Aside from Shigeru Miyamoto, it’s hard to find a more creative and ingenious mind at Nintendo than that of Masahiro Sakurai. Yes, everyone knows that he’s best known for his overseeing of the Super Smash Bros. games and that he also was the creator of Kirby. But looking at his résumé of accomplishments only reveals the true levels of masterpieces of the games he’s created, especially in terms of the unbridled creativity and iconic memories brought forth. Sure, his first endeavor, Kirby’s Dreamland, wasn’t the greatest game by any standards (though I owned it and loved it for its time), seeing as the game’s length was extremely short and that this was the only Kirby game where his signature powers of stealing enemies’ moves were not yet discovered but after the first creation, everything to follow would encompass a level of creativity that brought gamers something they had never quite experienced yet.
Take Kirby’s Adventure, for example, the NES installment that followed Kirby’s Dreamland just a year later. The overall amount of creativity packed into this title is unreal even by today’s standards. Aside from the obvious parts such as the ability to suck multiple enemies’ powers and the creative overworld level selection hubs, Kirby’s Adventure was a true treat given the environments explored, different gameplay variances experienced, and overall sense of joy that the game brought about (from its numerous secret passages to its enjoyable mini-games). There just wasn’t anything like it at the time.
Fast-forward to 1996 on the SNES with Kirby Superstar, a game that featured a whole slew of different styled games packed into one package, including the iconic “Great Cave Offensive.” Super Smash Bros. has always held a special place in the hearts of its fans and the originality of the series, overall level of unlockable content, and fan service has only increased with each of its 3 installments (despite Brawl having a few battling issues that Melee purists such as myself never could fully fall in love with).
After leaving Nintendo and producing the DS’s iconic puzzle game, Meteos, with Q Entertainment, it was nice to hear that his own company, Sora Ltd. had formed a new 1st party with Nintendo, dubbed Project Sora, and would soon be producing yet another title not in the Smash Bros. vein. Enter Kid Icarus: Uprising, a game that’s drawn a ton of fan support and critical awe over the past years that the game was shown at E3. Knowing the track record of Sakurai, many expected that the game would be a masterpiece full of quirkiness, depth and creativity. Could KI: Uprising live up to such lofty expectations or was the angelic hero best left to his adventures on the original NES game?
One of the best parts of the aforementioned games created by Sakurai are the unexpected styles of gameplay and overall enjoyment brought about by something truly new. With each of the games, I remember not knowing what to expect, even after reading or hearing about the games. Take the original Super Smash Bros., for instance. Many of us bought the game due to the fan service and nostalgia of the game’s many Nintendo characters. However, when I finally bought the game, I remember the sense of curiosity and naivety brought forth with my first gameplay experience. I had never played a fighting like it before and its overall style was just something entirely fresh and enjoyable.
In an age where the internet can sometimes spoil the mystery of games, it’s nice to find some that break the mold of what a game is expected to be. Kid Icarus: Uprising follows suit with its unique style and brings something extremely fresh to the table. Sure, we all know that the game is a hybrid between an on-rails shooter and a 3rd person action/adventure game, but the game’s progression, style, and gameplay are unique enough to make the game feel different from the mold and give it a sense of mystery even for those that have been anticipating the game for some time.
The game puts you in control of Pit as he battles the forces of the Underworld Army, just as he did in the original Kid Icarus game for the NES. The story is chronicled in a series of 25 chapters, each of which includes an on-rails portion and an on-foot portion of gameplay. Story elements are developed by only a few cut scenes but the plot ensues alongside battles as Pit and his aide Palutena, the goddess of light, bicker with one another and the many villains throughout the game. The amount of dialogue is not only quite extensive but also quirky and extremely well written. You’ll find the childish, upbeat banter of Pit and Palutena to be very endearing as their over-expression gives you a better sense of their personalities. Cheesy jokes about the series’ past as well as other gaming gags are strewn throughout the dialogue and continue to keep battles upbeat and enjoyable, even on the highest, most grueling difficulties. Throw in the unique personalities of each of the villains and you’ve got yourself a game that oozes personality.
Each of the levels can be played at a up to 90 different difficulties according to the number of hearts you are willing to spend. The default difficulty is 2.0 and anything from 0.0-2.0 lowers the difficulty at the cost of hearts (for those having trouble with portions of the game) whereas anything from 2.0-9.0 increases the overall difficulty at the cost of hearts. Raising the difficulty not only increases your overall acumen in the records portion of the game (as well as the information provided during StreetPass and multiplayer sessions) but it also affects the amount of treasures and the overall quality of the treasures you receive. Thus, at a difficulty of 9.0, you can receive a large number of treasures compared to difficulty 0.0 or 1.0 and the treasures found in both 0.0 or 1.0 are much lower quality of items than that of 9.0 (the item type may be the same but the bonuses and ratings are much higher overall). Finding stronger items also makes the game easier based on the overall strength of the items you find and subsequently you can play on higher levels.
