The Kid Icarus from twenty years ago is nothing like the Kid Icarus today. Nintendo gave the dormant Kid Icarus franchise to Super Smash Bros. creator Masahiro Sakurai and his new studio, Project Sora, to revive for the Nintendo 3DS. "Sorry to keep you waiting," Pit shouts before he starts the game’s first level.
While the original NES and US/EU-only Game Boy game Of Myths and Monsters were action platformers, Kid Icarus: Uprising shares more in common with Panzer Dragoon. The first five minutes of each level are a straight on-rail shooter. Why only five minutes? Because Pit can’t fly and the goddess of light, Palutena, can only use her powers to keep the flightless angel airborne for five minutes. Stage openings are on-rails, but the player still needs to move Pit around to dodge projectiles using the circle pad. To fire back, you have to hold L and aim using the stylus. You can also charge a shot by holding the stylus in place and Pit has a screen clearing super attack which you can trigger by tapping an orb on the touch screen. Palutena takes Pit on a wild ride with loops, dives, and plenty of enemies to shoot down. Pit will fly through a rift in the sky into Pandora’s labyrinth (which looks like a scene out of Rez) in one level, and soar to where no angel has gone before—outer space, to shoot Space Pirates from the Metroid games—in another chapter.
Kid Icarus: Uprising’s flying areas are basically Sin and Punishment: Stylus Successor, but Uprising doesn’t have to be as frantic. Before a chapter begins you select the “Intensity Level” by betting hearts, which are the game’s currency. The default is 2.0 (this costs 0 hearts) and you can increase the game’s difficulty in increments of 0.1 to 9.0 where you need to bet several thousand hearts. Alternatively, you can make Kid Icarus: Uprising effortless by reducing the difficulty to level 0. Dialing the difficulty down also costs hearts, but fewer than cranking it up.
Changing the intensity alters how many enemies spawn, how much damage they dish out, and the grade of items you’ll find. It’s a brilliant solution that lets the player tailor the challenge to their skill level, but if you don’t want to bother with it, Kid Icarus: Uprising automatically recommends a difficulty level and drops the intensity if Pit dies. Intensity level 9.0 (called "Nothing Harder") is extremely challenging and I haven’t been able to beat a level at that setting yet. I know I need more practice and likely better gear to take on the maximum difficulty level. Right now, level 7 is the highest I’ve been able to clear, but then again, I haven’t been replaying chapters that much.
The game’s toughest challenge might be mastering the controls. It takes a few hours to get used to holding the heavy 3DS by gripping the system in one hand, while using your free hand to aim. Kid Icarus: Uprising ships with a stand so technically, you don’t have to hold it, but you’re not going to bring the stand everywhere. I found playing Kid Icarus: Uprising with a 3DS hanging off the edge of a table corner worked OK. Yes, I do realize the idea of looking for a way to make the game’s control system more bearable is kind of silly. I also wonder why Nintendo didn’t use the Circle Pad Pro accessory as another way to control the reticule since Uprising already supports it for left handed players.
Even though I was getting tired of holding the 3DS, I wanted to see more of Kid Icarus: Uprising. The story sucked me in and that’s not because Kid Icarus: Uprising has a climatic plot. The game follows Pit as he fights Medusa again, but it’s the banter between Palutena (voiced by Final Fantasy XIII’s Lightning voice actress, Ali Hills) and Pit that makes the story interesting. Their discussions start by pointing out objectives, but quickly tangent into comedy. So, while you’re whizzing by flying octopi, Palutena, to Pit’s surprise and apprehension, suddenly drops a bomb that he has to fly through Reaper territory. The dialogue develops Pit, Palutena, and some of the enemies into characters you want to get to know without the need for cutscenes. In one amusing skit, Palutena mentions how she can see through Pit’s heart and teases he may have had dirty thoughts. In a later level, the two joke about how a treasure chest looks less pixilated and Pit taunts one of the game’s bosses with a Nintendogs jab.
Kid Icarus: Uprising is full of Nintendo nostalgia, which is fitting given Sakurai’s involvement with Smash Bros. You’ll see monsters from the original Kid Icarus on the bottom before they show up in Uprising as a reminder of the game’s heritage. If you remember the NES game at all, you’ll notice that many of the original enemies were converted into 3D. Eggplant Wizard, Reapers (now with laser eyes), and even the Totem heads that fall out of the sky are in Uprising too as a new enemy named "Stackjaw". Given the length of time between releases, though, these references may fly over most gamers’ heads. I guess, since I played 3D Classics: Kid Icarus a few weeks ago, I appreciated them more. Kid Icarus: Uprising is self-aware and interjects meat humor into dialogues. While you’re locking on to winged frogs called Keron, Pit and Palutena break the fourth wall to poke fun at gameplay mechanics and even answer questions like where the life restoring food comes from.
