To say that the Kid Icarus franchise has been on the backburner for a while would be an understatement. With only two titles forming its series before 2012, featuring the original NES classic and Of Myths and Monsters for the Game Boy, the angelic adventures of Pit have been on hold for 20 years for us Europeans, and even longer in the US and Japan. With such a long period of absence, the series now faces the challenge that Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Metroid Prime all faced over a decade ago in translating the games into the polygonal 3D realm. Helmed by Super Smash Bros. creator (and Pit revivalist) Masahiro Sakurai, the series may as well be considered a reboot for what he and the development team at Sora deliver in Kid Icarus Uprising is a complete overhaul of the original platformers.
The main story of the game follows Pit, an angel in the service of the Goddess Palutena and his quest to defeat the evil Medusa, who has been revived after being defeated in the original as is the way with all great Nintendo villains. For most of the playtime Pit and Palutena, along with any allies or enemies, banter throughout each chapter. For those fearing another Metroid Other M where characters mope around throughout need not worry, for the game is much more light-hearted. The game is both charming and funny, with a script that is both cheesy and self-aware. Like a Hideo Kojima or a Suda 51 title, the characters aren’t afraid of reminding you of the fact that it is a game that you’re playing, with with the fourth wall being broken a lot and humourous references to other titles. As the game progresses, the story becomes more convoluted and absurd yet the game’s levity and humour still make it fun to its conclusion.
The game is progressed through a strict chapter structure, each of which is split into three parts. Possessing a limited power of flight, controlling Pit at the start of a mission is limited to an on-rails shooter almost like Starfox or Sin and Punishment. The player is free to move Pit around to avoid enemy attacks as he shoots and melees his way through them. During these sections the majority of enemies are defeated using your main weapon, although there are two power orbs which act as bomb type devices which can clear the entire screen of enemies.
After the initial flying stage of a mission, Pit lands and traverses the rest of the area on foot. For the most part, these areas are fairly linear and a waypoint marker shows the route in which the player must go to advance the story. On the ground, the player can manoeuvre Pit with much greater freedom while in combat as he can roll out of the way of enemy attacks, and several enemies require you to get behind them in order to attack their weakpoints. There are also a greater amount of magic powers to use while on the ground as well, which allows players to be more strategic when dealing with a room full of particularly difficult foes.
Once Pit reaches his destination, a boss battle begins. For the most part, bosses don’t have a particular weakpoint and it’s possible to chip away at their health as you dodge their various attacks. On the default difficulty the bosses are quite easy to deal with as their health tends to be pretty low, but on the higher difficulty levels they become more aggressive in addition to increased health.
Even with the lengthy campaign begin more than satisfying enough by itself, there is significant reason to revisit the story mode as each chapter can be revisited on various other difficulties. When exploring locations on the ground, certain areas may also be locked off if the difficulty you’re playing on is lower than the threshold. These extra areas contain extra rewards for clearing out more difficult enemy types. There are an insane 90 difficulty settings which encourage the player to slowly increase the challenge for themselves, beating the various stages on the highest difficulty they possibly can.
However, there is a risk for raising the difficulty as you need to bet a certain amount of hearts, the game’s currency, to raise the difficulty, although the potential rewards for completion without dying will be greater the more you bet. In order to play at a lower difficulty than the default setting (2.0 out of 9.0) the player simply pays with no return other than what is gathered in the level. With the difficulty increasing, so do the amount of enemies and the aggression they display throughout the chapter, forcing the player to make effective use of Pit’s special powers as well as their selected weapon.
There are also two multiplayer modes, both available in Local and On-line play. The first, Light vs. Dark is a team-based game with 3 players on each side. Each team has a collective life gauge that depletes as team members die on the battlefield, and the player who fully diminishes the gauge becomes an angel in the form of Pit or his dark counterpart. The team which takes down the opposition’s angel first wins the battle. The power, or value, of the weapon a particular player wields effects how much their death depletes the life gauge with higher power weapons taking off a much greater amount of life than a player with a weaker item. Those who have played Super Smash Bros. Brawl on-line will be familiar with the chaotic fun on offer here as everyone dodges around and attacking one another. Items scattered around add another random element to the game along with the powers and weapons ensuring that no match is really the same. What could so easily have been a throw-away feature just to add to a checklist on the back of the packaging may actually be the best and most replayable features of the game with the addition of random awards to keep you coming back for more. There’s also a free-for-all mode which has a more traditional, if just as hectic battle royale scenario.