As for the game’s overall semblance of Sakurai production, everything from the menus to the amount of depth are on display to bring you the same level of polish seen in all of his games. For instance, menus can be moved around, settings are extremely customizable, additional content and unlockables are numerous, and multiplayer is enjoyable and worthwhile. Add an incredible soundtrack with several orchestrated portions and some of the best graphics and 3D on the 3DS to provide and impressive display of personality in the game’s overall presentation.
The overall variance of environments you explore is also quite extensive. One moment you’ll be exploring a Greek-style city and the next you’re diving in and out of caverns amidst a parted sea. The environments are extremely creative and each level’s visuals are entirely different from the previous. One of my personal favorites was Pandora’s Labyrinth of Deceit, a level that featured numerous blocks and polygons dispersed throughout the labyrinth that were reminiscent of original FX graphics games such as the original Star Fox on the SNES (but the implementation of the blocks is maddening and impressive all in the same. In the Air Battles, you’ll be weaving in and out of different areas as you navigate through these on-rails portions and the visuals here are downright gorgeous.
Clumsy (but Satisfactory) Controls
Remember back on the original DS when we were given the “best” possible FPS controls before joysticks were added to handhelds? Movement via the D-Pad whilst aiming via stylus and touchscreen were the only viable way to create a responsive aiming system that would work for portable experiences. Games such as Metroid: Prime Hunters, Moon, C.O.R.E., & Goldeneye 007 were a few of the titles that used this scheme of controls and it’s probably no wonder that none of the games were particularly great (Hunters was good but paled in comparison to the Metroid Prime trilogy of games). Though this was the best solution to limited handheld controls, the gameplay never quite felt intuitive for a number of reasons. The most notable downfall, however, is that holding the system with only one hand whilst controlling your character via the D-Pad and firing with your pointer finger was very uncomfortable and made prolonged play difficult due to tiring of the hand holding the system.
Kid Icarus: Uprising follows the same style of controls and though it’s not perfect, it does seem to fit the game better. Because the game was produced for the original 3DS model (sans the Circle Pad Pro attachment), it’s easy to see that this was again the best possible implementation of controls available for the game. However, using a second joystick wouldn’t necessarily improve the experience as much as you’d think. For one, the on-rails missions are better served by stylus based controls because aiming the reticle and moving Pit simultaneously would not give you the same level of accuracy in controlling the direction of his shots if the Circle Pad Pro were implemented.
The one area that would benefit a controls change, however would be during the on-foot missions. The biggest issue with the current control scheme is that the stylus is not only used for aiming at your enemies but it is also used to change the camera angle via flicking. You can also press the R button (which works out quite well if you support your 3DS with your right wrist) but nonetheless, it’s obvious to see the benefits of having the support of the Circle Pad Pro as a second aiming option for on-foot missions (especially when walking on narrow platforms or next to Lava).
The confusing part is that the Circle Pad Pro is supported with the game but only for changing the controls for lefties. There are other ways to change the control of the reticle in on-foot battles such as using the ABXY buttons as directions but this feels even more awkward than using the stylus. There are multiple options nonetheless for other things such as inverting controls of reticle movement, changing the speed at which the reticle is moved and modifying how fast the stop acceleration is after changing the camera angle (after modifying these, the controls did improve).
Another of the well known attributes of a Sakurai game is large amounts of depth and unlockables and Kid Icarus: Uprising is certainly no slouch in this department. The game’s 25 chapters are a lengthy endeavor to say the least, marking around 12-13 hours of total play time for the best players (that would be on the lowest difficulty possible without replaying any of the missions). That doesn’t even include any of the time spent in menus or in multiplayer which could be well beyond that. I would say after I’m completely finished with the game, I will have probably played the game for around 50 hours or so.
So let’s talk about all of the features available in the game aside from the main story mode. In order to make things a little more organized, I decided to list them separately and write a few sentences about each:
Weapons: There are 9 different classifications of weapons (blade, staff, claws, bow, palm, club, cannon, orbitars, arm). Each different classification affects the overall style of attack. For instance, a club is purely melee and can only attack via range during charged attacks (they are also the most effective melee weapons but are difficult to use during on-rails battles). Conversely, bows are good at striking from a distance but their melee attacks aren’t as effective. Beyond the classification, there are 12 different types of each item (that’s 108 different items!) and each item also attacks a little differently from one another within a certain classification. Items also have several distinct characteristics, such as a Ranged and Melee rating of 0-6 stars indicating how effective they are at that specific type of attack (thus one weapon of the same there is a difference in the quality of weapons even if they have the same type). Finally, weapons can also have up to 6 different added bonuses/detriments to them such as Speed+2, Poison +1, Forward-Dash Charged Shot +3, etc. The number of added bonuses is enormous so the amount of unique items is literally almost infinite. Thus according to your own specific preference, you can choose whichever type of weapon best suits your own battle style.
