November 5, 1991. You have to travel that far back to find the last entry in the Kid Icarus franchise, Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters for the Nintendo Game Boy. Let’s try and put that in context for a second. That’s the year that grunge music became a phenomenon with the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind album, the year that bomber jackets were all the rage in the fashion world and the year Silence of the Lambs was released in theatres. So when you say that Kid Icarus fans have been waiting a while for a new game in the franchise, a while means a really long time.
With the release of Kid Icarus: Uprising, Nintendo’s cult-hit franchise is finally making a return. Twenty years later and angel warrior Pit is back on another Nintendo handheld going toe-to-toe with the forces of a reborn Medusa. But unfortunately, Kid Icarus: Uprising is also a return to the stylus focused control options that were prominent on the original DS. Previous high profile 3DS games like Resident Evil: Revelations and Super Mario 3D Land used the touch screen only when necessary and primarily to compliment gameplay. Uprising’s entire control scheme depends on it. The game even comes with a stand to place your system on to help make it more comfortable to play. This is a huge problem. Not only does this make Kid Icarus the most unportable portable game since I can remember, it ruins what could have been a glorious return (twenty years people!) for the franchise.
Get that 3DS stand out for support because you’re going to need it.
Uprising reimagines the Kid Icarus experience by combining on-rails shooter segments with ground-based sections that blend combat and exploration. Pit never learned to fly so Lady Paletuna grants him the ability five minutes at a time. Each level will begin with Pit flying through the sky and shooting enemies with an assortment of bows and blades before plummeting back to ground.
You control Pit during these on-rails segments with the Circle Pad and fire with the L Button. You aim with your right hand with the stylus on the touch screen. This causes all the 3DS’ weight to shift into your left hand which is just downright uncomfortable. My hand was cramping up so severely after playing through the first two levels that I had to set it down and take a break. That’s a big problem. To be fair, the controls do work quite well for the flying segments. The ground combat sections are a different story altogether.
On the ground, the circle pad controls Pit’s movement, the L button is used for melee and shooting attacks. The stylus is used to aim and to move the camera with quick slashes in any direction. The camera will continue to scroll in that direction until you tap the touch screen again to stop the camera in the desired direction. Dodging is initiated by a quick flick on the circle pad in any direction.
There are some options for changing the control scheme but none really work that well. You can set aiming or movement to the face buttons or you can play lefty with the Circle Pad Pro but you can’t use the Circle Pad Pro to control both movement and aiming. This is unfortunate because this addition would have been a godsend. There’s so much going on in the ground battles that frustration is a constant when you can’t get Pit to react like you want or move in the direction intended. Because the dodge mechanic is initiated by a quick flick of the Circle Pad, the problematic camera controls can lead to many cheap deaths. You’re extremely likely to fall off the side of a platform while attempting to dodge because you’re not facing the proper direction to begin with.
If you can get past the horrible control problems, Uprising is actually quite charming. During the whole time you’re playing, Pit and Paletuna are bantering back and forth to each other. Yes, the dialogue is quite corny, but having a Nintendo character that’s actually full of character is great. There are no cutscenes though so the dialogue exchanges are limited to the touch screen. Sometimes even enemies chime in with responses and you even get a look at enemies in their original sprite forms while this is happening as well. All great fan service.
Pit is also highly customizable in Uprising. You have a large selection of equippable weapons to choose from like bows, blades and clubs, each with dozens of different variants. You unlock more weapons by completing levels on harder intensity levels or by opening random treasure chests while exploring. Each of these weapons has bonuses like “+1 charged shot” or “+2 dash.” You can even fuse two weapons into a new weapon that combine the characteristics of the two weapons that were fused.
You also equip powers that allow you to heal yourself, set an invisible mine trap or turn your enemies into idols. Each power is represented by shapes similar to Tetris blocks. You get a loadout block and must arrange as many power shapes into your loadout block as possible. The more you can fit, the more powers you go into battle with. This is a very unique idea and works quite well.
Uprising also has a multiplayer (the game refers to it as Together Mode) component. You can battle it out locally or over the Nintendo Network in a six-player free-for-all mode or Light vs Dark battles. In this mode, each team has a life meter. Once this meter is empty, one of the players will become either Pit or Dark Pit. Once they are defeated, the game is over so it is imperative that players protect their angel.
Each multiplayer match begins with you setting your weapons and powers. Each weapon affects your character’s speed and stamina. Since there are so many weapons, each opponent can feel drastically different. I found it surprising that Uprising even had such a fleshed out multiplayer component to begin with. But unfortunately, the irritating control scheme grows much more frustrating when opponents are now being controlled by other humans.
Uprising could have been a truly great game. The aerial combat sections are fantastic and the sheer amount of unlockables and customizable weapons is astounding. Unfortunately, these are bogged down by atrocious controls and bland ground combat sections. Hopefully these issues are corrected for another Kid Icarus portable game or maybe (even more likely) a Wii U version in the future.
Child of Eden
The on-rails aerial sections in Uprising will remind gamers of Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s Child of Eden. Both look gorgeous as the camera dips back and forth through areas and both require precision to clear the screen of all enemies. Child of Eden’s levels change through subsequent playthroughs depending on the player’s previous performance and style. Gamers can also change the amount of challenge in Uprising by changing the Intensity Level affecting enemy strength and unlocking bonuses for completion on higher difficulties.
Super Smash Bros. Brawl
Super Smash Bros. series creator Masahiro Sakurai’s influence in Uprising is apparent throughout. Uprising’s menu is quite reminiscent of the Super Smash Bros. franchise. Each is divided into shapes with different modes you can jump right into. The amount of unlockables in both are tremendous and Pit’s dodge mechanic is the same as performing a Smash Attack. Let’s not forget that the current avatar for Pit was introduced in Brawl for the first time as well.