A lot can change in 25 years. Kid Icarus is back and better than ever! I might say something cheesy like, ”Throw everything you know and love about the franchise out the window because this reboot is a different beast,” but that wouldn’t be accurate. To play Kid Icarus Uprising, throw away everything you know about the two classic entries, but hold onto what you love about their history. That sounds like a better tagline. It’ll make sense as you read on.
The ever-ambiguous E10+ ESRB rating is bestowed upon Kid Icarus: Uprising for Fantasy Violence, Comic Mischief, and Mild Suggestive Themes. As for most E10+ games, Uprising is relatively harmless for children, so the ESRB’s labeling is pointless. As I’ll elaborate on later, the plot, characters and setting are inspired by Greek mythology, yet come together like a Saturday morning cartoon (i.e. light-hearted humor and action). Some jokes may fly over kids’ heads (but be picked up immediately by teens or adults) but they’re contained within the caliber of the intended audience. The adult-oriented pop culture jabs are common, but not harmful, as most animated movies and TV shows have adhered to this approach in order to go beyond the targeted demographic…even My Little Pony recently pulled its adult strings with much success. Kid Icarus also reels in both casual and seasoned gamers by applying a difficulty scale (from 0 to 10) to each of its levels. 0 is perfect for children who just want to have fun; whereas 5 or more is the backyard of hardcore gamers.
Completed all 25 chapters and dabbled in both online modes. According to my stats, I played 26 times for an overall 51 hours game time: 28 hours and 26 minutes devoted to the campaign and 1 hour and 28 minutes for online multiplayer. I’ve also been turned into an eggplant 21 times; but hey, it’s all good with my 472 weapons and 489986 hearts.
Hoo-boy, bear with me as I take a deep breath. Put shoot ’em ups, action, and RPG in a blender and you’ve got Kid Icarus Uprising. Allow me to paint a clearer picture for you. It’s half Sin & Punishment and half God of War with simplified, touch screen-oriented Smash Brothers-like controls. The RPG elements apply to the equip-able spoils and deep weapon fusion system, which is extremely similar to and just as addicting as Vagrant Story’s weapon crafting. I must’ve spent 20 hours experimenting with fusing weapons. Note that gameplay elements of the classic Kid Icarus titles only serve as reference points to this revival. Uprising plays nothing like its 2D predecessors nor is it a mere 3D update of the NES formula.
A CGI Hercules, Disney’s own hand-drawn, animated take on Greek mythology. KIU fully utilizes the 3DS’s power as the quality and variety of locales and enemies is staggering. It’s one of those ’throw in everything including the kitchen sink’ types of games. Though the backdrop is Greek mythology, don’t be surprised to witness sci-fi influences from time to time.
Tells a Story Like:
Tiny Toon Adventures or Animaniacs. The strong voice cast’s back-and-forth bantering is full of wit, self-referential humor, pop culture jabs, cheesy one-liners, jokes that break the forth wall, and adult humor that cleared the censors for being too subtle. When I compare Kid Icarus to Disney’s Hercules, the former comes out on top because it handles its humor elegantly and tells a better story. While it’s overall not serious, the latter half of the campaign contains grim moments and twists encapsulate the battle between the underworld army and the heavens. When it’s all said and done, Uprising is Nintendo of America’s best localization ever, proving they can assemble experienced voice actors to strengthen their games’ production values. Ali Hillis, who voices Lady Palutena, is also responsible for Lightning’s pipes in Final Fantasy XIII. If that doesn’t impress you, I don’t know what would. I now fully trust NOA with a fully-voiced Zelda should it ever happen. Who would’ve thought a 3DS game reviving a forgotten IP would be their true leap into the next generation? Furthermore, unlike animated movies, TV shows, and some games, Kid Icarus is unique since most of its exposition isn’t narrated via cut-scenes. Instead, you’re fed while playing; a plus as your experience won’t be interrupted by long-winded dialogue. Imagine Star Fox’s presentation multiplied by a hundred–that’s Kid Icarus for you. Cut-scenes are mostly reserved for boss encounters, but there’s one standout chapter during the climax. It surprised the heck out of me, representing the game’s superb blend of story and mechanics.
A symphony orchestra movement with light jazz, flamenco, and rock. As evident by the star-studded Super Smash Bros. Brawl OST, Mr. Sakurai has many ties to the videogame music industry, thus he pulled some strings for Uprising, pooling the best of the best under one roof: Motoi Sakuraba (Star Ocean, Valkyrie Profile), Yuzo Kushiro (ActRaiser), Noriyuki Iwadre (Lunar, Radiata Stories), Yasuroni Mitsuda (Chrono Series, Xenogears), and Masafumi Takada (No More Heroes). Their styles complement each other as you enjoy the underlying symphonic theme of the soundtrack. Leitmotif is heavily used…fans should love it when they hear parts of the classic NES tracks enveloped within the orchestra. There is a lot of live instrument usages intertwined with high quality sampled sounds. I’ve fallen in love with the flamenco-style acoustic guitar material of Dark Pit and Dog’s Themes, composed by none other than Sakuraba himself. Rest assured; there’s much to love in Uprising’s music, arguably one of the best soundtracks from Nintendo recently. I’m happy to put it in the same pedestal as Skyward Sword, Super Mario Galaxy, SMG2, and F-Zero GX.
