If someone had once asked me what franchise I’d like to see return (even if you were to go as specific as asking for Nintendo only) Kid Icarus is not a title I would have picked. It is not something I have a personal affinity for, but having played the newest iteration of the franchise, I’m glad that there were enough people out there crying for more Pit-centric action that this game got made.
+The control scheme works!
+There is a lot of fun to be had, both in the sky and on land.
+The voice acting is awesome, Pit is legitimately entertaining.
+There are so many additional features to the game that it's hard to even name them all.
-The multiplayer is lacking the polish of the single-player.
-The AR card integration feels like little more than a cash-grab.
Honestly, Kid Icarus: Uprising wasn’t a title that I would have considered “on my radar” until about two weeks ago at GDC when I finally spent some time with it. The idea of another re-hash (as epic as that first teaser trailer at E3 was) didn’t really get its hooks into me from the jump. It took actually going hands-on with the completed version of the game to see why fans were excited to see a return to this ancient franchise that would have been all-but forgotten if not for Pit’s return in Smash Brothers.
I’m happy to report that Kid Icarus: Uprising is a title that not only meets expectations for the franchise, but winds up far exceeding them. Nintendo has a habit, more often than not, of making sure that things are done right when it comes to their home-heroes. I know that Nintendo and I have been at-odds on occasion with some of the decisions they’ve made to handle their iconic roster, but Pit’s return on the 3DS is just simply one of the best things that the handle has offered since its release.
The core gameplay of the title is broken down into two parts: There is an aerial-based component to the game, last at maximum five minutes (because that’s as long as Palutena can keep you aloft without burning you up). And the second half is a ground-based component where the majority of the world exploration and boss battles will be taking place.
The fact that the levels are divided so clearly, in advance, may lead the majority of gamers heading into the title to believe that the game is quite linear and has potential to grow stale quickly… which would be valid, if it wasn’t so much damn fun. I’m a fan of rail-shooters in general, so my opinions of the air-combat may be slightly coloured, and I’m okay with admitting that. But as someone that was in the vocal majority of chastising this game (before its release) for being ridiculous based on the control scheme (and Nintendo adding in a stand because there had been so many complaints about how awkward it is to hold) I have to say the game plays exceptionally well.
The game plays with three basic controls: The stick controls your movement (Pit) around the screen. The stylus in conjunction with the touch-screen manages your reticle. The L button then, is your ‘attack button’ which serves triple duty by being used for both long range (shooting), close range (melee) and the ability to ‘charge’ attacks (by not pressing it for a few seconds, you will gain a more powerful attack). The simplicity of the control scheme is classic Nintendo, but where fans were starting to complain is in the fact that you’ll be using two hands to control the action, which made it kind of hard to hold. Nintendo’s answer to the problem was with the inclusion of a stand, which will let you prop the system up on any stable surface… and that’s fine. Personally though, I ditched it in favour of hooking my pinky-finger (of my right hand) ‘round the side of the console, and it was a non-issue (even for extended play sessions).
I will admit that there was a stumbling block in the game’s control when I set about the ground-combat segment for the first time. Moving the view with the stylus seemed a little janky at first, but then Pit put an image in my head that made everything far more clear: “So you drag the stylus to the sides, or flick quickly to spin the camera? It’s kind of like spinning a globe!” and in that instance it all made sense. If you manipulate your stylus against the screen as if the screen was a globe, then it becomes easy to navigate. I was flicking and stopping the camera with remarkable accuracy which lead to all kinds of ‘on-the-fly’ attacks later in the game (depending on what Pit is doing at the time a shot is fired, on the ground, it will change what the attack is).
Another neat little mechanic the game introduces is in its difficulty setting. At the beginning of each level you can wager your hearts (the game’s currency) to increase the difficulty of the level you’re about to take on. Why pay to make your life harder? For greater rewards of course! Increasing the difficulty not only means more enemies who deal more damage and move about more quickly, it means that you can earn more hearts per kill, and certain rooms (locked doors) within the ground-combat sections of the game will only be unlocked if you’ve bumped the difficulty up to the required level. It’s an interesting little risk/reward twist on the standard difficulty settings options that made the game a whole lot more interesting by testing your ego (and wallet) against the enemies that were coming up in the next round of play.
