Kid Icarus: Uprising (3DS)

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Unboxing Kid Icarus: Uprising created a great first impression and definitely heightened my expectations for the third entry in this long-dormant series. The package includes a handy stand for your 3DS that makes playing the game more comfortable (more on this later) as well as a starter pack of six AR (Augmented Reality) cards that you can trade with friends, use to stage mock battles or to earn in-game currency.

The positive feelings I had about Kid Icarus: Uprising only got deeper when I delved further into this quality shoot-em-up from Project Sora and Nintendo. This is a must-play title if you own a 3DS and is one of the most accessible and enjoyable games to be released in a long time. This is also one of the few titles I’ve played that takes full advantage of the 3D effect to create an immersive experience that loses a significant portion of its appeal when you turn the 3D off.

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The Kid Icarus series began as a 2D action platformer for the NES back in 1987. A sequel was released in 1992 for the Game Boy and since then the franchise has been in hibernation. The series’ protagonist – a young angel knight called Pit – appeared as a playable character in 2008’s Super Smash Bros. Brawl but Kid Icarus: Uprising sees Pit take the central role for only the third time since the franchise’s inception.

Kid Icarus: Uprising is a shoot-em-up with a few RPG elements thrown in to give it more substance. At times it also feels a bit like a third-person action game with light platforming sections – somewhat akin to a title like Kingdom Hearts. Each chapter of the game is divided into two sections: air battle and ground battle. Your trusty sidekick Palutena grants you the power of flight at the beginning of the level but it only lasts for a few minutes – basically just enough time to reach your ground battle starting point.

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This section of the chapter is on rails although there are one or two occasions during the entire game where you can choose which route to take. You’ll need to dodge incoming enemy fire and mow down your opponents as quickly as possible to get a high score and eradicate the danger they represent. You’ll then land midway through the level and have to make your way on foot to the area where you’ll fight a boss battle.

The second part of each chapter is clearly the more challenging, open-ended and time-consuming component of the level. Often you’ll need to defeat all the enemies in a room or area before you can move on so this gives you a chance to improve your combat skills and collect hearts (the game’s currency) from defeated enemies. There are no real puzzles as such but basic platforming sections occasionally present themselves. There are also some moments during the ground battles where you can commandeer various vehicles that give you an edge in battle or allow you to reach new areas.

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Kid Icarus: Uprising is not a short game – it took me a few evenings of dedicated playing to finish it. There were a few times when I thought it was about to end only to be introduced to a new strand of the storyline. This game was in development for over three years and it really shows in the length of the solo campaign and the amount of weapons and collectibles you can unlock. For example, there are nine categories of weapon ranging from staffs, bows and clubs to blades, claws and cannons. In each category there are literally dozens of weapons to collect and more can be created by fusing two together.

You’d think the constant shooting in Kid Icarus: Uprising would soon become repetitive but this is not the case. The sheer number of weapons and auxiliary abilities (called ‘powers’) keeps combat fresh, as does the huge variety in enemy design. The game has some incredibly well-crafted foes and bosses, from an enemy that turns you into an eggplant to a fearsome skull creature that spells instant death if you come into contact with it.

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The game also has glorious 3D visuals and epic orchestral music that consistently delights the senses. Whether you’re swooping through a lava-spewing canyon or escaping from an exploding floating structure similar to the Death Star, there are moments in Kid Icarus: Uprising that literally made by jaw drop. The 3D effect in this game has to be seen to be believed and it really goes to show that the shooting genre benefits greatly from the depth that 3D provides.

Kid Icarus: Uprising also has more in-game dialogue than most shoot-em-ups you’ll encounter. Pit, Palutena and the great cast of characters you’ll meet along the way are almost constantly engaged in entertaining chatter and this keeps the repetitive combat from becoming tiresome. The script is very witty and is especially relevant to hardcore gamers. There’s a huge amount of gaming references embedded in the banter, including ones to Donkey Kong and loading screens (to name just a few). When the characters are talking their anime-styled portraits occupy the bottom screen so you can always cast your gaze down if you want to fully appreciate these humorous exchanges.

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One of the best things about the game is its incredible accessibility. Almost anyone who’s old enough to read and understand basic game mechanics can enjoy the experience because it caters for every skill level and offers an unbelievable number of control options and customisation. The default way to play Kid Icarus: Uprising is to place your 3DS on the included stand and control Pit’s movements with the circle pad and shoot with the L button. Your right hand holds the stylus and you can move it around the touch screen to line up your shot or select your powers, and flick it to change the camera angle.

I started playing the game this way but it felt a bit cumbersome and the 3D looked out of focus because of the angle of the stand and my head. I went into the options menu and within a few seconds I found my optimal configuration – I assigned shooting to the R button and aiming / camera control to the face buttons. I was now good to go!

Kid Icarus: Uprising feels ahead of its time in so many ways. For instance, the options menu allows you to instantly test whatever it is you’re changing – no need to return to your game. So if you’re changing the inversion of the camera (for example) you can immediately test it out on a practice course and see if you’re happy with the result.

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The most revolutionary feature of the game, however, is something called the ‘Fiend’s Cauldron.’ Basically this is a difficulty slider from 0.0 to 9.0 that you can set before each level. The twist is that you’ll need to spend hearts if you want to play on 1.9 or below and bet hearts if you want to play on 2.1 or above (2.0 is the default). You can expect to earn much better rewards (including rare weapons) on the higher difficulty settings.

If you bet hearts and then die during a level you’ll lose them, making this one heck of a risk / reward mechanic for hardcore players. The game tracks your skill level and will suggest a difficulty level for you at the start of each chapter, encouraging you to match or surpass your previous performance on the next stage.

The Fiend’s Cauldron is a simply brilliant gameplay mechanic that I’d love to see implemented in more titles. It allows casual players to progress to a game’s conclusion without too many hiccups and also rewards more hardcore players for pushing themselves beyond their comfort zone.

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Kid Icarus: Uprising also brings a risk / reward mechanic to multiplayer. Both local and online multiplayer is supported for up to six people and there are two game types: Free for All and Light Versus Dark (somewhat akin to Team-based Deathmatch). You can equip any weapons and powers you’ve earned during the solo campaign but there’s a catch – the more powerful your weapon is the more damage you’ll take.

I played a few rounds of both these modes and the online performance was excellent – very little lag and a smooth frame rate throughout. You can even play against CPU-controlled opponents if you want to hone your skills before jumping into local or online matches.

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Kid Icarus: Uprising is exactly what I want from a 3DS title. Its outstanding accessibility means that you can quickly find the right control setup for your needs and it feels like you’ve accomplished something after every play session. The mesmerising 3D vistas in the game completely surpassed my expectations and its beautiful musical score was pure listening pleasure. I’ve already played a few great titles on 3DS but Kid Icarus: Uprising is ultimately the one I would recommend the most.