March 30, 2012 at 12:08 PM ET
The Nintendo 3DS just celebrated its one-year birthday. Only recently have skeptics begrudgingly considered the 3DS a contender, thanks to a small but growing library of quality software that's more than older titles with a 3-D makeover.
Still, the recent release of Nintendo's handheld competitor, the universally celebrated PlayStation Vita, has many wondering once more if the three dimensionally inclined handheld can stand its ground. So along comes "Kid Icarus: Uprising," yet another stellar original offering, which again typifies Nintendo's ability to shine when its back is against the wall.
For diehard fans of the publisher, "Kid Icarus: Uprising" is an absolute must play. If only because it might very well be the last of its kind, to offer that warm and fuzzy feeling that stems from seeing a beloved classic from one's youth, updated for modern times. For many years, "Kid Icarus" has been commonly regarded as the last major franchise that Nintendo has yet to update. But longtime devotees of the game's protagonist, Pit, will all agree that the lengthy wait was worthwhile.
Much like all of Nintendo's revivals, it's the classic characters and setting of yesteryear, vividly realized for today's audience and technology. The extra layer of sheen is courtesy of the game's designer, Masahiro Sakurai, who was the one to pluck series protagonist Pit out retirement for "Super Smash Bros Brawl" four years ago, and reintroduce him to an audience that may have not been around during the 80s. In addition to all the obligatory references to games past, the script for "Uprising" contains a surprising degree of playfulness, with constant nods to other Nintendo games, and even breaking the fourth wall moments.
One of the biggest draws of "Uprising" is the giddy nature of the proceedings as a whole, its celebration of how oddball video games used to be. Many of the bizarre characters from the NES original and Game Boy follow-up, which everyone took for granted back in the late 80s- early 90, have retained their qualities. And its fun hearing Pit exclaim how ridiculous the very concept of an eggplant wizard truly is. "Uprising" as a whole tries to be funny, something few games even attempt, and actually succeeds, which is even more rare.
Along with the sharp dialogue, "Uprising" features the most impressive visuals yet for the 3DS. Past games for the platform have been accused of using 3-D as a gimmick, but it's an essential part of the experience in "Uprising." In a small way is almost a hindrance; much has been said already about the system's abysmal battery life, which is why many gamers turn off 3-D. But doing so with "Uprising" has a significant negative impact on the visual experience. Even the menus are a visual treat, a long-standing Sakurai tradition.
Gameplay-wise, things get a bit dicey. Levels are broken into two segments; first theres an on-rails flying segment. The circle pad is used to move around the top screen, and the stylus plus bottom touchscreen are used to aim. Shots are fired via the left shoulder button. It's very reminiscent of classic shooters like "Space Harrier" and "Panzer Dragoon," and works just as well, if not better.
The player is only responsible for aiming and firing, and the game handles the steering, allowing for spectacular visual set pieces. It's also during these moments that the bulk of the story is delivered via dialogue. It can a bit overwhelming at first, with so much to shoot at, so much to look at, and so much to listen to, but because it fits in with the over the top nature of the game, one will eventually get used to the sensory overload.
The flying segments are followed by the on-foot portion of the game. This is where problems arise, because the control scheme remains largely the same. The circle pad drives Pit forward, moving the camera around. Aiming is done entirely via the stylus, and combat is again achieved with the shoulder button. Using the touchscreen to adjust viewpoint is beyond awkward and uncomfortable. One gets somewhat accustomed to such a set-up eventually, but it never becomes second nature. The worst is when you have to deal with enemies that are close because the clumsiness of the controls prohibits quick, precise movement.
The unappealing ground portion would be a deal killer if not for the exhilarating flying portions, along with the aforementioned impressive visuals, witty script, and copious amount of fan service. Speaking of, the game offers a dizzying amount of customization. Every enemy defeated garners hearts, which in addition to unlocking new weapons and upgrades, can be used to tweak the difficulty level. The harder a level, the more chances to earn even more hearts. But failing to finish a level will result in the loss of hearts you've already earned. This gambling component adds a very high degree of replay-ability.
"Uprising" also features multiplayer modes, which you can use with friends or strangers. But ground control issues make playing with others less fun. In fact, if not for that one blemish (and it’s a big one), "Kid Icarus: Uprising" would be the total package. As is, it's a game with one major flaw that is evened out but numerous positives, with an overall charm that is impossible to resist.
Matthew Hawkins is an NYC-based game journalist who has also written for EGM, GameSetWatch, Gamasutra, Giant Robot and numerous others. He also self-publishes his own game culture zine, is part of Attract Mode, and co-hosts The Fangamer Podcast. You can keep tabs on him via Twitter, or his personal home-base, FORT90.com.