Saturday, 10 November 2012

Game Review: Kid Icarus Uprising

When a certain returning Nintendo hero was coming in to land towards the start of the year, swooping and diving on his way after a long 25 year hiatus minus a pit-stop in Masahiro Sakurai's Super Smash Bros. Brawl, he didn't exactly make a perfectly elegant landing from the point of view of most critics. Despite universal acclaim according to MetaCritic, with a hefty average score of 88 out of 100, most reviewers and publications didn't fail to bash a key aspect of his latest game, one aspect that could potentially break it depending on whether players were willing to adjust or not. Of course, I can't be referring to anything other than Kid Icarus: Uprising on 3DS and its universally boycotted control scheme. Let's not beat around the bush, here, Kid Icarus does initially impede perfect handling when you first start it up, but only due to the fact the game starts you off with some pretty terrible default options. The game's on-foot sections require you to use the touch-screen as a makeshift trackball, controlling an on-screen reticule on the system's stereoscopic widescreen upper display. Dragging the stylus aims the reticule, while flicking the touch screen horizontally spins the camera, much like "spinning a globe" as the game's witty commentary (more on this later) claims. The thing is, this globe refuses to stop for a while until you tap on the touch-screen, much like stopping on a random country with your fingertip. The key word here is random, as you can never seem to get your aiming right with this nubilous method of camera control. Take a trip to the game's options menu, however, and things can easily be sorted out...

Kid Icarus: Uprising's glaring fault isn't its controls, but the terrible default settings you're initially going to try and deal with (and most definitely fail miserably in doing so). Learning to adjust to a brand-new control method is cumbersome enough, but learning it before realising you can fix it will mess with your preconceptions. As a gamer, think about all the times you've gone to an options screen before playing any game that doesn't force you to do so, and you'll see what I mean. The best advice I can give anyone with this review, one that cements my hefty recommendation of this heroic return of an age-old Nintendo classic after a quarter-century in wait, is to go to the options screen, select 'Reticule/Camera' and take the time to find out what works for you - Increasing the speed at which the camera rotation stops is a given in any circumstance. This advice out of the way, let's move onto the good stuff, and boy oh boy, I've got a lot of positive things to say about this long awaited return from here on out. As a matter of fact, the three-dimensional restoration of Kid Icarus has not only cemented itself as my personal favourite game of the year thus far, it also happens to have neatly fitted into the rarely growing pantheon of my favourite handheld games of all-time. If the 3DS needed a system seller, this was it, never mind Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7.

While not the most technically impressive game around, from an artistic standpoint Kid Icarus: Uprising is absolutely flippin' gorgeous.
But just what is it that makes Kid Icarus: Uprising so good? Well, with experienced developer Masahiro Sakurai at the helm of the game's development, I'm sure you can guess. While this return of a long-forgotten angelic hero and his counterparts isn't quite on such a grand scale as Super Smash Bros. Brawl, it's very nearly as packed to the brim with content and replay value. For a game originally intended for release on Wii, it not only soars to heavenly heights on Nintendo's dinky handheld platform, it also stands up to the vast majority of modern home console titles to boot, not only from a content perspective but also in terms of sheer originality in a large number of aspects. This legendary return is yet another title worthy of Sakurai's name, and if you own a 3DS and you're even remotely interested in it, I have two pieces of advice for you: Buy it immediately... Just don't forget to take time to adjust those controls. If that's not enough to crack those pre-conceptual nutshells in your brains, let's get into the meat of both the game and this review as I dissect everything that makes Kid Icarus' killer comeback so worth the five minutes it takes to sort out the controls before you play it.

The most evidently stellar feature on Kid Icarus: Uprising's deep and detailed visage is the vast amount of content found within its pores. If you read my Super Smash Bros. Brawl review and noticed it was missing a few things in an analytical sense, you'll probably know the reason for that: Sakurai's famed fighting release packed so much content that it was virtually impossible to fit everything into a review without turning it into an analytical essay, and this retro reboot is very much the same. A solo campaign spanning a wide range of locales across 25 varied chapters, featuring 99 difficulty levels and an outrageous amount of replay value; A frantically fun multiplayer mode that you can launch online or locally; Over 400 Idols similar to Smash Bros.' Trophies; Numerous extra unlockable features; 90 weapon designs contained within 9 sub-categories; A vivid cast of characters tending to a fantastically composed script; Three whole panels of achievements... All of these things only make up a fraction of what you get when you purchase Kid Icarus: Uprising, and unlike Smash Bros., it's all from one game (with a few sparks of inspiration from other releases here and there). So, I'll not waste any time waffling: Allow me to dig in, starting with the story...

