Kid Icarus: Uprising: The Kotaku Review

How much to we value weirdness? How much weight do we place on eccentricity? There are so many video games that are essentially retreads of the same old tired space; it can feel so nice to see a game that, even while following the same basic formulas as its brethren, does so with enthusiastic weirdness.

Kid Icarus: Uprising is just such a game. While at its heart, Uprising is an arcade shoot-em-up no different than countless coin-eaters from the arcades, the game plays that role with such chutzpah, creative flair and straight-up oddness that it's hard not to be won over.

Kid Icarus: Uprising is the story of an angel named Pit and his mentor Lady Palutena, the Goddess of Light. At the start of the game, Medusa has somehow harnessed the forces of the underworld to try to take over the planet. It's up to Pit and Lady Palutena to stop her. What follows is a spiralling, barely coherent story that feels something like a Disney movie as retold by an excited 11 year-old.

"And then, they went into Pandora's Labyrinth, because she was this huge purple gas-monster of illusion! But after they defeated her, they flew through this desert and it was like oh man!, there was smoke everywhere, and these giant floating eyeballs showed up, and then Hades turned up and was like 'You better look out!' because see, he had been in charge the whole time!"

It gets crazier from there, believe me. The single-player story takes place over 25 three-act missions. I've completed 15 of them, and each one I've seen plays out over the same basic template. First there's an aerial mission in which Pit flies while shooting oncoming enemies and dodging fire, then a ground-based mission in which he runs around while shooting before engaging in a boss battle.

WHY: Kid Icarus: Uprising makes up for its uncomfortable controls by providing a huge amount of enjoyable content and doing so with charm to spare.

Kid Icarus: Uprising

Developer: Project Sora

Platforms: Nintendo 3DS

Release Date: March 23

Type of game: Fast and frantic stylus-based arcade shoot-'em-up with a huge amount of collectables, unlockable weapons and power-ups.

What I played: Completed 15 of the 25 story missions, replaying several on different difficulties. Played several rounds of each type of multiplayer. Spent an intense amount of time messing around in the various menus.

My Two Favourite Things

  • Groaning over one of the game's many dumb jokes before realising I was enjoying myself.
  • Finally unlocking a great weapon in multiplayer and using it to wreak havoc in my next single-player mission.

My Two Least-Favourite Things

  • Playing it with a fever and feeling as though I was slowly losing my grip on reality.
  • Accidentally lunging to my doom more than 10 times in one particularly frustrating platforming section.

Made-to-Order Back-of-Box Quotes

  • "It's only annoying at first!" -- Kirk Hamilton, Kotaku.com
  • "You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll need to take frequent breaks to stretch out your hands." -- Kirk Hamilton, Kotaku.com
  • "I sure showed that giant disembodied elephant-head who's boss!" -- Kirk Hamilton, Kotaku.com

In the hands of anyone but the terrific (and idiosyncratic) game developer Masahiro Sakurai, Kid Icarus: Uprising could have been a run-of-the-mill third person shooter, with some on-rails flying bits broken up with some God Of War-style ground bits. But this game was made by the Super Smash Bros. and Kirby mastermind, and so it is absolutely stuffed with wild flourishes and curlicues that set it apart.

For starters, there's the controls. Uprising isn't controlled as a twin-thumbstick shooter -- even though it is technically compatible with the 3DS' mostly great Circle Pad Pro peripheral, there is no setting that lets players control it like they would a "normal" console game, with movement tied to the left circle-pad and aiming tied to the right. It's a very curious omission, since that setup is almost possible by re-arranging the controls, but not quite. So, the most natural type of control is to set things with Pit's motion handled with the circle-pad while the aiming reticle is controlled with the stylus.

It didn't take too long for ergonomics to become a problem for me. Holding the 3DS in my left hand while using the stylus with my right felt fine at first, but would quickly become uncomfortable. After 15 minutes or so of playing the game, I'd have to take a break, shake out my hands, and do something else. For a handheld game, this isn't the end of the world -- Uprising is designed to be played in short bursts anyway -- but it's still a drag that the game just sort of fundamentally doesn't feel good to play. Uprising comes bundled with a stand, but as Stephen has already pointed out, the thing feels largely pointless. It sets the 3DS too low to really be useful, and... well... the 3DS is a handheld, portable gaming system! Having a stand to put it on isn't bad or anything, but it's not much use. Some folks may not mind playing their 3DS while hunched over a desk for extended periods of time, but it's not for me.

