Unlike a number of Nintendo’s franchises, I truthfully have no history with Kid Icarus. I never played it on the NES. Years ago, I downloaded it from the Wii Virtual Console service and gave it about a half-hour of my time and shut it off after one Game Over. I wasn’t even aware until recently that there is a sequel on the Game Boy. Unless I’m mistaken, the games’ playable hero Pit last appeared in 2008′s Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the Wii sequel of Nintendo’s mascot fighting game series. It’s always interesting how Nintendo utilizes its franchises and also how often. Super Metroid, for example, launched in 1994 on the Super NES, and although there were plans to bring Metroid to the Nintendo 64, we didn’t see another game until Metroid Prime and Metroid Fusion appeared for the Gamecube and Game Boy Advance systems in 2002. When Nintendo revealed the 3DS two years ago, it had shown a number of planned games. Among announced works like Luigi’s Mansion 2, Pilotwings Resort, and Animal Crossing, it seemed rather amazing that Nintendo hadn’t forgotten its cult favorite Kid Icarus.
It was through positive word-of-mouth, a Best Buy discount, and generally being on the hunt for something to try on my 3DS that led me to a purchase. Something unexpected happened: Kid Icarus: Uprising has become my favorite 3DS game to date. It is an action game that combines aerial combat with ground third-person shooting and melee combat. When Pit takes to the air, it is an angel-versus-demons version of Nintendo’s Star Fox or SEGA’s After Burner games. The (adjustable) 3D helps distinguish Pit and his enemies and they pop out quite nicely against the game’s various landscapes. Even some of the more labyrinthine areas pop out effectively. The player uses the stylus to move the targeting reticle while the L button fires Pit’s weapon. The circle pad moves Pit himself. If the player waits until the targeting reticle completes itself, he can fire a stronger charged attack that makes it easier to take down stronger enemies. Holding down the button allows him to use rapid fire and clear as many enemies that fill the screen (which can be a lot at times). Also at his disposal are two orbs that, when tapped on the touch screen, will launch a barrage of light arrows and clear the screen of enemies.
The first chapter teaches the mechanics of the game through banter between Pit and his superior Lady Palutena. It also sets up the story of a resurrected Medusa (the villain from the NES game) launching a war against humankind and upsetting the balance of light and dark. I enjoyed the tutorial for simply instructing me on how the game works and giving me full control the entire way through as opposed to automatic demonstration and limited movement. I also enjoy its customization of various features. The player can set a difficulty level ranging from easy, normal, tough, all the way to brutal on a 1 to 10 scale (I was a wimp and didn’t go past 5). Hearts collected throughout the adventure are wagered (the higher the difficulty, the more hearts are bet) and will either be earned in victory, or lost in defeat. They can also be redeemed in the main menu for weapons. Weapons are also found in hidden areas and earned by meeting certain game conditions and can be fused to create newer, more powerful items. Pit also has special powers that are set up on a grid in a way similar to the Perks from the Call of Duty games. Almost anything you do in the game unlocks pieces of several picture puzzles, though I’ve yet to complete the three that I have. The pieces themselves offer differing rewards like new modes or powers.
The ground combat is the larger portion of most chapters. While Pit can fire weapons on-foot, I much enjoyed the satisfying “POW!” sound of a charged melee attack. The variety of weapons gives ranged and melee combat advantages and disadvantages. Clubs, for example, do much more melee damage than, let’s say, cannons. Bows make for great ranged weapons while blades provide a balance between both combat types. There is always, always a new weapon to try. Some chapters provide vehicles for Pit to control, which I don’t think control all that well, although I’m kind of fond of the robot suit. Its levels overall are linear enough so that the player doesn’t get lost, but open enough to find hidden areas and secrets. One feature I like are the Zodiac doors, which can only be access when a chapter is played at a particular (usually hard) level. Even at a normal difficulty, the game requires some skill to take down enemies akin to The Legend of Zelda: finding their weakness, dodging when required, and striking at the right moment. This is a rather large campaign overall.
While its story is a rather standard good versus evil tale, its biggest strength is in its dialogue: full of humor, wit, cleverness and is very self-referential. The translators seemed to have been given free reign with the Japanese script. Even as someone who did not fully experience the previous games, I enjoyed the 8-bit audio track homages for certain enemies and references to the older days of videogames. Admittedly, I missed some of the dialogue because battles can get heavy-handed at times and I can’t always focus on the banter as much as I want to. The characters themselves are all interesting and Nintendo even recruited a few veteran voice actors for the English dub, which means the performances are a step above the usual quality of a localized game.
There is also a multiplayer mode for both local and online play. There are two standard battle modes: the free-for-all where one person tries to score the most points with defeats and the Light vs. Dark mode where one group tries to eliminate the rival group’s angel similar to Team Leader matches in other games. The multiplayer mode provides some hectic fun and there are weapons and other bonuses earned for being the top player that keeps the player coming back. The game also takes advantage of the 3DS StreetPass functionality that allows weapon gems to be traded for the creation of new weapons.
I think this is a fantastic game, overall, in terms of scope and gameplay, and I got the sense that Project Sora put a lot of love into this adventure. It’s absolute fun even when it gets a bit on the tough side.