One of the most fun things about playing a Nintendo game is thinking about the legacy of the franchise and where it’s gone in all the years and incarnations. In the 26 years since the NES launched, the company has done right by their many franchises, releasing a ton of sequels and always able to pull out a reference to some old game that defined your childhood in some way.
Still, there are some games that seem to have been forgotten by the company, most notable being Kid Icarus, the red-headed stepchild of Metroid designer Gunpei Yokoi (which was originally intended as a Metroid title). The franchise hasn’t been seen since a little-known Game Boy sequel released in 1991, and beyond that it was never really a huge seller. Yet for some reason, fans have clamored for a sequel to this somewhat odd franchise. When it was finally announced that Smash Bros. creator Masahiro Sakurai was leaving HAL to form Project Sora, a company specifically created for a new Kid Icarus on the 3DS, it was as though the goddess Palutena herself was gifting it to us.
It’s been 25 years since Kid Icarus came out, though, so fans have a lot of expectations and questions. What do you do with a game whose biggest innovation was ‘wrap-around’ gameplay? Where does the story go? Heavens to Betsy, what is with that STAND!? Well, I’m here to be the definitive answer to all these burning questions and let you know- it’s been a long time coming for Uprising, but it was entirely worth the wait.
This game is incredibly loaded- there are console games with less in them than this, so get ready to sit back as I go into way too much detail about everything in the game.
The best place to start is the single player. You’ll be spending a lot of time in the long, intense campaign (the 25 missions took me 15 hours, though I did replay a few), fighting against the forces of the underworld for the good of mankind. Saving the world can be a pretty daunting task, but the game helpfully divides most into air battles and land battles. Air battles have you on a set path, dodging around enemies and obstacles in the environment as you bring the pain to some underworld baddies. Your shots and melee attacks are much stronger in the air, so even some of the harder baddies fall to you pretty quickly.
Ground battles find you running around showing those underworld forces what’s what, but you have a lot more variety to your combat. Melee has a light combo system, which can be used to stagger enemies, and you also have dashes and dodges and even a strafe mechanic. Dashing and firing can also modify your attacks, depending which way you’re going, changing firing patterns and damage. This also changes by weapon type, which I’ll go into more detail later.
There’s a little nuance to the controls because nothing on the DS family of systems has really controlled exactly like this. I had a little bit of a problem getting aiming down for a while, insisting on dragging instead of letting the momentum of the reticule do my work for me, but I got used to that for a while. Figuring out how to use the dash modifications to weapons also took a while to get, but felt great after I mastered it.
Also, sorry lefties, but as of now, you might want to give this game a pass. There are a few solutions for you, but seeing as one of them involves turning the ABXY buttons into the aiming for the reticule, turning an analog input into a digital one, and the other is buying a Circle Pad Pro… so maybe see about a 3DS redesign first.
Difficulty in the game goes beyond a mere “easy, medium, hard” mode and instead, uses a difficulty slider with a few interesting ideas thrown in. Your first level is at the default difficulty of 2.0, and entering levels at higher or lower difficulties actually costs some of the in-game currency (hearts). There’s a good risk-reward system in place, so betting bigger means winning bigger loot. Dying knocks the cauldron over and sets you back on an easier difficulty, though, so make sure you’re confident in your skills before overexerting yourself. It also opens up different paths in the levels, but that’s mostly used for getting new loot.
I know! Loot! There are treasure chests with drops, weapon ratings, and a fusion system to combine weapons into improved versions. There are 9 types of weapons, each with their own play style and specialties, and each weapon is unique as well. It’s hard to get a feel for what the weapon value means (it’s safe to assume a higher value is a stronger weapon), but they also break the ratings to show the strength in melee and ranged combat as well. Weapons come with 2 different types of powers on them, too. The first types are ambient, such as ‘run faster’ or ‘cause poison damage’, but there are also powers that you add yourself, fitting them into a grid like the attaché-case in RE4. These powers have to be activated in battle, but can only be accessed in land battles. These can be activated by tapping with the stylus, or you can use the d-pad. Neither is ideal, though, because it ends with you looking off the action, as far away from it as you could possibly be, to scroll and tap through the powers tab. Since it can be a little hard to tell how good a loadout actually is, there are a few practice modes to go and try it all out beforehand.
Kid Icarus includes a few things that I come to expect from Masahiro Sakurai games, such as a wall full of goals that you have to fulfill to get the treasure that lies behind them (a sort of semi-achievement system; for example, die 20 times or beat a specific boss with a specific weapon). The unlockables can be music, weapons, powers, or idols. There are three of these walls, meaning that there are 360 things to open and unlock. One of those only opens at the end of the game and completely took me by surprise. The idols are like the trophies from Smash Bros., and there are a lot, which can be earned a couple of different ways. You can also spend hearts as an offering to the goddess, but… I have no idea what that’s even for. The game even mentions it has no effect.
There’s also a multiplayer mode, though the modes are limited to “deathmatch” and “team deathmatch”. It’s all ground combat, but you can bring in your weapons from single-player and earn new weapons and more hearts, which can be brought back to single-player as well. Team deathmatch (or Light vs. Dark) has a team life bar, and your weapon value is proportional to the amount of damage done to it when you die. When the bar is depleted, the last person who died becomes Pit (or Dark Pit) and when they die, that’s the end, so it’s up to the others to protect their angel. Another Sakurai mainstay, there’s also a super-powerful one-hit-kill weapon that has to be assembled piece-by-piece. Someone used this to kill a just-created Pit in one of my matches, so it even works on them, which can really shorten a match. The game does allow you to create matches with friends, but I have none with Kid Icarus, so I wasn’t able to see if it’s just a match against them, or a party system of some sort.