In Air Battles, Pit engages in increasingly phantasmagorical metaphorical rollercoaster rides. Due to spoilers, I can't include screens of later stages, but trust me in saying they're mental as mental can be.
The plot found in Uprising is backed-up greatly by the lore it presents, not to say that the former aspect is bad; A cozy yarn well-told, featuring more unpredictable twists and turns as well as more story arcs than you'd initially expect judging from the introduction you're given to the story and world - Or lack of an introduction, for that matter. As returning protagonist Pit, a plucky yet likeable angel with some nice vocal pipes, you're quite literally thrown right into the action in the game's opening chapter, which introduces the player to the first story arc of the game. Pit is sent by his Goddess, the brash but also likeable Lady Palutena, to put a stop to the baneful Underworld Army and their empress Medusa, as well as her numerous commanders... And when all that's over and done with the game ends. Well, at least in a manner of speaking, one with a gargantuan little white lie attached to my manuscript-based yapper.

This initial story arc of Pit's lengthy tale, one that every trailer leading up to the game's release exclusively showed footage of, is undoubtedly a semi-impersonation of the original release on the Famicom (or NES if you're not cool enough) over two decades previous. While times have most certainly changed since then for the Kid Icarus branding (after all, this release takes the form of an unconventional third-person/on-rails shooter as opposed to the series' 2D semi-Metroidvania roots), this arc is absolutely a re-telling of the original game's story, only in a more complex and advanced form with a few new branches growing from its stalk. When you're done with this part of the plot, however, the game truly reveals itself and it appears that the first few chapters were merely an introduction to the experience, which is fitting considering that you get no real introduction when you first start up the story as I mentioned previously. The return of Kid Icarus feels much like an arc-based anime or a Saturday morning cartoon in the way its world opens up, introducing you to so many new, diverse concepts after your initial introduction through what you thought was the whole deal, and while it's not ingeniously complex, it works incredibly well. Oh, and speaking of certain forms of televisual media, I can't help but see this as a segue towards another aspect of Uprising's plot: The ground-breaking script.

In land battles, Pit can mount vehicles to make things a little less tiring.
Most incarnations of Nintendo's flagship franchises have always packed an outstanding sense of charm since the company's gaming inception. Games like Zelda, Mario and Metroid, among many others, have always exhorted a deep sense of involvement when played, and few titles on other platforms have managed to come close to this kind of thing. Thinking about it, this Nintendo-exclusive feel is one of the many things that has held my preference with the creators of such charming games as opposed to the likes of Microsoft and Sony ever since I first picked up a GameCube controller. And guess what? Kid Icarus: Uprising delivers this feeling in colossal spades, not only with its phantasmagoria-induced gameplay design and colourful characters, but the hilarious, deeply involving script the latter partake in. Uprising's dialogue is so packed full of references, in-jokes and jaw-dropping fourth wall smashing that it makes one wonder how Sakurai's team managed to dig up and develop an 8-bit classic, one that's admittedly bare-bones in comparison to what we see of it on 3DS, into such a stellar spin on semi-factual Greek mythos and indeed the greatly renovated state of modern gaming in general. It's easy to get sucked into the world and lore of this game; One that surprisingly only took referential inspiration from its age-old predecessors and a number of other gaming sweet spots. Uprising genuinely feels like a brand-new game despite the fact that it was developed with several spoonfuls of familiarity. In vein of this, Kid Icarus on 3DS is a much more original game than those found in the Smash Bros. series, which is saying something considering the fact that the game was created for a system of such a small size... And we haven't even moved onto the gameplay yet.

Learning attack patterns is key to defeating the many bosses of Uprising's solo quest. Several zaps from that death-beam and Pit's a deep-fried chicken wing.
Kid Icarus' 3DS incarnation is essentially split into two main modes; the solo adventure, which I've already dug into presentation-wise, and the multiplayer mode which is playable both locally and online. Both are fairly distinct despite the fact that they use the same engine (for land battles, anyway), a factor that really helps the lasting appeal and indeed longevity of individual gameplay sessions: If you're worn-out from playing through Solo chapters, you can swiftly jump into multiplayer to beat down some human opponents (or CPUs, if you wish) and grind some Hearts, or vice-versa. On top of this, the way Uprising's weapon management works allows the two modes to intertwine, in turn meaning that one mode can always benefit the other. Merely having a five minute blast in multiplayer gives off a satisfying sense of progression, something that few other games manage to replicate. Never once while playing the game have I felt stuck, and even in short gameplay sessions I always feel like I'm making progress. For an experience that has the potential to last hundreds of hours, that's really something.

