Developer: Project Sora
It's great to see Nintendo taking risks with their IP again after a disappointingly stagnant 2011. We had a taste of their new lust for innovation when Dillon's Rolling Western barrelled onto the eShop last month, but Kid Icarus Uprising is braver still: a totally new portable gaming experience loosely based on a 21 year old platformer. Rather than sticking to age-old tropes, veteran designer Masahiro Sakurai (the man behind Super Smash Bros and Kirby) has gone back to his drawing board to create a fresh and thoroughly modern classic, and one that only fleetingly glances to the past as an homage to a quarter-decade of gaming excellence.
Resurrecting the almost-forgotten Kid Icarus brand was risky. Completely redesigning it was brave. But Uprising demonstrates that fortune always favours the bold. Sakurai dared. And wins.
Without hyperbole, this is the most exciting title to hit the 3DS since launch. Nintendo are back on form... and they mean serious business.
Kid Icarus Uprising casts players as the eternally youthful Pit, an angelic warrior in the service of the Goddess Palutena. After destroying the demonic Medusa back in the NES days, he's been called into service once again to combat her mysterious resurrection. The world has gone to hell in his 25 years of absence, and it's up to the dynamic duo to restore order, beat back the underworld army and return peace to the lands. More than that, though, Pit has to prove to humanity - and to us gamers - that he's still relevant after such a long hiatus.
An ancient NES game doesn't provide a huge amount of background lore and inspiration, so Nintendo are to be congratulated for creating a truly innovative and unique world that offers new experiences at every turn. One level takes place on an interstellar pirate ship that steals constellations from the sea of stars. Another is set in a bizarre playground-cum-labyrinth full of dead ends and illusions. Every encounter, every stage, is full of exciting, colourful and recklessly unpredictable shenanigans to behold and enjoy, bolstered by some sensational handheld graphics. If you're seeking a breath of fresh air or feel that there have been a few too many military shooters lately, Kid Icarus has your medicine.
Levels are split into two parts, both of which offer completely different gaming experiences. Each stage begins with a rail shooting section reminiscent of Panzer Dragoon or Lylat Wars, with Pit zooming down a predetermined flight path as enemies relentlessly assault from all angles. Though the camera perspective is fixed, players control Pit's onscreen movements to dodge incoming projeciles or environmental hazards, while directly aiming the onscreen reticle with the stylus. Gorgeous 3D visuals and majestic orchestral accompaniment makes these sections a delight to behold as well as a tough twitchy challenge - with the potential for repetition completely overshadowed by an enormous selection of enemies new and old. Some foes favour ranged bombardments or laser strikes whereas others will pop up for cheeky melee blows, and even Metroid organisms show up from time to time and attempt to absorb you into their gelatinous bulk. The flight action is swift, slick and incredibly visceral, and would have probably supported a full game by itself.
However, Pit's power of flight is limited to five minutes (which Palutena and other characters never let him live down), and you'll inevitably return to earth for the bulk of each level. You'll spend most of your time in hectic arena mid-ranged battles with varied enemies, traps and hazards, all the while enjoying a lively back-and-forth between Pit, Palutena and the bosses of each stage. The third person action places a versatile range of ranged and melee attacks at your disposal with slick stylus controls, balancing an accessible learning curve with a pleasing amount of advanced depth. As mentioned, you'll encounter all manner of tricky, unpredictable chicanery around every corner (angelic mech suits, anyone?), culminating with some sensational boss battles after enjoying some limited exploration.
There's just one problem. And it's a big one. The stylus camera controls work well and can be tweaked to your own specifications in the options menu, but they just aren't comfortable for long periods. Having to entirely support the 3DS console with your left hand is difficult without digital contortion because the sleek form factor doesn't offer any curved edges to grab on to, leading to potentially debilitating hand cramps during marathon sessions. Though the supplied plastic kickstand can help mitigate this problem, having to sit bolt upright at a desk while keeping your head within the restrictive 3D viewing angle is a seriously big ask. For the life of me, I can't understand why dual-stick Circle Pad Pro controls weren't included as standard.
This foible would have absolutely broken a lesser game, but you'll want to fight through the pain for countless hours on end. And you will, because Kid Icarus Uprising is one of the most eminently replayable games to have ever graced a handheld. Each one of the plentiful twenty minute-long levels can be replayed at ten different difficulty settings, which completely changes the enemies you'll face, increases the damage they do and even unlocks new areas. The harder the challenge, the better weapons you'll receive and the more hearts you'll earn, which acts as persistent in-game currency. Since you'll have to spend hearts to increase the difficulty, balancing risk with reward is the key to success.
Weaponry offers another wonderfully addictive draw that will keep you glued to your handset. Kid Icarus Uprising is absolutely stuffed with hundreds of outrageous armaments, from traditional fare like swords and bows to insane clubs shaped like skyscrapers (complete with searchlights!), adorable oversized cat paws, toy-firing rice bowls and gleaming golden sceptres. Each armament (even ones of the same type) offer completely different ranged and melee damage statistics and handle in wildly different ways, providing massive scope for experimentation. If you get bored of a particular weapon, you can even fuse two armaments together to create an entirely new one that shares the attributes of its parents. I've already spent many hours concocting certain powerful weapons into ridiculous fused monstrosities, preferentially favouring the best attributes while breeding out the less favourable ones. It's a gloriously compelling mechanic that will sucker you into Kid Icarus hook, line and sinker.
And there's more; so much more. Two multiplayer modes allow you to test out your weapons on other players either locally or via Wi-Fi, rewarding you with hearts and guns to carry over into the singleplayer campaign. An achievement system grants you bonuses, soundtracks and unlockables while gradually revealing an enormous 3D portrait. You can conduct augmented reality battles, swap Streetpass gems and assemble an 'icon' bestiary/encyclopaedia by debilitating enemies or engaging in a Play Coins minigame. There's so much to do, such exquisite attention to detail, that Kid Icarus Uprising could well be the last 3DS game you'll need this year.
But Uprising ultimately succeeds because it's got genuine, unmistakeable personality - more so than any Nintendo title in recent memory. Hilarious fully-voiced dialogue delights in breaking the fourth wall with merry abandon, parodying everything from the limits of the original NES title to modern gaming conventions. Pit and Palutena's dysfunctional yet loving relationship is beautifully-realised, laugh-out-loud funny and surprisingly tender in parts, and the colourful cast of support characters are all great fun to interact with. Nintendo faithful will revel in the fan service, indeed, you'll feel as if the game has been specifically designed for you as way of making up for years of neglect.
Welcome back, Ninty. We missed you.
- Exquisite and unbelievably replayable gameplay; amazing weapon system
- Sensational 3D visuals, orchestral soundtrack and voice acting
- Huge amount of content and extra features, affable and hilarious personality
- Uncomfortable (if competent) controls
The Short Version: Kid Icarus Uprising is a triumphant and emphatic return to form for Nintendo. It contains more innovation, more personality and more unabashed fun than we've seen over the last two years from the beloved company; creating a unique, gorgeous, unfailingly competent and staggeringly replayable portable epic.
Uncomfortable controls stop Uprising from securing perfect marks, but be in no doubt, this absolutely has to become part of your collection.