Looking Back at Kid Icarus: Uprising – A Glorious Ascension?

Mario, Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, Zelda, Resident Evil, Sonic, Metal Gear, the list goes on. What do all these gaming franchises have in common? It’s their recognition. If you’re an avid gamer you should know them incredibly well, and there’s a good chance you possess at least a few games from each of their respective series. On the other hand, we have some game series that wait quietly in the shadows, attempting to ‘photosynthesise’ towards that same light of recognition. Kid Icarus is one these. Stuck in the dwindling light for 21 years, all the time hoping for another opportunity to shine. And we finally got it in 2012, the year of our ‘Armageddon’, and the year we saw the return of Pit in Uprising. Was his revival a glorious ascension into heaven, or a quick descent into the underworld?

Masahiro Sakurai, a man famous for working on Kirby and the Super Smash Bros. series was the creative force behind Pit’s new adventure. He’s known for his somewhat paradoxical: deep yet streamlined approach. From the moment you load up Kid Icarus: Uprising, this fact is apparent from the menu alone. There is a lot of content to be found, from the Idols to the achievements, to the numerous fancy weapons. It’s completely overwhelming at first, in the same way Super Smash Bros. Brawl was; even the menu layout is hugely reminiscent of that star-studded fighter. It was depth in abundance, but what about his renowned, streamlined gameplay?

Kid Icarus: Uprising

Sakurai wastes no time for a preliminary story, as the opening level immediately shows the dust-covered angel burst out of the doors of heaven in spectacular fashion. Suddenly everything is happening at once and that frantic rush you get from rail shooters like Sin and Punishment is instantaneous and gratifying. Serving both as a tutorial and exposition, the first stage is a great introduction to the game. Uprising is split into two halves then, the first part in any stage takes the form of the adrenaline-fuelled rail shooter, with the second part being essentially a third-person shoot ‘em-up.

The stages that take place on land are certainly slower-paced, with the aim being to annihilate everything in your path with more finesse. Chests containing goodies are chucked in to break it all up, with the occasional puzzle-like element featuring as well. At the end of these stages, you’ll face one of Medusa’s commanders, who are expertly realised and fantastic fun to fight.

What about the controls? Remember the controversy back in the day? While they’re not a literal ‘game-breaker’, they are an annoyance at first, and one in which a master like Sakurai should have addressed. You control Pit with the Circle Pad, aim with the Stylus, and shoot with the L button. It’s fluid and precise, that is until a nagging in your wrist commands you to stop; you might even experience a few minor hand cramps. An important point to make is that it improves the more you play: while that might sound like a crude justification for bad design, after a few hours of gameplay it won’t really be an issue.

You also have a stand packaged in with the game to help remedy this, which works extremely well, yet simultaneously destroys the idea of portability. Of course, this begs the question: if the team were that worried about the ergonomics to include a stand, then why did they proceed?

Kid Icarus: Uprising

It’s worth saying that there are some in-depth control customisation options that allow you to set-up your preferred style of play. Although none of these allowed for the precision of the Stylus. The other gripe is with Pit’s mad dash motion that often throws you off edges to your demise. You have to flick the Circle Pad up to run, but sometimes the slightest movement engages this dash, the outcome being a significantly reduced life bar. Ultimately though, you shouldn’t let a few hours of comfort adjustment perturb you – Uprising’s positives far outweigh the negatives.

Now that we’ve covered the controls, we can talk about Uprising’s greatest strengths. For starters, seeing the game in motion is truly a spectacle, even today. The colours, the sprawling environments and the character models are often striking, and the little touches, like the soft blue glow around Pit’s enchanted wings, only further convince you of this stunningly-presented package. One particular eye-opener for me was approaching the swaying sea, which was then ‘biblically’ parted by the Goddess Palutena. Like the best-looking games for the 3DS out there, to see it all running smoothly in 3D on such a small screen is the biggest surprise.

Kid Icarus: Uprising

It doesn’t stop there though, the soundtrack was also incredible. This is unquestionably a result of influential figures like Yuzo Koshiro (Streets of Rage, ActRaiser), Motoi Sakuraba (Dark Souls, Star Ocean), Masafumi Takada (Killer7, No More Heroes), Noriyuki Iwadare (Grandia, Ace Attorney: Investigations) and Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger/Cross, Xenogears) combining their celebrated musical talent. It’s whimsical, illustrious, and beautiful. There’s not much else to say here, if anyone could assemble such a group, then it’s Sakurai. Certainly some of Nintendo’s finest work.

The dialogue between Pit and Palutena is another highlight. This is fully-voiced, self-referential humour at its best. Lines like: “Dark Lord? Hasn’t that been done to death?” and, “Listen to that swagger, you’ve toughened up nicely Pit. Remember when you’d be all, like, “I’M FINISHED!” all the time?” add to the unashamedly funny script. In a gaming world that is filled with deadly serious stories, where characterless soldiers kill lots of things, Pit’s revival is original, lighthearted and a breath of fresh air. The continual breaking of the fourth wall is a clever move indeed, and the audio recording is simply top-notch.

The multiplayer segment of the game wasn’t the reason you bought Kid Icarus: Uprising. Nevertheless, Light VS. Dark is the superior mode here, where players fight 3-on-3 battles with weapons earned through the solo campaign. This is balanced out so that those with the best arsenal are the greatest sacrifice to the team’s life bar when they fall. After all three players in a team have been defeated, one will turn into Pit’s light or dark side. It’s executed well admittedly, and there are very little connection issues, but the tastiest meat really is found in the solo experience. Still, it can be addicting as the rewards for playing online are significant.

Kid Icarus: Uprising

StreetPass and SpotPass were both utilised as well. StreetPass allows for a stylish gem transfer system between people you meet in the streets, while SpotPass enables Nintendo to send you even rarer gems that can be used to fuse weapons. Then there’s all the other stacks of content seemingly packed into the cartridge of Uprising: AR card functionality, Idol tossing, a music gallery, detailed play records, and the Fiend’s Cauldron, which is a hugely original way of encouraging multiple replays of the same level. Intensity gates found on land levels dictate the difficulty you need to play on to unlock them and reap their awards. Therefore, play on a higher setting, unlock the gate, fight a mini-boss, and you’re rewarded with endless gifts, weapons and hearts. Just how they managed to fit it all in is impressive in itself. The discovery of the almost unlimited supply of things to do is one of the highest points in the game.

Kid Icarus: Uprising

Kid Icarus: Uprising was Nintendo trying something different. Sharing elements from Starfox, Kingdom Hearts and Sin and Punishment, it’s still exciting and fresh, and proves that there’s always more room for those heroes left in the darkness. It has its control niggles which are a shame, but this doesn’t stop it being an epic rendition of Sakurai’s creative power and direction. The fact that the production values are higher than some home console retail games mean you’re truly getting a cinematic experience. Uprising is a treasure trove of love from a masterful video game director. So, where’s the next game?