Kid Icarus: Uprising review
Copywriters that are often considered the low men on the totem pole, working long thankless hours in order to craft the descriptive text for laundry detergent ads. But while crafting sales copy isn't the most glamorous position, it does take skill, as evidenced by the PR fact sheet accompanying my review copy of Kid Icarus: Uprising for the Nintendo 3DS:
"The game's simple, intuitive play control has players hold the system in their left hand, while the right hand uses the stylus on the touch screen for targeting. The controls are simple enough to be grasped quickly, but offer layers of depth and strategy for advanced maneuvers."
Many men have lied to my face, but few have done it with such pretty words. The sad truth is that Kid Icarus' controls are far from simple or intuitive, and are in fact so awkward that they practically render the game unplayable.This is a tragedy, because Kid Icarus: Uprising is an otherwise thrilling game, its design problems seeming to stem largely from the limitations of the hardware for which its been designed.
In case you haven't noticed, the 3DS lacks a second analog stick. This means that the console is ill-suited for a variety of genres, say: twin-stick shooters, or 3rd-person action games lacking fixed cameras. Why Nintendo subsidiary Project Sora took a look at the device, and immediately thought to develop a game which is mix of both genres, is a goddamn scientific mystery. Though it seems obvious that their chief motivation was to take advantage of the 3DS' unique visuals, the portable's control scheme just wasn't meant for this type of game, giving us a very apt example of why you shouldn't put graphics ahead of gameplay.
As Pit, the titular "Kid Icarus," players will wrestle with two uniquely frustrating control modes, each stage beginning with a short aerial sequence before moving onto the lengthier on-foot areas. The flight segments are undoubtedly the most exciting part of Uprising, frantic Star Fox-style rail shooting which takes full advantage of the dazzling 3D visuals. Here, players control Pit's movements with the Circle Pad, dodging enemy fire while firing back with the L Button, aiming their stream of fire on the touchpad. Again, it's like trying to play a twin-stick shooter without a second stick, and though directing your fire with the stylus is a fun novelty, it doesn't really make up for the fact that you're glued to the included plastic stand.
Let me be perfectly clear when I say that the stand is not optional. Though I'd initially dismissed the stand as some sort of crutch for those not used to holding their portable systems like a jackass (I perfected the notorious PSP claw grip during the hundreds of hours I sunk into Monster Hunter Freedom), I quickly found that with my right hand busy with the stylus, my puny left hand could barely hope to support the entire weight of the device alone. Playing without the stand is like trying to ride a bike without a seat, it can be done, but you'll quickly tire of getting your ass pounded.
It's the on-ground segments which highlight just how bumpy this ride is. Once Pit's wings run out of juice, the game devolves into 3rd-person tedium, frustrating camera controls complicating even the simplest maneuvers. It feels a lot like trying to control a lazy Devil May Cry clone with a trackball, and though the levels are loaded up with secret areas, vehicle combat segments, massive bosses, and piles of sweet, sweet loot, none of it makes up for the clumsiness of the controls. Though Pit is supposed to move with the grace of an angel, using the stylus to spin the camera around never feels intuitive, and has you constantly stumbling into the enemy's line of fire. The dash maneuver is especially troubling, letting Pit supposedly dodge enemy attacks with a flick of the Circle Pad. Unfortunately, the move is so easy to trigger that it almost seems as though its primary function is to help accidently push Pit into the game's many bottomless chasms.
At least we know where he got his name.
What sucks is that Kid Icarus has so many awesome things going on, but the core gameplay is too broken for them to matter. Dozens of unique weapons are available, all of which can be combined into even more ridiculous armaments. There's also tons of special powers and stat buffs to collect, letting players customize Pit by fitting these variously sized powers onto a customization grid. Even more thrillingly, the collected powers and gear can all be used in the game's intriguing multiplayer mode, where two teams of three each wage war across a variety of battlefields, working to destroy the opposing team's angel. Though the online mode offers even more cool loot to collect, after struggling with the bizarre controls throughout the lengthy single-player campaign, it's hard to muster up excitement for this online experience. Not to mention that multiplayer arena combat isn't really a great fit for the 3DS's tiny screen.
To be honest, Kid Icarus isn't a complete failure. As mentioned, the flight segments are incredible, combining the best of traditional rail shooters with the flair of a Universal Studios theme park ride. Additionally, Project Sora has done a fantastic job of bringing a long-forgotten Nintendo character back to life. Pit is equal parts Link and Woody Allen, a handsome young warrior with all the self-confidence of our favorite neurotic Jew. Nintendo fans will also appreciate the game's frequent nods to nostalgia, bosses talking about how much they've changed since the NES days, with some of the game's returning monsters storming into battle with their terrifying original 8-bit music playing alongside. The presentation is excellent, even hilarious at times, though one can only polish a turd for so long.
In short, Kid Icarus: Uprising is a game designed for some wonderful alternate universe, where the 3DS has a second analog stick and a depth effect that doesn't require your head to be positioned at exactly the right distance from the screen. Instead we're stuck in this crappy little dimension of ours, where you need a plastic stand to play your portable game, and Sarah Palin is considered a legitimate presidential running mate. There are brief moments where it all comes together, where the 3D visuals are perfectly aligned, Pit hilariously bickering with the enemy as you thrillingly weave between a crowd of bullets, gleefully opening fire on the boss. But more often than not, the game's ambition is limited by it's own hardware. It's definitely a game every 3DS owner should experience at some point, if just for the brilliant flying segments alone. Though at $40, Kid Icarus is too much of a novelty to justify paying full price.
As a side note, the game does support the Circle Pad Pro attachment. Not to fix any of the control issues, but to allow left-handed players to experience the awful controls for themselves. Haven't our nation's lefties suffered enough Nintendo?