Kid Icarus: Uprising has been a long time coming. It has been 21 years since the last original entry in the series and, understandably, fans of angelic hero Pit have been calling for a new game for quite some time. Despite a thoroughly modern makeover, Uprising is a pure celebration of the 1987 original. There's an initial hurdle in the form of the game's controls, but once you master that learning curve Uprising provides a deep, satisfying experience. Combining air-based target shooting with some grounded platforming and a generous helping of customization, this is a great return for the little angel that could.
Uprising tells the story of Pit, a flightless angel who is battling to save humanity from the forces of the Underworld, headed by the nefarious Medusa. The plot is an entertaining amalgamation of Greek myth and Nintendo charm. Thanatos, the God of Death, takes the form of a flamboyant, sensitive ogre, while Pit himself is endearingly naive and consistently plucky. Since he can't fly, he's aided by the Goddess of Light, Palutena. She's the wind beneath his wings, but only for five minutes at a time. This serves a gameplay purpose; the opening section of each chapter has Pit flying through the skies, taking on enemies in an on-rails shooting gallery reminiscent of Star Fox. It also leads to some rather amusing exchanges between the two.
Uprising is a genuinely funny, wonderfully written game. Constantly self-aware and never afraid to break the fourth wall, the script delivers cheesy lines with a knowing wink, and frequently a sarcastic follow-up. Voice acting is pitch-perfect, and the comedy skits that play out over the action are a perfect complement for the colourful, surreal art direction. It's rare to find a game that's consistently laugh-out-loud funny, but here Kid Icarus doesn't miss a beat, warping Greek mythology for comic effect as well as throwing in a host of Nintendo references, all of which would be a shame to ruin beforehand. The action is complemented by a jaunty original score alongside frequent nods to the original's still catchy soundtrack.
The game's a high-score shooter at its core, and in the air-based sections, it's a wonderful experience from the off. Pit is on a set path, but you can move him around the screen to dodge enemy fire. A reticle floats ahead of him, controlled by either the stylus or the face buttons, and this is used to target enemies while the left shoulder button fires. It's simple, rewarding fun, made all the more interesting by the visual spectacles in the background. Pit darts over cities and through volcanoes, and even takes a trip into space. Weaving through the air and picking off enemies as a giant spaceship fires lasers at you is genuinely exciting. It's when Pit takes to the ground that things can be a little more awkward, at least at first.
During the ground-based levels, you're directly in control of Pit, guiding him around areas and taking on enemies head-to-head. Here, the stylus controls come undone somewhat. The stylus is a bit cumbersome for 360-degree aiming, and the 3DS hardware isn't well designed for being held in the required position for any length of time. The game comes packed in with a plastic stand, but in a lot of situations that isn't ideal. Fortunately, the controls are customizable (going so far as to offer left-handed circle pad support if you own the Circle Pad Pro add-on, although it should be noted that there's no twin-stick control option). The best option is to use the face buttons to control the reticle while Pit is on the ground, although it's worth experimenting to find a control method that suits you. At first, the button aiming takes some getting used to, but once you up the sensitivity and play around with the various auto-aim options and movement controls, things start to click. There's no denying that it's a significant early hurdle, but once you get to grips with everything, it all starts to feel natural.
These ground sections require Pit to push through an area to reach a boss. Normally this involves taking on waves of enemies, picking them out of the sky with a variety of ranged weapons, or moving in close for some melee action. Different enemies require different strategies; there are armoured enemies who can be attacked only from behind, enemies with weak spots who need to be picked off, and some enemies who must be avoided altogether. There are also a few vehicle sections, with a rapid-firing mech providing the highlight. These ground sections are more thoughtful, complicated affairs than their aerial counterparts, and most of the time the two styles work together beautifully.
Occasionally, though, the design of the ground sections can prove to be problematic. A few take place on thin, treacherous platforms, and Pit's propensity for dashing often leads to an unwanted fall. The Circle Pad isn't accurate enough to avoid the occasional accidental dash (achieved by tapping a direction), and since a fall takes off precious health, this can be an annoyance.
Most of the time, however, the game is sensible enough to avoid these mistakes and instead focuses on its versatile combat system. Dashing and firing lets off a powerful shot, while rapid fire can be achieved by holding down the shoulder button. Get in close, and you can whack enemies with a melee attack. There are nine weapon classes, each featuring a bunch of weapons. Cannons, for instance, offer slow but powerful long-ranged shots, while clubs let you deflect shots back at your opponents and deliver devastating close-range blows. Other types range from blades and staffs to claws and bows. Each weapon has its own stats and buffs, and you can spend a lot of time customizing your loadout.
Customization is helped, in part, by the fusion system. Weapons can be fused together to create new, more powerful weapons, and this aspect of Uprising alone adds a great amount of depth. With the aid of a simple grid, you can view the results of possible weapon fusions and decide which to sacrifice to create something new. Your gear section lets you test out any owned weapon on a practice range, and there's a lot of fun in finding the perfect weapons to suit your playing style. You can also convert weapons into gems, which can be traded to other players via StreetPass, allowing them to either claim the weapon, fuse the gem with a weapon of their own, or sell the gem.
You purchase new weapons with hearts, the in-game currency, and then take them into battle or merge them with existing arms. Hearts can be earned from defeating enemies in-game or wagered at the start of each level. There's a difficulty slider which lets you either spend hearts to lower the difficulty or gamble hearts to increase it. The risk/reward aspect is a neat system that gives plenty of incentive to replay levels. So too does the challenge aspect, in which you earn hearts, weapons, and powers by completing goals outlined on a puzzle board. Powers also form part of Pit's arsenal. These range from support abilities like healing and a high jump, to offensive powers like meteor strikes and giant lasers. Each power has a corresponding shape, not unlike Tetris pieces, and you equip them for battle by placing them on a grid, which in itself is a fun spacial management minigame.
The versus multiplayer is playable either online or locally, and these ground-based modes let you take your hard-earned weapons and powers into battle, either in teams or in a free-for-all. Free-for-all features up to six players going head-to-head trying to kill one another. Play takes place across a variety of arena-based stages, providing a solid deathmatch experience, albeit one that won't capture your attention for too long.
Light vs. Dark, the team-based mode, is the more interesting of the two modes. Here, teams kill each other until one team's life gauge depletes, at which point the player who died last transforms into an angel, either Pit or his Dark counterpart. Then it's a case of protecting your angel while trying to deplete the other team's life gauge, to trigger its angel and defeat it. It's a simple mode, and the faster pace of the multiplayer combined with the ground controls means it lacks some of the finesse of the single-player campaign. It's an enjoyable way to show off your weapons and is good fun with friends, but the real meat of Uprising is in its single-player story mode.
When it hits its stride, Uprising is a huge amount of fun. Once you get over the initial control discomfort, there's a deep and satisfying shooter to be found here. There's still the occasional maneuverability foible, but once you get to grips with a control scheme that suits you, these are few and far between. It's one of the best-looking 3DS games to date, with some fantastic 3D visuals that are used particularly well to convey depth in the flight sequences. Endearing, enjoyable, and brimming with content, Kid Icarus: Uprising is a loving homage to Nintendo's heritage.