Uprising revives Nintendo's angelic hero with an original 3DS adventure that blends on-rails shooting combat with ground-based segments. While the game soars when it comes to charm and presentation, the uneven mix favors the weaker half of the gameplay formula and can't offer up a single well-rounded control option.
- Bold reimagining of discarded hero.
- Flight combat sequences are a delight.
- Excellent audio and visual design.
- Control schemes are universally awkward.
- Bland ground stages drag on too long.
Kid Icarus: Uprising Review:
It might be a stretch to label an 8-bit side-scroller as "character-driven," but Pit – Nintendo's chubby cherub – showed real staying power in the hearts and minds of fans, even as the Kid Icarus series itself faded from view following NES and Game Boy iterations. More than 20 years later, the franchise is finally back in fresh form, with a brand new Nintendo 3DS entry that reimagines the experience as a mix between on-rails shooter segments and ground-based areas that blend combat and exploration.
Much as Kid Icarus: Uprising charms and delights in many ways, making a much bolder impression than your average first-party Nintendo release, the long-awaited revival loses some footing with an overreliance on the blander half of its core composition, not to mention a complete lack of a capable control scheme.
A Fresh Start
Considering the lapse in time since Pit's last starring role, zero previous knowledge of the series is needed to dive into Kid Icarus: Uprising – you'll quickly meet the young angel, who lacks the innate ability to fly, but can be propelled for a few minutes at a time by his guardian from afar, Lady Palutena. From there, you'll battle on through myriad environments against the likes of Medusa and Hades, though longtime fans are rewarded with callbacks to past enemies and even brief appearances from classic sprites on the touch screen. The campaign shows an appreciated reverence for a pair of games that most Uprising players will have probably never touched.
But the ties don't extend into gameplay, as the latest Kid Icarus pulls double duty with a pair of very different play styles, which are swapped readily throughout the 10-hour adventure. Most of the 25 missions start off with Pit thrust into the sky, whipping speedily through waves of monsters and dazzling set pieces as you blast your way through obstacles. In the air, you'll control his own movements with the left analog stick while guiding his shots using the stylus or face buttons, with the left trigger used to launch projectiles and up-close melee attacks.
It's the Pits
Based on the conceit that Pit can only stay afloat for five minutes at a time, most levels then shift downwards, with the cherub shuffling through on-foot stages in which both the enemies and momentum of the experience are notably slower. While seemingly half of the core formula, these stages actually comprise the lion's share of the playtime – which is a shame, as they too often come off as bland and dawdling compared to the beautiful and concise flying segments. The on-foot missions do allow for more exploration and include secret areas designed for those further up the smartly sliding difficulty scale, but the stages also drag on and recycle elements too often.
Moreover, the game's awkward control schemes land with a thud during the ground-based segments. Using the stylus to control both aiming and the camera inevitably leads to cramped fingers and frustration, while trying to aim using face buttons kills the precision needed to track enemies that float around your earthbound hero. Mapping both regular movement and dash maneuvers to the left stick results also in far too many unintentional falls off of ledges. And the Circle Pad Pro – expectedly a savior for this kind of handheld-specific predicament – is essentially wasted here for the average player, as the right stick just mimics the left for player movement. As it is, there's not a single control scheme in the bunch that feels simultaneously capable and comfortable, and the included plastic stand for the Nintendo 3DS offers little help.
Online multiplayer is an interesting addition, but all of the issues from the ground-based combat and controls stick out even more once real-life enemies attack from all sides. The Light vs. Dark mode is a more interesting alternative to straight up six-player deathmatch, tasking each squad with protecting a version of Pit once the team's resources have dwindled; but whatever the mode, the ill-refined controls and combat make it more an amusing aside than a worthy point of fixation.
Were that strange mix of excitement and tedium paired with a forgettable tale or flat aesthetics, Kid Icarus might be quickly forgotten as a well-intentioned portable misfire. But Uprising so perfectly nails its audio and visual design that it still makes an incredibly strong impression.
Showing a much keener eye for witty repartee than perhaps anything Nintendo's shipped to date, Pit's fully voiced exchanges play out like an elaborate radio drama in the backdrop. While you zip around, Pit chats with Palutena and various other allies and foes, dropping solid jokes and curious references, all delivered with a ton of skill and enthusiasm. Better yet, the soundtrack is stunning – a blend of orchestral, rock, and synth tracks that deftly matches the on-screen action while amazingly feeling both wickedly diverse and totally cohesive.
And the art design is aces, as well, with some tremendously creative stages and gorgeous vistas in the game, plus a 3D effect that – while not necessarily essential – strongly amplifies the fantastical sights. Paired with a overall tone that blends intense action with dramatic storytelling, silly one-liners, and some hilarious enemies (like one that turns Pit into a walking tempura shrimp and attempts to eat him), Kid Icarus: Uprising strikes an original chord that resonates throughout and elevates the at-times middling action.
Spotty but Stellar
Pit's return is bogged down in parts by inept controls and dull, overlong ground combat scenarios, but Kid Icarus: Uprising can't help but stand out on the whole thanks to thoroughly excellent aesthetics, plus short-but-sweet shooting segments. It's an uneven revival, no doubt, but Uprising is also one of the most self-assured and impactful Nintendo 3DS titles to date, despite its weaker elements too regularly softening the buzz.