It's the Nega-Pit!!!
After initially selecting the 'Move Out!!' option in order to launch a solo chapter, you'll find the first of 25 chapters following a gameplay structure you'll learn to get used to throughout the course of the adventure, not to incline that things aren't freshened up on a regular basis. The first section of this structure involves on-rails flying segments, much in vein of Treasure's Sin and Punishment series albeit as frantic as you want it to be thanks to the clever Fiend's Cauldron difficulty system. This allows you to bet Hearts, the game's currency, into an increase in difficulty and ultimately on your expected performance in the chapter. It's a simplistic inclusion, but it's one of the key reasons you'll be sucked into each of Uprising's 25 chapters on a regular basis. Effectively, the only way to get the very best weapons in the game is to take on the ultra-difficult 9.0 intensity on chapters. Back to the gameplay structure, the second stage of a standard chapter layout involves on-foot, third-person shooter segments. As I cemented at the start of the review, this more adventurous aspect of the game has been boycotted for its allegedly awful control scheme, but I doubt I have to go into details on how to fix that yet again.

Following some free-form exploration, typically involving the destruction of anything that gets in your way and the looting of any chests or Hearts salvaged from enemies, Pit reaches a boss, opening the final segment of a typical Uprising chapter. I do have a slight problem with this stage, as bosses are more often that not beaten in a flash, not giving the player the opportunity to hear all of the dialogue exchanges that take place throughout the battle. Naturally, things can be made more difficult with the aforementioned Intensity slider, but I still had something of a time issue with many of the game's heavy hitters, even on more challenging settings. Thankfully, it doesn't affect the final boss or some of the more important clashes, but regardless, it's frustrating to miss out on potentially hilarious dialogue simply because, however difficult they are to beat, your enemies don't have enough health. It's a minor niggle, but its occurrence throughout the adventure is just a bit too regular.

Bonkers, frantic and packed with seizure-inducing colour, you can tell from the multiplayer mode that this is absolutely the spawn of Smash Bros.' creator.
Sakurai's most successful and arguably greatest creation, the fantastic Smash Bros. franchise, has always been known to have a key focus on multiplayer brawling, as that's typically where the most fun lies. While it's more cumbersome to hop on the sofa and play some free-for-all battles with a few buds in Kid Icarus, what with the game being a 3DS release, it still contains a robust, addictive multiplayer mode for if you ever get a bit bored of speeding through solo chapters. Making use of the game's land battle engine explored in over half of the single-player adventure, Uprising's multiplayer contains two main modes: The standard Free-for-All option, and the more intriguing Light Vs. Dark. I shan't need to explore the former mode, but the latter offers a neat team-based experience which sees you depleting the opposing team's life bar by means of defeating your adversaries. When a bar is completely depleted, the last defeated warrior will be resurrected as a super-powered Angel, armed with a powerful weapon and an extended health bar. If an Angel falls in battle, the team they defend loses completely. It's an interesting mode that spices things up a bit, which is definitely a plus when, admittedly, the range of customisation options and modes in Uprising's multiplayer is rather limited, not to say that this detracts from the overall fun of the experience.

The very first thing we saw on 3DS, not too long after the vein-burstingly exciting reveal of the system itself back at E3 2010, was in fact Kid Icarus: Uprising. Back then, the sky-bound protagonist we know as Pit informed us that he was sorry to keep us waiting, but little did we know that we'd have to be waiting almost two more years to see the dinky hero shine his light on the 3DS. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely with a capital A and an added asterisk. Blessed with Sakurai's brilliance and the charm of Nintendo's legacy, Uprising feels much like part of something we've actively followed for decades, a-la Zelda, Mario, Metroid and what have you. But that's the thing, we haven't seen a feather from Pit's wings in over 20 years, and to have an effectively brand-new game feel like part of something that has been built-up over many years is an absolutely astonishing achievement, especially on such a dinky handheld. Heck, I haven't even had the chance to mention the beautiful visuals, absolutely phenomenal (not to mention perfectly choreographed with Air Battles) soundtrack and the intricate weapon management system the game has to offer. I have no doubt in my mind when I state that Kid Icarus: Uprising is not only the best game on the 3DS thus far, but also the greatest game to be released in 2012, at least judging from what I've played. And if that doesn't reinforce the fact that you pretty much need to purchase this game if you own Nintendo's latest handheld, I don't know what does. A masterful system-seller of uplifting proportions, the return of Kid Icarus makes the prospect of another quarter-century wait for the next installment as bearable as can be, to the point where good ol' Pit needn't have apologised on the day of the game's announcement in the first place.


Ashley Harrison said...

Yet another fantastic review Noodle, much better than anything I am capable of. If I didn't already own the game, I would've gone out tomorrow morning to buy it, that's how great and 'persuasive' this review is.

Kezz said...

Another brilliantly written review Noodle. I can see just how much effort you've put into this, and how passionate you are about the game. It definitely does it justice. And I couldn't agree more with you. Uprising's easily the best game I've played on 3DS, and really the most original game to come from Nintendo in a while, packed with charm. Thanks for reminding me how awesome it is, feel like playing through it all over again. ^_^

Tom said...

After reading this review, I literally opened a tab on Amazon and added this to my wish list - easily one of your best stuff, brilliantly written :3

Tom Badguy said...

A good review. I'm glad Kid Icarus is getting some love.