid Icarus: Uprising. In air battles, it's incredibly easy for your hand to grow tired from the awkward way that you need to hold the system. Oddly, Nintendo's solution was to include a stand on which to rest the 3DS so you can play without having to hold it. To Nintendo credit, this works — but it shouldn't be necessary, especially for a portable game. It is to the game's credit that it remains incredibly fun despite being physically uncomfortable to play. I understand that Nintendo wanted to offer the option to control Pit and his gun separately for better aiming in the rail segments, but it needs a different control method. If Kid Icarus had been a Wii game, there would be no complaints. It almost seems that the game had been designed with the Wiimote and Nunchuk in mind.
The ground battles are where things start getting iffy. You move in three dimensions and aim and shoot as you would in a first-person shooter. Your weapons function a bit differently on the ground. There's an increased emphasis on the melee capability of your weapons. With claws and clubs, you can get close to perform combo attacks, which you can rarely do in air battles. Likewise, the range of weapons is a much bigger deal, and dodging comes into play. Pit can dodge attacks by flicking the analog nub in a direction (or by double-tapping if you're using a button-based control scheme). Depending on the direction of your dodge, you'll avoid attacks and possibly use special dodge attacks. These are powerful and sometimes have special effects, such as functioning as a shield against projectiles. On top of that, Kid Icarus borrows from Metroid: Other M in that performing a dodge just as you're about to take damage results in an invincible dodge and you'll charge your weapon faster. The difference is that you can't spam this as you could in Other M. The window of time is smaller, and Pit gets tired and is unable to dodge if you do it too often.
So why is this iffy? There is no good method of camera control. Your choices are limited to either awkwardly panning around the room using the ABXY buttons or "flicking" the screen with the touch-screen to rotate the camera, and neither is particularly acceptable. There are countless times when you'll take damage because you're fighting to get the camera to point at an enemy. While the game offers a flashing warning about where attacks are coming from, this shouldn't be necessary. The camera issues could have been handled in a number of ways. A lock-on feature while on the ground would have done wonders. You could allow the player to use the optional Circle Pad Pro attachment to give the game regular shooter controls. Inexplicably, the Circle Pad is supported, but only for optional left-handed analog support. They could have used pre-defined camera angles like God of War to get around the lack of fine camera control. It is possible to adjust to the controls, but it shouldn't be necessary. It was over halfway through the game before I adjusted to the awkward control scheme. Once I did, I was able to play the game just fine, but a lot of people are likely to give up in frustration long before they reach that point.
The second problem comes up when the game tries precision platforming. Any segment where you are forced to fight on a small platform that doesn't have a barrier is absolute hell. Any attempt to move quickly around is inevitably going to cause Pit to dodge. This, in turn, means Pit is going to dodge right off the side of the cliff, lava pit, etc. Fighting with the camera and the dodge controls is inexcusable and renders some parts of the game almost unplayable. The only reason it doesn't ruin the game is that there are about three very short segments that demand it. Those segments are easily the worst parts of the game, but at least they're over quickly.
It's a shame about the controls because the rest of Kid Icarus is a boatload of fun. As for weapons, Kid Icarus has an arsenal that would put most shooters to shame. Weapons come in a huge variety of types, each with distinct attributes. Claws are very close-range weapons, but they can perform five-hit melee combos. Clubs are slow but can attack with immense power and huge distances, and they even function as a shield. The Dynamo Cannon has a charge attack that leaves behind an electric orb that damages anything around it for a period of time. The Brawler Gloves let you move faster on ground so you can get closer to enemies. Each weapon also has passive stat boosts that are unique to that version of the weapon. You may find two different Dynamo Cannons, each with distinct bonuses, such as increased range, better charge attacks, more damage, etc. You can fuse weapons together to form new weapons, and those new weapons carry some passive boosts from earlier weapons. You can spend hours finding and creating the perfect weapon for Pit.
You can also find special powers for Pit. These powers come in the form of Tetris-like blocks, which you equip on a grid. You can rotate the blocks and place them. The more you place, the more powers that Pit can access in ground battles. Powers range from self-healing buffs to an automatic lock-on of enemies to a gigantic screen-filling mega laser that does an insane amount of damage. You can even find simple items, such as a Sky Jump, which lets Pit hop. It sounds simple, but you can use it to bypass entire sections of a level.
Your weapons and powers can be taken online to battle against other players. This comes in the form of two ground battle competitive modes. Light vs. Dark is basically team deathmatch. Both sides battle in an arena using their weapons and powers. Each time a team member dies, the team's health gauge lowers. The last player to die turns into either Pit or Dark Pit and becomes a lot more powerful. Once Pit dies, however, that team loses. Your weapon's value, determined by the sum of its stats and boosts, determines how much life your team loses when you die. You can bring a completely ridiculous weapon into multiplayer, but if you're no good at staying alive, you'd lose faster than if you had a weaker weapon. The other mode, Free-For-All, is exactly what it sounds like.
I was surprised at how well the multiplayer modes played. There was very little lag or slowdown and had an easy time blasting everything without feeling hindered by the netcode. Alas, the same complaints about ground battles in the single-player portion carry over to multiplayer. The controls are awkward, and fighting with the camera is a common problem. If anything, it becomes worse when you're fighting a real human player who doesn't move in a predictable pattern. At least the handicap is universal.
Beyond the multiplayer and the 20+ single-player levels, Kid Icarus is packed to the brim with content. There are three distinct "trophy rooms," like Super Smash Bros. Brawl, which have a ton of achievements for you to finish. Completing achievements earns you collectable music, trophies, and even new weapons and powers. There are idols to find, which can be viewed using the 3DS AR feature and are much like the trophies from Smash Bros. The levels have hidden rooms and areas to discover. There is also an Intensity feature, which lets you pump the difficulty up and unlocks new places.
Each copy of Kid Icarus also includes a pack of AR cards, which can be read using the 3DS camera. Point the camera at a card, and you get a little 3-D image of the character and unlock that character's idol in your copy of the game. You can even point two cards at each other and watch them fight in a mini-RPG battle. There's no gameplay to these battles. The winner and loser are decided from the moment the fight starts, and there's no way to alter the card's stats. It's a fun diversion if you have a friend with a set of cards. Each copy comes with a few cards, but Nintendo plans to add more.
Kid Icarus: Uprising is the best-looking game on the 3DS system. Every single moment is an absolute joy to watch. The characters are vivid and brightly animated, and the air battle sequences are jaw-dropping. If I had one complaint, it would be that the ground battles are less exciting than the impressive air battles. The 3-D effects are top-notch and actually beneficial to the gameplay. It's easier to keep track of Pit and the bullets swarming toward him amid the busy backgrounds with the 3-D pumped up. The soundtrack is beautiful, featuring everything from twangy guitars to exciting orchestras. The voice actors do a fantastic job with the material. In particular, Goddess Palutena (voiced by Ali Hillis, known for Liara T'soni and Lightning) hits the right mix of cheerful and ditzy to be likeable at all times. The voice acting ratchets up the game from fun to an absolute delight.
Kid Icarus: Uprising is close to being one of Nintendo's best. It is exciting, funny, and packed to the brim with content and style. Unfortunately, it is held back by an awkward control scheme. In order to enjoy Kid Icarus: Uprising, you have to give the game the benefit of the doubt and work with its flaws and foibles until you are comfortable with them. Considering that Nintendo games pride themselves on their pick-up-and-play accessibility, this may not be something many gamers are willing to do. While it pays off, you'll have to put in a lot of time to make it pay off. If you do, you'll find a game that is abundant with everything that makes Nintendo games great. It's unfortunate that the price of entry is so steep.
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