Kid Icarus: Uprising Review

Kid Icarus: Uprising (3DS)
Developer: Project Sora
Publisher: Nintendo
MSRP: $39.99

If my review process (i.e. playing more video games than I ought to) has taught me anything, it is that the worse a game is, the more willing I am to endure excruciatingly extensive play sessions. I derive little from playing poorly executed games, so having them loom over my head is enough to drive me crazy. Dedicating eight hours of my day to play games I normally would not is the only escape. After a short time with Kid Icarus: Uprising, the opposite was happening—I was savoring each and every of the game’s twenty-five chapters, and even repeatedly replaying old chapters to further prolong the process. That I was enjoying Uprising did not come as a surprise, but the reason why I did was completely unexpected, especially for a Nintendo property.

Uprising abandons its twenty-five-years-old platforming roots for a gameplay structure similar to Star Fox: Assault, albeit with stronger results. Stages begin with Pit, the light-hearted, and at times overly confident protagonist flying through a staggering variety of gorgeous environments. Flight can be simplistic at times, as continuously spinning the circle pad will avoid most enemy projectiles—just watch out for the environmental hazards, of which there could have been more. Directing the trajectory of your shots is done via the touchscreen, leaving the L button to shoot. This control setup is intuitive, if at times uncomfortable, but it means none of the face buttons are used. To compensate, extra actions are placed on the circle pad. Jerking the pad in one direction and then quickly to the opposite executes a seemingly unnecessary dodge with an awkward input that proves unwieldy during tense moments.

Those negligible control limitations during flight sequences have a serious impact on the ground battle controls. Dashing, rolling, dodging, and skipping (Pit’s strange version of fast walking), are all executed from the circle pad. In the midst of combat it is easy to muddle these similarly performed actions because they require deliberate use of the analogue stick. This emphasis on the pad is initially difficult to grasp since games rarely ask players to perform specific movements—we are used to mashing the direction we want to go, and pressing accompanying buttons to perform evasive actions. It is hard to fault Project Sora for squeezing extra functionality from the stick even it makes for an abnormally high learning curve. Although at times, it feels similar to playing Super Smash Bros. Brawl with a standard Wii remote—a gimped control design that would play better on a regular controller. The controls remain functional but unintuitive even with hours of experience.

Ground sections occupy a larger amount of playtime than flight portions, but great lengths have been made to keep battles interesting. New enemies frequently appear in chapters, and many are chapter specific, encouraging return visits. Among these are wizards who transform Pit into shrimp tempura—a silly gag that turns horribly awry when he one-hit-kill devours you. Others have tricky weak points, require melee attacks, or possess unique arrays of projectiles. Vehicles, grind-rails, and brief treasure-chest-awarding deviations are sprinkled throughout, and the boss battles punctuate each chapter with a bold, italicized exclamation mark. Unlike other Nintendo franchises, Uprising is a committed action game, eschewing puzzles and platforming entirely.

Those inclusions go a long way to hide the admittedly limited options you have during combat. To counteract this simplicity, Pit can equip a massive variety of weaponry that comes in nine varieties. Each armament has its own distinct combat style, from melee-focused clubs to long-ranged proficient bows, and everything in between. Weapons have unique stats that directly affect how Pit controls and have their own unique charge shots—or smash attacks in Smash lingo. Finding a weapon that fits your desired playstyle can even remedy some control frustrations.

Weapons are hidden in treasure chests, but getting better things-that-kill-shit means increasing the Intensity Gauge. Before soaring into your next voyage, you adjust the difficulty on a 1.0 – 9.0 scale. The higher the intensity, the higher the probability of both stronger loot and quicker deaths. This manual difficulty system makes adjusting to the controls a smooth process as it lets you grow accustomed to the controls at your own pace. The Intensity Gauge also encourages replays, and acts as a less patronizing method of helping player progression than the ‘dynamic help systems’ found in New Super Mario Bros. and other recent Nintendo titles. Intensity drops a full point upon death, but Uprising generously lets you restart the mission or adjust your current gear before going back into the fray. Project Sora thoroughly built around Uprising’s straightforward action/shooter mechanics to transform it into something denser than it ought to be while simultaneously minimizing the impact of the awkward controls; its thoughtfulness outweighs its stubbornness.

The list of deftly incorporated features is seemingly endless in Uprising. Further customization comes in the form of abilities that add affects to attacks, recover health, place mines, briefly turn you invisible, etc. Weapons can also be fused together to create stronger ones. The depth of customization makes the several adjustable loadouts for multiplayer have a similar diversity of multiple characters. A grid-based achievement system (only recognizable to the few people who played Masashiro Sakurai’s similarly simple yet supremely flawed Kirby’s Air Ride) is in place to encourage and reward exploring the wealth of content the game has to offer.

I preemptively braced myself for possible control issues and for the measures in place to reduce such woes. The effectiveness of said measures surprised me, but not nearly as much as the narrative. Characters are in constant dialogue with one another, but not in the trite, “Your health is low!” kind of way. Each chapter is paired with a lengthy script that has characters in perpetually witty banter that also progresses the plot. Boss’ join in the conversation, giving you an insight in their personalities that are often wonderfully reflected in how they battle. The script is perfectly synchronized with the flight sections too, allowing both plot and gameplay to unfold at the same time. Pit and the gang are also keenly aware that they are in a video game, allowing for strange references to other Nintendo franchises, nods to the original Kid Icarus, and metacognitive humor about mid-boss battles and achievements.

The light-hearted, smart, and unpredictable script of Kid Icarus: Uprising completes the package in a truly astonishing way. I looked forward to the frequent, genuinely exciting plot twists more than the gameplay. I lingered around during boss fights to hear more of the dialogue. I replayed missions I found particularly well-written, which generally involved new weird characters or amusing dynamics. At one point, all of the protagonists and antagonists work together that results in a crescendo of begrudging comradery. This peak happens slightly too early, as the wit of the remaining script never manages to exceed those fantastic moments. The occasional hiccups do not prevent Pit from immediately ranking high among the pantheon of renowned Nintendo characters.

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