Those unfamiliar with Kid Icarus might wonder why Nintendo and developer Project Sora are revisiting the IP after an absence of over 20 years, but after a few minutes of Kid Icarus: Uprising’s spectacle and whimsy, it all starts to make perfect sense. Super Smash Bros. director Masahiro Sakurai has placed his own personal stamp on the experience, delivering an outstanding single-player campaign, as well as an exemplary multiplayer offering that highlights the 3DS as a real contender in the online space.
Kid Icarus: Uprising sees the angelic guardian Pit protecting the realm of Sky World from the ruthless armies of Medusa, set against a beautifully realised world that pulls in themes from Greek mythology to deliver dazzling imagery that makes the 3DS hardware positively sing.
While Pit was flightless in the original game, here he is aided by Palutena, the goddess of light, who uses her divine powers to help him soar above the world below. These on-rails flying sections recall the darlings of flight-action, such as Sin and Punishment 2, as well as the Panzer Dragoon series. The action is hectic as Pit swoops and corkscrews his way through each chaotic stage, gunning down enemies with a massive range of weapons that are collected via enemy and treasure chest drops.
The control system can take some getting used to at the outset, combining the thumbstick to steer Pit and the touch screen to move the aiming reticule. Designed to compensate for the lack of right thumbstick, you might actually find this method of control uncomfortable, but it does start to become second nature after a short time.
The left shoulder button can be held to loose volleys of rapid-fire shots, but, if you ease off the trigger for a few moments, you can charge up a more powerful blast, which is a neat way of dispatching larger or immediate threats. Switching between both attacking styles becomes crucial as the challenge ramps up.
After a few minutes of flying, Pit’s power will weaken, forcing him to land. The ground sections aren’t on-rails, but control is fundamentally the same as when Pit is airborne, with the exception of melee strikes and dashing evasive manoeuvres. These ground stages also take a while to get used to, but this is where Kid Icarus: Uprising’s real genius shines through. The range of ground enemies requires a plethora of tactical advances, such as skirting around armoured foes to strike weak points on their back, to sniping fearsome creatures at a safe distance, while melee combos are basic, but dish out heavy damage if you manage to get close enough.
Each stage throws brand new mechanics into the mix that really shake up what you already thought you knew about the game, such as stomping divine mechs, turbo-charged hovercars and grind rails that result in high-speed shooting gallery sections. As a result of this variety, there’s never a dull moment, something which is helped further by the frequently hilarious banter between Pit, Palutena and a rogue’s gallery of villains – some new, some returning from across previous series instalments.
The cream of the crop is perhaps chapter five, which is set in a devious labyrinth full of illusions, hurling countless different mechanics and stylistic shifts into the mix yet managing to hold them together as a solid whole, which further underlines Project Sora’s penchant for expert craftsmanship and pacing. Another stand-out example sees Poseidon parting the ocean to create a fierce trench run that allows Pit to soar across the sea bed as walls of surging water close in on him with menacing force.
Along the way new skills will drop from enemies and chests, which are equipped by slotted each skill’s corresponding shape into a loadout grid, similar to Resident Evil 4’s attaché case inventory. From healing powers, to melee counters and magic spells, your loadout can be tailored with a vast amount of skills. The same goes for weapons, which can be equipped, fused together to make new variants, or reduced to hearts that can be spent on new unlockables.
All of these abilities and weapons can be carried over to multiplayer, which consists of free-for-all and Light Vs. Dark mode. The latter sees two teams battling it out in a variety of inventive arenas until either team sees their health bar depleted, causing a random member of that team to turn into either Light Pit or Dark Pit. As Pit is the toughest character available, he serves as your team’s last line of defence. Once he is defeated, the game is lost, so the rest of the team must guard him like a VIP.
Multiplayer is as utterly chaotic and comedic as Sakurai’s own Super Smash Bros. series, with each battle descending into a colourful explosion of projectiles, bursts of magic and fast paced melee scraps. It’s mayhem, but is perhaps the closest thing to a 3D Smash Bros. game you will find on current hardware, bolstered further by Uprising’s wealth of weapons, skills and techniques. While this means no two online characters will be the same, balancing suffers slightly as a result, but the playing field will level off as you unlock new gear and skills.
Kid Icarus: Uprising is a triumph in artistry and gameplay, overcoming the frequently problematic process of reviving an old franchise. So many studios get it dead wrong, but Project Sora has shown that it has respect for the IP, as well as the talent to deliver the world of Kid Icarus to a modern audience and make it relevant to a new generation.