Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Review: Kid Icarus: Uprising demonstrates well the strengths and weaknesses of the 3DS handheld. Fun game though for sure.

Many had forgotten all about Pit and his Kid Icarus franchise; it's rare for a Nintendo character to go so long without getting a new game, but Pit had been lying dormant since 1992. That changed with his role as a playable character in Super Smash Bros Brawl, something that undoubtedly spawned new interest in seeing the return of the Kid Icarus franchise.

It would make sense then that the Smash Bros series director, Masahiro Sakurai, was to spearhead the rebirth of the Kid Icarus series, and he's created a very hectic game. I don't mean that necessarily as an insult but people should know what they're getting into when picking this one up. The action is non-stop, as it jets from the starting line like a kid on a sugar rush and never lets up across its sometimes exhausting 13 hour campaign. Part rail shooter and part ground-based hack and slash...with shooting, Kid Icarus: Uprising is definitely something different, and though it's not without its flaws, it's still a 3DS game worth playing.

With a convoluted storyline involving gods and goddesses, humanity at stake and an underworld army, (and that hardly covers it) it can be a bit much to take in at times. Thankfully Nintendo did well with the script and voice acting, delivering a story that not only takes place while you play, but also within fully produced in-game cutscenes. The dialogue seems to be doing its best to capture the fun and goofy humor of a Saturday Morning cartoon, and some annoying jokes aside, it really works; this game can be laugh out loud funny, especially when it references itself (and other Nintendo franchises) in some pretty fun ways. The voice actors all seem to be having a blast bringing their characters to life, which is a good thing, because the character interaction almost never stops, even while playing.

Kid Icarus: Uprising has a lot going on. Between Pit and his friends and villains constantly chatting with each other and the barrage of enemies always right in your face, to a full blown orchestral soundtrack from Motoi Sakuraba (Star Ocean, Tales, Dark Souls) the kinetic energy here can be overwhelming at times, though thankfully the levels are kept short enough that you never have to play for too long at a time before the game saves your progress. Almost every level is divided up into two segments; a shorter on-rails flying section followed by a usually longer battle on the ground, often culminating in a boss battle. Rather than going with a difficulty setting, you pick your difficulty at the start of every level, betting more "Hearts" the higher you raise the challenge. Dying during the level then costs you hearts, and the difficulty reduces itself as punishment. Benefits to playing at a higher difficulty level include better treasures dropped from enemies, and of course the personal satisfaction of overcoming a tough challenge.

I'm a bit mixed on the way Kid Icarus: Uprising handles this. It's an inventive system and it can be fun to risk hearts to crank the difficulty up. On the other hand, dying does drop the difficulty back down, and you can't avoid this. So instead of getting to retry a particularly difficult part at, say, the 5.0 difficulty, you're re-trying it at more along the lines of a 3.2 unless you opt to start the whole level over again.

But that's really my only issue with the difficulty system; giving you such a wide array of challenge levels to choose from means that Kid Icarus: Uprising offers an experience that can be both relaxingly easy and insanely tough, and the ability to switch between these before each level is a pretty cool thing.

The levels themselves are all gorgeous, doing a great job at demonstrating the 3DS' visual capabilities and how much the 3D can enhance these varied environments and character models. I didn't notice much in the way of framerate issues despite the craziness constantly taking place on both screens, and load times are kept to a minimum. Each place you visit has a different look to it, and when you're talking about a Campaign with as many levels as this one has, it's definitely something Kid Icarus: Uprising's artists should be proud of.

In fact, there's a level of complexity here in all categories that you just don't see in many other games of this type. The amount of weapon customization is staggering, and there's no shortage of "achievements" to attain, weapons to collect, prizes to be given, and powers to equip. The game controls just like a dual-analog game without the 2nd analog stick, and while definitely not perfect, I have to give major credit to Sakurai and his team for creating a solution that works as well as it does here; essentially, the touch screen and stylus act as a 2nd analog stick, and as crazy as it sounds, in practice it works better than it has any right to.

Not that it's perfect. My hands often felt tired after only one or two levels of play, so this is a game I recommend playing in quick bursts rather than for extended play sessions. The issue isn't present as much during the aerial parts of the levels, which are on rails, as it is when on the ground, when melee attacking, dashing, shooting, vehicles, and camera control all come into play. It's during these parts where I felt the most exhausted, and I found myself wishing more than once that the game's ratio was more in favor of the air battles than the land adventures. Don't get me wrong, the land segments can be a lot of fun too, and though they're awfully tiring, there's nothing that I can find *wrong* with the controls during these parts, well, except the Dashing, which was just a bad idea that should have just not been bothered with.

All in all Kid Icarus: Uprising is a game that revels in its action; it aims to thrill and entertain you at every given opportunity, and like a Smash Bros game, completionists will find endless amounts of content here to explore and unlock. There's even an online multiplayer mode, and the action actually holds up pretty well, though long wait times for a match, including one instance of waiting nearly three minutes and then getting Error Coded out, took away much of my enthusiasm for exploring it more thoroughly.

It's rare that I say this, but (aside from the tiring controls) the only other major issue I have with Kid Icarus: Uprising is that it's actually a bit too long. It makes the mistake of fooling you with a fake out ending (even going as far as beginning the End Credits roll) and then pulling back the curtain and having the campaign continue...for another 6 hours. Though I'm sure it seemed like a funny idea when the writers came up with it, for me it ended up actually negatively impacting the game; you think the it's over, but then it's not, but then each level you get to now feels like the last one, and it's not, and each boss feels like it should be the final one, but it's not, etc. etc. etc. The constant thought of "is it over yet...?" that kept creeping into my head after the credits fake out made the second half of the story less enjoyable for me in a way that's tough to explain. I can't fault the game much for being too long, but I guess the complaint I'm looking for is that if a game really is going to be so long, its developers need to have enough fresh ideas to keep it from feeling repetitive. Uprising sticks pretty rigidly to its formula throughout, and as a result, the game, especially the ground missions, loses a lot of its freshness and instead begins to feel almost like a chore.


Verdict: And that's too bad, because for the most part Kid Icarus: Uprising is not a chore to play. Sakurai has created a fun and frantic action game/rail shooter that demonstrates both the 3DS' strengths (awesome 3D graphics, more voice acting than I ever thought could fit on a cartridge, the handheld's 2 screens and analog thumb pad) as well as its major weakness (no 2nd analog stick). It's a game that's as exciting to experience as it is exhausting to play, but fans of action games who own a 3DS shouldn't miss out on one of the system's most exciting, content-filled, and funny adventures.
Presentation: Overblown story with no shortage of humor, drama, and entertaining voice acting. Manus are easy to navigate, short load times.

Graphics: Game looks great, especially in 3D, and the framerate rarely suffers.

Gameplay: Nearly perfect on rails segments mesh well with solid-but-not-as-good ground parts. Definitely a lot to see and do, though a little of it at a time goes a long way.

Sound: An epic musical score and quality voice acting; not much else I would want here.

Replay Value: Tons to unlock, as well as online multiplayer; this in addition to a 13-hour Campaign that actually may be two or three levels too long...

Overall: 7.5/10

(Note; my reviews go on a .5 scale)

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