Of course, the other major element that Nintendo has been pushing (via their Kid Icarus tournament scene) is the multiplayer. This is a feature that, honestly, I cannot begin to even pretend to care about. At the same time that I started getting pumped up about the game at GDC, I lost all interest together in the multiplayer during my time with it on the show-floor. The game offers up a co-op/competitive multiplayer mode (which is available online) called “Dark vs. Light.” The premise is a 3-vs-3 matchup of the warriors from heaven and hell duking it out for supremacy. What differentiates “Dark vs. Light” from a standard deathmatch? The inclusion of ‘generals.’ Not unlike the Battlefront franchise, at key moments during the battle a high-ranking officer can be called upon by either side. The goal, once this character is randomly assigned to one of the characters, becomes one of attack and defense. The side with the new, more powerful player is on defense, trying to protect their ‘leader’ while the opposition does all they can to take them out as soon as possible.
Dark vs. Light is the definition of “serviceable” multiplayer integration as far as I’m concerned, and is probably the biggest let-down for the game… though it’s not enough to hamper everything else that’s thrown in.
Outside of the game’s main story mode (which tells the tale of the return of Pit, Medusa, and Palutena) and the multiplayer Dark vs. Light options there’s a whole host of value-adds the game offers to keep players interested.
I’d mentioned previously the concept of ‘hearts’ as the game’s currency, and what good would currency be without an option to spend? Once you’ve accumulated a wealth of hearts, you can talk to Palutena (outside of the story) and shop to your heart’s content on upgrades, new weapons, and magic powers. Each brings something new to the game, and will change not only how you attack, but plot defense and even navigate the world. Some examples being the ability to create a defensive shield (via a power up), launch yourself high into the air (super jump), and change your fighting style (there are various weapon styles, each with numerous weapons in their category). The amount of weapons and power-ups that you can get is staggering, and each of the weapons that you earn (or purchase) can be modified with add-ons on top of that. Then there’s the ability to combine weapons, creating new more powerful ones, and the ‘Idol Catch’ mini game (where you launch eggs into the sky) which unlocks not only new weapons/items/powers, but will be a method of collecting new in-game items (character art, music, statues, etc.).
Considering the amount of gameplay and options for play the game offers, one would figure that would feel like a pretty jam-packed game… but Nintendo wasn’t quite done there. In an effort to expand on the world of Kid Icarus (and make some additional coin), Nintendo has included an AR card game in Uprising as well.
Gamers of all ages will be able to collect card packs, build decks, and learn about the characters of the franchise by scanning the cards with their 3DS camera. Cards are currently being given out via Nintendo events (launch parties, conventions, tournaments and the like) but I’m sure if the idea catches on (or if they push it hard enough) they’ll be available for purchase as well (lending to children’s collection and spending of parents money habits). It’s a kind of interesting feature, especially when you find out that the cards can ‘battle.’
By putting to cards together, facing one another, the characters on the cards with spring to life and attack one another. The interesting part for a gamer, and card-game enthusiast, is that there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to who wins. The stats on the card mean nothing (as far as I’ve been able to gather, with cards with higher stats winning on several occasions) and as it was described by a Nintendo rep on the show floor of GDC it’s “not chance either, when the same two characters meet up, the out-come is the same every time, regardless” meaning that the system already knows who will win each time the cards come together; the battles are predetermined. None the less, I will give them that it does look pretty cool… and it’s likely to sell them a lot of trading cards.
One other point that I wanted to make, but couldn’t figure out how to sneak into the review, is the characters and the quality of the story-telling. The characters in this game are really brought to life through the phenomenal voice-acting cast and the writing staff. While the dialog may seem simple, it did a great job of not only instructing me, as a player, naturally, but keeping me entertained. I found myself engaged by the banter between Pit and Palutena, aided in no small part by the images that displayed on the lower screen (so keep an eye on it whenever possible) when they discussed the history of the characters/themes of the game as the popped up (represented by their classic 8-bit imagery).
So, in summation, if someone had once asked me what franchise I’d like to see return (even if you were to go as specific as asking for Nintendo only) Kid Icarus is not a title I would have picked. It is not something I have a personal affinity for, but having played the newest iteration of the franchise, I’m glad that there were enough people out there crying for more Pit-centric action that this game got made.