Flying is only half of Kid Icarus: Uprising. Project Sora created ground levels where Pit shuffles around stages. The controls are similar to the sky areas with the awkward addition of swiping the touch screen to turn around. This can be problematic when you have to spin around to shoot flying eyeballs behind you before they fire a barrage of purple orbs. Players have to control the camera manually and since you can’t see everything you just have to get used to a jerk monster hitting you with a melee attack from behind. Pit has melee attacks too, which you can do (a la Sin and Punishment) by tapping the L button. You can also dash by flicking the analog stick and do a dash melee strike.
Flicking is also how Pit dodges enemy attacks and the same motion makes Pit jump from platform to platform, but only if an edge is green. While Uprising doesn’t have a jump button, you can get a skill called "Sky Jump" that lets Pit jump a set number of times per level. I saved my jumps for collecting treasures scattered around stages, some of which sprout lady legs and attack Pit with a lightning leg of fury. Yeah, watch out for Mimicuties.
Some of the ground stages go back on-rails (literally) when Palutena makes grind rails appear. When Pit rides these, he sometimes needs to shoot targets to lengthen the rail or jump on different rails to avoid falling into a bottomless pit. Actually, pits (holes, not Dark Pit) are the most perilous trap in Uprising. Usually, you have an invisible wall to protect Pit from falling of a a ledge. However, there are certain parts where Pit has to fight without a wall and when you flick to dodge Pit plummets because the platform is too small. Ouch! Just for the sake of variety, Project Sora also added a few vehicles to ride like a motorcycle with a boost move so you can launch off ramps and an angelic mecha that can make ground shockwaves.
Boss fights take place on land and these are pretty easy compared to getting to the entrance. Kid Icarus: Uprising gives players a Drink of the Gods before each bout, which completely recovers your HP. Now, that’s a fair fight! In the fight with Hewdraw, Pit has to fight a dragon that dives into water to hide. You have to shoot an orb to make the monster come up so you can pelt it with glowing arrows. In the Metroid level, a giant space Kraken waits at the end and tries to hit Pit with its tentacles.
The hearts you earn from completing chapters can be used to purchase new weapons for Pit. You can also fuse weapons to create new gear or sell ones you have for more hearts. Kid Icarus: Uprising has eight classes of weapons:
Palm – fires homing shots.
Cannon – fires explosive rounds.
Blade (your starting weapon type) – balanced and user friendly.
Claws – these let you move faster, but have limited reach.
Club – fires powerful charge shots, but doesn’t have rapid fire.
Bow – fires fast and guided arrows.
Staff – the ideal weapon for sniping (useful in multiplayer).
Orbitars – dual cannons on your shoulder (think MAGs from PSO) that fire two separate shots.
Different weapons within each class have different stat boosts and attributes like poison or confuse too. Players can further customize Pit by equipping treasures using a Resident Evil 4-style inventory screen. Each treasure is shaped like a Tetris block and you have to see what you can squeeze into a 6 x 6 square. If you’re lazy, you can have Palutena auto fill the grid with powers, but you end up with a random (and often inefficient) set of special abilities. Optimizing Pit is like its own mini-game and you’ll want to spend some time doing this before jumping online.
Rail Temple and Lava Basin, two multiplayer arenas.
Kid Icarus: Uprising has two online multiplayer modes. In Light vs. Dark, three players share a life bar and each time a player gets knocked out it dips a bit. When the life bar empties out Pit (or if you’re on the Dark team Dark Pit) shows up for one player to control. The first team to defeat the other team’s angel wins. Meanwhile, Free for All is essentially an angel deathmatch. Since you can bring powers and weapons from the solo game both modes can be unbalanced, but the quick matches are fun even though you can’t talk to your teammates. I didn’t notice any latency and I think I’ve been playing against people in Japan since their names are in katakana. This may change when Kid Icarus: Uprising comes out later this week.
In multiplayer mode, sometimes the frame rate drops when 3D is turned on when tornados and giant laser beams are flying all over the place. On the subject of 3D, however, Kid Icarus: Uprising is the best looking 3D game on the 3DS to date. Pit pops out of the screen just a bit and the extra depth works well when enemies are flying towards the screen.
Overall, there’s so much to Kid Icarus: Uprising to keep players interested from its own achievement system, to the multiplayer modes, and replaying stages at different levels to open doors with new challenges. As a fan of light gun games and on-rail shooters, Kid Icarus: Uprising is my kind of game. All of the extra content makes it the most meaty on-rails game on the market, and unlike other shooters, the intensity meter makes Kid Icarus: Uprising very accessible.