Powers: These can be found throughout levels inside treasure chests (as can weapons). There are a total of 60 powers in the game to be found and they can be equipped to be used during the on-foot missions. Each power is represented by a differently shaped block (with higher level ones taking up more space) and equipping them is done by placing them within a 6x6 grid without overlapping. Powers range anywhere from healing your life to turning invisible so they can be extremely helpful at some of the higher levels of difficulty and thus it is important to maximize both the number of powers equipped as well as the quality of the powers based on your own fighting style.
Redeem Hearts: After each round, seven different weapons will be available at this shop. You can spend your hard earned hearts to purchase a weapon or two but they are well overpriced compared to their overall worth.
Fuse Weapons: This is one of the most complex but enjoyable portions of the game, in my opinion. All of the weapons in your inventory are listed along the columns and rows of a spreadsheet and the resulting weapon that any two will produce is listed in each of the cells. Not only will the resulting weapon be a different type than the two combined, but traits can be carried over to the resulting weapon as well (up to six of the additional added bonuses/detriments on the two parent items can result in the created weapon. Also, the resulting Ranged and Melee ratings of the created weapon also changes according to the parent items (they can increase or decrease accordingly). It’s not a general rule that merging two weapons will create a better weapon but you can create some really good items through multiple merges so this is a benefit to keeping your weapons rather than converting them to hearts.
Convert to Hearts: The opposite shopping experience to Redeem Hearts, this allows you to effectively sell your equipment for hearts. The amount you earn is more than the value of the items but much less than what you would buy them for at the shop.
Idol Toss: This is the trophy portion of the game similar to Smash Bros. Brawl & Melee. Throughout the game, you’ll find eggs that can be launched to receive idols (trophies). Play coins (those things you earn by walking around with your DS) can also be spent to make eggs if you so choose.
Treasure Hunt: This is very similar to Smash Bros. Brawl’s achievements where a 10x12 portrait grid of achievements can be unlocked according to your actions in the game. By doing so, you earn different things such as powers, idols, music tracks, hearts, and even weapons. The awesome part is that after a little bit into the game, you actually unlock a second grid of achievements, doubling the amount of unlockables to 240!
Idols: In this mode, you can view all of the idols you’ve collected, read about them, and rotate or move them around as you choose (just like in the Super Smash Bros. games).
Music Gallery: As you probably guessed, you can play all of the music you’ve unlocked here. Since the music is so great, music aficionados such as myself love this sort of thing!
Power Portrait: Similar to the Treasure Hunt grid, but this portrait is filled by collecting powers. I don’t know what happens when it’s completed but even if it’s just a portrait I want to do it!
Offering: A fun little addition to the game that allows you to offer hearts to bring the goddess closer to you in spirit. Again, I don’t know if this does anything but it’s fun to see her get gradually closer to you as you throw away your hearts.
Records: Check a plethora of logged stats to see all you’ve accomplished
AR: The game comes with a collection of six different AR cards. These are different idols that can be portrayed onto the real world using the 3DS’s AR features. You earn 100 hearts and a new idol in your collection for each of the different AR cards you register. You can also buy sets of 10 collectible AR cards at retail stores. Each of the AR cards also has different stats and can be battled but unfortunately, there are no results of the battles nor is it anything as robust as the figurine battling from Super Street Fighter IV: 3D edition.
StreetPass: Gems can be created using items you own and you can trade those gems with others via street pass. After receiving a gem, you can either convert it into a weapon or fuse it with another gem to create a more powerful weapon.
Together: This is the game’s multiplayer that can be played either on the internet or locally. Battles consist of either free-for-all melees or 3 vs. 3 Light Vs. Dark battles. Matches are fairly short, extremely high fast paced, and chaotic. In Light Vs. Dark battles, your team has a life meter that gradually decreases as your teammates are killed. You can equip the different weapons and powers you own but the stronger the weapon or power, the more damage will be decreased on your team’s life meter. Weapons and powers can also be earned that can be used in the main game (a great incentive to playing multiplayer) and idols are also received from the game.
How to Play: A series of tutorial videos that are very helpful in learning the ins and outs of the game.