The odd stylus control is only part of the problem. The control scheme itself can be troublesome, too. When Pit is flying through the air, stylus controls are intuitive and fast, much more precise than using a thumbstick would be. But once he's on the ground, the stylus is used to control the camera, and things get a lot more dicy. It's OK when you're fighting enemies at range, but up close, it's much too difficult to rotate the camera in a way that makes sense.

Flicking the stylus to set the camera spinning and then tapping it to stop feels slow and dizzying, particularly if you're getting railed on by an up-close enemy. Controlling Pit's "Lunge" dodge is also imprecise, and I found that he would often rush in one direction or another even when I wanted him to take it easy. Most of the time that's not a big deal, but there are sections of the game that require precise platforming and the combination of the overly reactive controls and confusing camera make things frustrating.

Kid Icarus: Uprising eschews the lengthy cutscenes of its video game contemporaries, but it still has a whole lot of story to tell. It does so by having characters simply... talk over the action, babbling jokes, exposition and one-liners across the 3DS' bottom screen as frenetic action plays out on the top screen. At first, it's off-putting and confusing, but as you get used to it, it becomes something of a familiar and enjoyable rhythm. This is a very well-written game, but it's also, well, a very written one, with a load of jabbering and babbling going on at most every moment of the game. I liked it, but it could be a turn-off for some. (Fortunately, you can mute the dialogue and just read the subtitles when you're able.)

The people who worked the dialogue had a lot of fun coming up with jokes and references and the dialogue is almost entirely charming and even chuckle-out-loud funny. The humour is often of the meta variety, with lots of references to the first Kid Icarus, along with plenty of more general video game jokes. One Nintendogs reference, in particular, made me guffaw.

Uprising is a real looker on the 3DS, as well. I first saw this game back before I owned a PlayStation Vita, and I have to say that some of the bloom is off the rose, now that I've grown accustomed to Sony's big, bright-screened device. But all the same, Kid Icarus: Uprising matches Resident Evil Revelations as one of the best-looking games on the system. It's a colour-explosion, with deep, rich starfields giving way to fireworks shows, pink futuristic labyrinths, and incredible space pirate-ships. It runs well, too -- the 3D effect can be tiring after a while, but it's used to its fullest potential, and there's very little of the doubling that I've found in some other third-person adventure games on the 3DS.

The enemy design in Kid Icarus: Uprising is second-to-none. That's mostly due to the fact that the developers at Sora Games simply lightly re-imagined the enemies from the 1986 Kid Icarus. The video game enemies of the 80s were a lot more bizarre than the humanoid lizards and aliens that we spend so much time fighting today. But seeing them painstakingly rendered into 3D creations feels like some kind of revelation -- to go head-to-head with a huge multi-layered clam that shoots lightning, or a giant floating sheep-head that launches balls of wool until it goes bald... it's wonderful.

But as much as Uprising centres on flying, shooting, and fighting, it's also about menus and unlockables. So, so many menus and unlockables. Kid Icarus: Uprising's currency system is hearts, which are earned every time you kill an enemy and are sometimes scattered throughout the level in hard-to-reach places. Hearts can be used for all sorts of things, and at the start of every level of single-player, you'll have the option to gamble hearts on the game's difficulty.

Play at a higher difficulty, and you'll win more hearts -- but if you die, you'll lose hearts from your own store. There are 90 (!!) levels of difficulty in the game -- anything below level "20" and you're actually paying in hearts to make the game easier. Past 20, you're gambling hearts that you're good enough to make it through the level without dying. It's a fun and very involved system.

Hearts mostly come into play in Uprising's many menus, which are attractively laid out, and can even be moved and jumbled around if you grab them with the stylus. Here are but a few of the various options:

  • Go through what appears to be hundreds of weapons, comparing and contrasting them and combining them into new weapons.
  • Create Street Pass gems for weapons that allow you to share your arsenal with people you encounter on out in the world. Fuse the gems you've received with other gems to create new gems, just like you would with weapons.
  • The "Treasure Hunt" is a huge tiled mosaic in which each tile corresponds to an in-game challenge like killing a certain number of enemies or getting a certain kind of weapon. Getting all the achievements lets you... apparently, see the painting beneath?
  • The "Idol Toss" lets you take eggs that you've earned in the game and place them into a container that launches them into space, converting them into weapons and collectable idols. You can use your 3DS coins to buy more idols -- I could buy hundreds of eggs if I wanted to.
  • In addition to weapons, you can lay out your powers, which are assignable to the D-pad. They run the gamut from useful (health recharge) to crazy (launch a fireworks show). They must be arranged like Tetris pieces in Pit's inventory, something like Resident Evil 4. There are heaps of powers and new ones unlock all the time -- it's possible to have the computer arrange the powers for you to save time.
  • There's a music gallery where you can listen to songs that you've unlocked.
  • Even the control-settings menus are odd and involved -- what most games would have as a simple series of check-boxes Uprising makes into a whole colourful affair, complete with submenus and unique graphical elements.
  • My favourite feature is called "Offering", mainly because I'm not yet sure what it does. Players can sacrifice hearts earned in the game to the Goddess Palutena. Doing so will "bring you closer to the Goddess". Palutena stands off in the distance at first and as you give hearts, she moves a little bit closer. To what end, you may ask? I don't know! I haven't earned nearly enough hearts to bring her close enough to ask her.

All of this noise under the hood can feel distracting at first, but after a while, it become an inextricable part of the overall game.

So far I've talked about single-player, but Uprising's multiplayer is an entirely organic, enjoyable extension of the game. Charmingly, the game doesn't ever use the term "multiplayer", instead putting online options under the menu heading "Together". I like that! I agree with Stephen -- maybe we should just start calling all multiplayer "together".

Players can play Kid Icarus: Uprising together in one of two modes -- a free-for-all mode plays like a simple deathmatch, with players running about shooting at one another and smacking each other around. Far more interesting is "Light vs Dark" mode, in which up to six players (three per team) battle in a team deathmatch. The teams have a combined health bar and once it is depleted, one member of the team becomes either Pit of Dark Pit, his dark-side doppelganger.

At this point, that person is "it" -- if the opposing team can bring him or her down, they'll win. It's a neat system, basically a game of team-deathmatch with a "protect the VIP" endgame. In one of our matches, Stephen Totilo and I became Light and Dark Pit at the same time, and had to battle it out to see which of our teams would win (he won).

Light vs Dark mode also features a type of gambling, in that the stronger the weaponry you bring into the field, the more of a chunk of your team's life-bar will deplete if you are killed. So, if you're going to bring that five-star bow into the fight, you better be good enough to use it. Winning multiplayer matches can net you some fabulous prizes -- in my first multiplayer victory I won a staff that hugely outshines the paltry weaponry that I've won so far on my single-player adventure.

Are you getting the sense that there's a lot of game here? Because there is. So much that I haven't yet finished the main storyline -- though that was at least in part because I was deathly ill for the first four days I was playing the game (this is most assuredly not a fun game to play with a fever). It goes on and on, with revelations layered on top of other revelations, breathless chattering over shooting gallery after shooting gallery. The story never feels particularly vital or impactful, but it's breezy and light and keeps things moving.

I've spent a good chunk of time going through the menus alone, and feel like there are loads of hidden things that I haven't yet seen. Better still, every aspect of the game is designed to be highly replayable -- the huge range of difficulty modes and the treasure hunt challenges will keep completionist gamers playing for a long, long time.

Kid Icarus: Uprising is a distinctive, oddball piece of work. It's not easy to recommend in the way that many other games are -- this isn't a "If you like xxx kind of game, you'll like this" type of situation. Its controls are a headache and it can be physically uncomfortable to play. Its goofy enthusiasm can get tiring and at higher difficulties the camera issues can be maddening.

But it's also full of joy, a whirling dervish of colour, light and humour. It feels uncalculated in a way that very few games do any more. It's unlike any other game currently available for the 3DS and is fundamentally fun to play despite its flaws. And so while the adage "Your mileage may vary" is particular true in this case, I have gotten a good number of miles out of Kid Icarus: Uprising, and when I look to the future, all I see are more miles, stretching out to the horizon.

What's that blocking my view? Oh, it's a giant flying nose-monster that shoots bombs from its nostrils.