Each copy of the game also comes with 6 AR cards, and those can be scanned in to receive idols of the card, or put together and made to battle. There seem to be as many cards as there are idols (Sakurai wants the number to be kept secret), so look for people to start hoarding them like Skylanders toys sometime in the near future.
Like I said, this game is LOADED. It uses everything the 3DS has to offer. You can StreetPass your weapons, download new ones over SpotPass, trade your play coins for chances at new idols, and it even uses the AR reader. Clearly, the years this game spent in development show through in the overall quality and quantity of things to do in the game.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that there were parts in Kid Icarus: Uprising that made me drop my jaw. That there were areas where I paused the game, just to look around at the madness on screen. Where I thought to myself “I don’t even think home consoles can do that”, but the game handled it perfectly.
Well… maybe not perfectly. There have been some rather graphically intensive games on the 3DS before, but none quite like this. The environments shift and are full of effects and all different sorts of advanced texture mapping, with particle effects flowing everywhere and tons of enemies jumping in and out, all while the game renders twice to be seen in 3D… of course the frame rate dropped, but it was very infrequent. That’s just on the difficulty I was playing on, though, and higher difficulties add more enemies, so it probably drops a bit more often higher up.
Everything looks great, though, and characters are nicely animated and very expressive. Being able to check them out as idols is nice, and you can see how much detail went into making them all have a lot of detail. Some spots look a little over designed, like there’s just too much to look at on some things, but that’s hardly a complaint, since it still looks really good. The environments can even handle you flying seamlessly from the ground to space, and framing and animation in cutscenes are top notch. This game is a great showcase for the graphics on the 3DS, and of course shows what you get when you give a system to a smart, capable team.
Before I get into this, it’s time to address the infamous Nintendo 3DS Stand. I played this entire game without using the stand- 15 hours over a single weekend. Despite all of this, though, my hands didn’t fall off and I never came down with a case of terminal boneitis. My wrists didn’t even hurt. I don’t even know why this wrist-pain thing became a worry- we’ve had this kind of control method since the last DS. The huge, clunky, sharp-edged original DS even came with a game that controlled with a one-hand-and-stylus method, and no one minded. And if those didn’t bother you, then using this one won’t bother you either- it really feels like putting out the stand wound up making people assume the game would be painful.
That said, using the stand was a lovely experience, and I look forward to enjoying it in the future.
Kid Icarus: Uprising is a blast. It’s really easy to see Masahiro Sakurai’s development ideals coming to play in this (especially if you read his great Iwata Asks interview). The risk/reward of the Fiend’s Cauldron is fun to play with, and there are some cool little areas to go back through and find when you play again through a level. Playing around with the weapons is also very fun, and you can create your own unique play style with what type you’re using (go claws, or go home, man). I found dodging around enemies attacks, doing dive attacks on them and swooping in close to beat them in person very satisfying, though some of the control quirks took a little to get used to since we’ve never really had a game that controls exactly like this.
The game also has a wonderfully irreverent tone, and the writing is sharp and self-aware. A lot of the banter between the characters made me laugh out loud, and a good chunk of the fun your first time through, especially on lower difficulties, can be found in just listening to them talk. It can be a little difficult to pay attention to it all, though, since there are very few cutscenes, and most of the dialogue plays out as you’re actually in battle. Since you’re not always going to have headphones, or be in a place that the volume can be on, paying attention to the subtitles is its own special kind of difficult (though there are some quiet moments sometimes). Which is a shame, because I love all the interactions and the characters are written well, with the kind of tone I’m just not used to seeing in shooters anymore. I mean, there’s a club in the game that shoots buildings at people. That’s so cool I can’t even stand it.
A couple of things do drag the game down from perfection, though. Dodging shots in the air can be a little difficult just because of the perspective and how the shots are coming and can feel a little unfair at times. Not always being able to keep track of the story is also a little bothersome, especially because this game’s story takes a hard left into the heart of “what the heck is going on” after around the 13th chapter. It gets complicated, and even if you are paying attention to the story, there are some things that happen that are never fully explained. Even the characters have a moment where they realize how far they’ve strayed from their original purpose, and then speed back to finish the game.
There’s also a little padding, with a couple of built-in boss rushes forcing a few areas to take a little longer than they should there’s also an entire level that is almost nothing but just reused bosses. It could have been cut and been explained away by the characters, or at least been a more interesting level. Another is just an arena battle, and despite how funny a game can seem when they’re writing characters getting annoyed by what’s going on, all that does is point it out to us. So when they say all the rounds are getting ridiculous, then you realize it, too- if you somehow hadn’t already. Don’t let this sound too dire, though, since it is still well written and the characters and levels are all very fun, it’s just it has a few spots that can drag a little.
Multiplayer, meanwhile, is super fun, but a little too hectic. It’s got that Smash Bros feel of everything going off at once, which is fun, but keeps it from being truly competitive, and goes into a little more chaotic. I like popping in for a couple of rounds, but it can take a little long to get into a game, since you find yourself waiting for rounds to finish completely before you can even start. It dumps you into a practice round, at least, so you can practice your dives while you wait.
Kid Icarus: Uprising is not just a great 3DS game, but it’s one of the things you can point out to your friends when they criticize the idea of dedicated handheld gaming platforms. You just can’t get a game with the kind of depth, fluidity and breadth of content on a tablet or phone- this is an experience that can only exist on something made for games. Playing this game is rarely less than a great time, but a few janky bits and story beats keep it down from that elusive perfect score. If you have a 3DS, pick this game up. It’s especially a great deal when you consider that it’s just the pack-in game for that amazing stand peripheral.