Customising Pit’s weapon and power load-out before a mission or a multiplayer match. There are nine different weapon types, each with different gameplay properties. For example, the blade is a good all-rounder for both ranged and melee combat, while the claws excel at close quarters. Although all weapons have some ranged capacity, they all handle a little differently as Palms auto-aim at the nearest target at the cost of range, while it’s possible to slightly guide arrows fired by a bow. There are a plethora of weapons within each category, all with their own particular perks and statistics. In order to equip powers, players need to fill a grid with Tetris-styled shapes representing the powers, with higher level ones taking the form of more awkwardly fitting shapes. For those who don’t know what to do with the spare room in the grid, there’s the option for Palutena to auto-fill the rest of the powers.
Collecting new weapons is a major incentive to carry on replaying through the game, as new additions to Pit’s arsenal can be acquired in a number of ways. The easiest way to get new gear is to progress through the story mode, as new weapons and powers unlock frequently as chapters are completed. There’s also a list of challenges to be found in the Treasure Hunt, some of which also offer new gear for successful actions such as dealing with a certain number of enemies with a specific weapon or by speed-running through a chapter. At the end of multiplayer match there is usually a random chance for a player to win a rare item as well as any other rewards for good performance. The sheer frequency in which new weapons are obtained mean there will be many duplicates as well as weapons for which you just particular won’t get on with and the game does offer some options for still making use of these unwanted items. They can be exchanged for more hearts or can be fused with another weapon in order to make something even more powerful. Fusing weapons is the easiest way to acquire more powerful gear without grinding for hearts
There’s an insane amount of unlockables to be found throughout the game. The achievement and reward system from Super Smash Bros. Brawl returns in the form of the Treasure Hunt. It begins as a blank wall, but upon completing challenges small grids unlock like jigsaw pieces to reveal an image. Around the revealed pieces are challenges to unlock that particular part of the grid. Completing these tasks also unlocks items in the Vault, which contains Idols and music tracks as well as another puzzle collection for all each power unlocked. Idols are essentially the trophies in the Super Smash Bros. series, containing a 3D model of a character, location, weapon or item as well as a datalog entry. As well as earning them for completing challenges, they can also be collected by scanning special Kid Icarus AR cards; of which a starter pack of six come packaged with the game. There is also an ‘offering’ that can be made by donating hearts to the Goddess for apparently no reward, which the game makes clear.
The only real issue that some may have initially with the game is the default control scheme. Pit is moved with the circle pad, while aiming is done with the stylus on the touch screen, which for those who may not have played Metroid Prime: Hunters or the DS Call of Duty titles may feel a little odd. The flight sections generally are the easiest to get to grips with, as the camera is fixed to the on-rails perspective, but there is definitely a steeper learning curve than most other recent games getting to grips with the ground combat. Rather than tying the camera to the stylus controls, to move the perspective you must swipe the touchscreen and tap again to stop rotating the viewpoint, almost like spinning a globe. Once you get the hang of the system, the advantages of stylus aiming compared to analogue will become more apparent.
Left handed users, like myself, can also customise the controls to use either the face buttons or attach a Circle Pad Pro to control Pit’s movements. Although the extra circle pad is the preferable option for lefties, the face buttons are more than adequate for most circumstances. The Circle Pad Pro doesn’t offer a dual analogue set-up, despite the fact that there is the option to use the left circle pad to aim the reticule with the face buttons being used for movement like the left handed option. For those get uncomfortable holding the 3DS one handed with the stylus in the other, Nintendo have included a stand to rest the console on while you play.
Kid Icarus Uprising makes extensive use of the 3DS’s distinct features. There’s a daily weapon shipment through SpotPass, and players are able to swap equipment they already have with each other through StreetPass. The augmented reality cards can also be used to duel with one another, in addition to their primary function of making the collection of idols easier.
The graphics are stunning throughout the adventure. Although not as technically impressive as Resident Evil Revelations, the colourful art direction is a joy to behold. The game runs incredibly smoothly throughout with very few performance issues. The 3D effect of the console is used fairly well throughout, but its best use comes with the Idol viewer which works in a similar fashion to the Pokedex 3D application. Even more impressive than the visuals is the amazing soundtrack, quite possibly one of the best committed to a Nintendo title. There’s a combination of grand orchestrated soundtracks as well as 8-bit style homages to themes from the original NES title and adds a great deal of charm to the game.
Kid Icarus Uprising is pure fun, and on a minute-to-minute basis it’s possibly the most enjoyable experience I’ve had with a game for a long time. On a console with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 already out, the title stands above every other game released on the system with the sheer volume of content available. Not since Super Smash Bros. Melee on the Gamecube have I played a multiplayer game so fresh and addictive on a Nintendo console. The controls may have a steeper than average learning curve, but the style and charm present in everything on offer here even through to navigating the menus means the game demands the attention of every 3DS owner out there. Let’s hope Pit’s next adventure isn’t such a long wait!