Best Thing About It:
Lots to do and high replay-ability, without repetition setting in. The campaign’s latter chapters last between 20 to 30 minutes alone to keep you busy. Each of Uprising’s chapters are divided into Air Battles (shoot ’em up), Land Battles (3D Action), and unique boss battles, but the formula never feels stale as each chapter brings unique mechanics. Whether you use certain vehicles that are given, discover multiple branching paths, face bosses in the middle of the stage — you don’t fall into a cycle because the narrative plays a major role in dictating your progress. In addition, the difficulty meter is a long-overdue feature that more games should utilize. Instead of the archaic and over-simplified ’Easy, Medium, or Hard’ choice before you begin, each chapter starts with a scale from 0 to 9, easy to hard, increasing fractionally (i.e. 3.2, 3.3, etc). The higher you climb, the more currency (hearts) you’ll bet, and completing a chapter on set difficulty nets a higher heart return. Losing halves your obtained hearts and drops you by 1 to ease the challenge. Higher difficulty numbers also open branching paths and increase your chances to find better weapons. This is the sole reason why I kept replaying chapters. I like how KIU feels different with higher difficulties. It’s not just smarter AI, but new enemy placements and types, new attacks, increased damage input and output — it’s refreshing to jump up a point or two in older chapters. Air Battles turn into bullet hell if you dare go above 7. On top of all this are three 12 X 10 grids worth of achievements to unlock — that’s 360 squares. I finished the quest in 30 hours, but unlocked only 180. How’s that for replay value?
Most Polarizing Feature:
The controls. Alright, let’s address the elephant in the room. Uprising’s controls have been bashed to bits since day 1, so conspiracies need to be put to rest. They’re not broken or complex, and don’t require three hands to work (the stand accessory isn’t mandatory). They’re uncomfortable at first, and the game’s learning curve is high (only a few 3DS games enforce a dual pad/touchscreen setup). Uprising is similar to FPS games on the DS, only the perspective is behind Pit’s back in a TPS backdrop instead. That deserves some props since no other action game has employed this control scheme before. By default, you move with the circle pad, fire with the L button, and aim with the touch screen. In essence you lift the 3DS up with your left hand as your right is busy with the touch screen. Two issues arise: a) your left hand or forearm may cramp with extended use, and b) Land Battles are ’slippery’ because reticule aiming and camera control (by flicking) are assigned to the touch screen. Two problems, one solution: fully customizable controls! Hate the touch screen? Enable dual analog-like controls by assigning aiming to the face buttons, which are functional but not as tactile as the touch screen. Is cramping an issue? Enable auto-fire; reassign the fire button to the control pad, use the stand for maximum comfort, or even use your thumb/index finger instead of the stylus to aim. Don’t like imprecise aiming and camera controls? You can customize your reticule speed vertically and horizontally and how far the camera spins when flicking the stylus for Land Battles. The only negatives you’re left with are twofold: some lefties are left with a less precise scheme unless they buy a Circle Pad Pro, and maintaining the 3D effect is hard without the stand. Yes, the controls aren’t perfect, but you’ll appreciate the game’s unique system after conquering the learning curve and customizing. Similar to Super Smash Bros., Kid Icarus is easy to learn but hard to master…it’s a rewarding process to eliminate your frustrations by playing more.
Least Favorite Feature:
Online multiplayer. It reminds me of Kirby Air Ride’s City Trials mode as battles are fun and frantic. But there’s little incentive to stick with it because it’s tied to your single-player progress. Unlocked weapons and abilities are shared within both modes, thus solo veterans enjoy the upper hand online. You can’t even filter your opponents or balance teams based on weapon power, so you constantly fight overwhelming odds. Uprising tries to balance in team play since defeating opponents with higher weapon power is a disadvantage, but the matches almost always favor players with the higher weapon power or better abilities. Moreover, there are only two modes and a few stages, with no way to vote for which stage is used. You can’t customize anything either.
If you expected a faithful 2D to 3D conversion of Kid Icarus that emulates Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, you’ve been unrealistic. Despite being an existing Nintendo IP, Kid Icarus wasn’t even considered a franchise until Mr. Sakurai included Pit in Smash Bros. Brawl a few years ago. Two installments 25 years ago doesn’t make a franchise, so there’s no playbook on what makes a Kid Icarus release retain its rightful features like Mario or Zelda. Thus, don’t expect Uprising to appeal to hardcore fans of the classic NES gameplay. However, despite the radical, but value-driven and well-designed gameplay reboot, Uprising successfully keeps the spirit of the property and expands upon it excellently. Fans of the series will accept it for what it is and love the references in the process. This is how you reboot dormant IPs. From the excellent presentation to the hilarious voice cast which smartly weave the foundations of Kid Icarus with original content, Uprising is an achievement by Nintendo and Project Sora. It’s a handheld title that veers towards console-like qualities, control issues and simplistic online play notwithstanding.
Average Score Scale: 8 +/- 1 out of 10
Personal Final Score: 9/10 (Inflated)
Reasons: for +1 Inflation: Chunky gameplay and value. Excellent presentation with great graphics, a symphonic soundtrack, and strong voice cast with over-the-top humor.
Reasons for -1 Deflation: Steep learning curve for controls. Shallow online multiplayer.