Review: Kid Icarus: Uprising

When considering Kid Icarus: Uprising there’s really only one question you need to ask.  How seriously do you take your video games?  There are different ways to take your video games seriously.  Some people invest themselves intellectually and emotionally into single player narratives, watching storytelling in the medium evolve and occasionally are deeply moved themselves.  Some people take their multiplayer seriously, they hone their skills to a razor edge and carefully consider all different variables at play to try and competitively optimize their game.  Some people take the technology of video games seriously, sneering at low quality audio or sub-par graphical presentations.  If you’re looking for a game to take seriously in any of these ways, Kid Icarus is not a game for you.

But what if you don’t take your video games so seriously?  Well then, Kid Icarus may indeed have a lot to offer.

The single player portion of the game goofy.  Your enemies all crack puns and never seem really evil, the level designs range from greek inspired to magic jungle to, well, whatever on earth Pandora’s Labarynth is.  The solo mode, quite simply, refuses to be boring.  Whenever repetition threatens there’s a new crazy idea imminent.  Bored with the setting?  Welcome to outer space!  Tired of fighting this ultimate evil?  Here’s a new one! (the game switches primary antagonists at least three times)  Combat getting stale?  Try a new weapon!  Try a linear grind rail sequence, or take a ride in a mech suit, or even try platforming for a while.  This otherwise schizophrenic campaign is held together by running voiced commentary from the characters who are never afraid to call their own game out on palette swapped enemies, cliché evil villains, or even issues with continuity in the Nintendo-verse.  The narration sets the tone for the whole campaign – the characters don’t even take this seriously, so why should you?

Pit is here to bring the darkness to justice and smite evil! …or at least to bat it around playfully.

The multiplayer will not appeal to multiplayer enthusiasts either.  It replaces niceties such as balance with unhinged chaos.  It’s an absolute blast to mix and match the impressive array of weapons and special powers as you see fit, making some really ridiculous load outs possible.  An example:  at one point I took to carrying the most ridiculously high damage dealing club I could find. It attacked slowly, it made me move slowly, and it missed almost everything.  I combined this with a power that turned my avatar into a little human rocket though, letting me get into the middle of any fray.  I would then activate a passive area of effect damage field around me and wail on anything that moved.  The rocket move also meant that I got most every item drop nearby, and did I mention my club turned people to stone?  Sounds unfair, no?  It absolutely was.  I usually lost.  Why?  Because everyone else had thought of ideas that were even MORE unfair.  My experience with the multiplayer is that it’s compulsive like Team Fortress, chaotic like smash brothers, and a ton of fun if you’re not too hung up on winning and losing.

Unless this blast does more than 50% damage, reverses my directional controls, and sets me on fire then this player really doesn’t have much of a chance.

And if you’re a person who revels in video game technology?  Look elsewhere.  Kid Icarus both online and off opts for bright colors, simple geometry, and a crazy number of effects going off simultaneously.  The game is certainly never displeasing to look upon, but it prioritizes quantity and personality over fidelity.  This is pretty much par for the course with Nintendo software, so I don’t imagine anyone will really be surprised by this.  If you can appreciate well drawn art being expressed through relatively simple technology, you will find a lot to like in this game.  The linear flying segments of most single player missions stand out as artistic showcases, as the developers took full advantage of the player’s limited perspective to really show off.  As you would expect from a first party game everything runs at a rock solid frame rate and the 3D effect is handled very well.

So what did I take away from this experience?  I think Kid Icarus: Uprising is a great game for a specific audience.  The single player is fun and diverse, and it keeps going and adding new ideas well past where one might expect it to end.  The multiplayer is fun and frenzied, but can be exploited easily by people who want to.  There is an incredible amount of imagination and breadth in this game, and as all games from Mr. Sakurai (director of Meteos and Super Smash Bros. among others) there is a terrific amount game beyond the game.  You could lose a month of your life simply pursuing the 360 challenges in the game, much less try and collect all the powers, trophies, and weapons available.  On top of that there’s robust street pass functionality, local and online multiplayer modes, and collectable AR cards.  Kid Icarus isn’t a game for everyone, but if it’s for you you’re getting a hell of a game and a hell of a lot of it.

Normally I would end my review here, but I think it’s probably necessary to address the hot topic question that seems to be making and breaking this game in many people’s minds:  how are the controls?  I am left handed and do not own a circle pad pro, so I play this game moving my character around with the 3DS face buttons, firing with R, and doing everything else on the touch screen.  The game was clearly designed for analog motion.  Know that when I pass judgment on this interface I have experienced possibly the worst version of it.

…It’s not a big deal.  It’s different from other games, but definitely fully functional.  As with any new interface there’s a learning curve but the early levels in single player are designed with large and mostly simple layouts to help a new player learn and the game has extensive tutorial and practice modes.  There is also surprisingly deep control customization available which doesn’t ever allow a player to deviate from the touch screen controls that the game was designed around, but does allow it to be optimized to each player’s taste.  I have comfortably played marathon sessions of the game in just about every position one could expect to play a 3DS in.  The 3DS stand that comes packed in is a thoughtful touch for children with hands that are perhaps too small for the controls, but it is not necessary for the fully grown and after experimenting with it in my first hour of play I never touched it again.


Ethan Morris bought Kid Icarus: Uprising at retail price and has played way too much of it since then.  Completed the full single player campaign and played four hours of online multiplayer before reviewing.  Streetpass and local multiplayer functions were not tested for this review.