Comments

    Awesome review! SUCH a shame the controls don't match the rest of the game. This could have been a huge win for Nintendo. While I'll pick it up at launch, some people will never forgive it for the control issues. Wouldn't it be great if Nintendo could 'patch' the problem with some update or something? Pity we're dealing with old Ninty here. I remember getting Animal Crossing on the Wii, and when I couldn't connect my DS version to it, I had to physically send the game by mail to Nintendo, who sent me a different copy... I'll start playing Kid Icarus expecting it to hurt my hand, then I can just enjoy the rest of the game for what it is.

    I don't get what's so difficult about hooking the pinkie finger of your stylus-holding hand under the bottom of the 3DS for support when using a circle-pad / stylus control scheme.
    Having played plenty of FPS' on the DS - where movement was the D-pad, for Christ's sake! - this control scheme always worked brilliantly for precise aiming. So long as you can take some of the weight with your stylus hand I never had a problem with it.

      No igree with the reviewer - I tried this on the COD DS games and you can only play for about 10 minutes before your hands start to cramp up! Though I never tried this pinkie finger hooking so I will give that a go when I pick up this game.

    In other 3DS news I walked into EB today and saw "coming soon" boxes that said "Donkey Kong (as in Country) 3D" and "Super Smash Bros 3D" once those two come out this system will have officially paid for itself!

    How many times can I say worst game controls I've ever experienced? If you like disappointment, dive right in.

    I love it when Kotaku posts in depth reviews! Although you might want to jump on the typos. Start with the third word. I think you meant "do"

    I got the game last Friday from Shin Tokyo in Adelaide.
    To cut a long story short, this game is bloody brilliant. Full featured, complete console style experience with great replayability.

    Anyone got any questions need answered?

    How do you people hold the system when you play? In my stylus holding hand i have the system held in between my pinkie finger and... that other one..., this puts the weight of the system on both hands, and from this position, i find it super easy to control the stylus. i always hold the system like this for all games that need to use the stylus.

    Just putting this out there. Hope you guys don't mind.

    I have made a group called Australia's Fallen Angels. Basically it's going to be a clan of sorts that enters tournaments (online and local, either official or unofficial). I can make a Facebook group for it as well for everyone to chat, organize matches and such.

    Basically I'm trying to unite all sorts of aussies. Casuals, pro, and anything in-between.

    Group is available here - http://www.facebook.com/groups/356173217759067/

    I'm late to the party for this review obviously... but I don't get all the 'terrible controls' complaints from people.

    Metroid Prime: Hunters was fun and I don't remember people crucifying it for using the same basic control method :-P...

    more OT: Uprising is actually pretty awesome, in my opinion. I preordered mostly for the 3D Classics version of the NES game, but I'm glad I did for a second reason now... Uprising might be my new 2nd favorite 3DS game. (Nothing will be topping MGS3 in the forseeable future...)

    The levelling up ystsem is more about being more proficient at certain things (and also the typical stuff like more health and stamina).For example, using the offensive stance on lower levels is possible but you can't miss a hit, because it will cost you a lot of stamina. So most skills are unlocked at start but are a bit risky to use, and become more easy to use later on. We did that so that you could use everything if you wanted (we didn't like to limit anything if you're a good player) but allowed us to gradually change the gameplay style. Of course, you can use the deffensive stance all the game, but it will be boring so we wanted the player to discover what the game has to offer.About the spell buttons, there are two ways of thinking about it. One is what you say, make the spells relate to the function of the button. The other one is to make the spell relate to the color of the button. We used that because it seemed easier to remember. Lightning=blue, Attack=red, Stamina=yellow, Health=green. It also matches the color of the interface bars.It's the first time we develop a game of this genre so it was a really BIG challenge for us. We also wanted to finish everything in one month (because it's a limit we try to use for all of our games) so we tried to keep the game simple and as polished as we could but, as always, things can be improved.Basically, when you find a hard situation, blocking is the key. The game relies a lot on the stamina bar, so button mashing won't work. My usual choice is to use offensive stance and Attack Spell and block a lot. Also blocking at the right time increases stamina regeneration (a yellow aura surrounds the player).The problem of queueing the stance is the it could lead to some exploits of the combat ystsem. We wanted the player to be vulnerable when changing stances, because you usually don't need to change it that much on a fight, depending on the enemies.

    Idk what you're talking about. They controls are a breeze once you play enough. Try using the included stand or just holding it. This game is probably one of the best I've ever played. While the banter between the characters gets a little irritating some times, it actually enhances the game. It really gives it a more real feeling. If you haven't already, grab yourself a copy! You won't be disappointed.

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