After lying dormant for two decades, Kid Icarus is back in his own adventure and has experienced quite the rebirth on the 3DS. Whereas the original NES and Game Boy entries were side-scrolling action platformers with the Metroid engine, this takes cues from rail shooters, platformers, and even hack and slash action games to create a unique formula that hasn't been done before. The results are, for the most part, a resounding success.
The gameplay alternates between on-foot sections where you are able to both slash and shoot, and air-only sections where you can only shoot. They blend together seamlessly and are both executed really well. The on-foot sections remind me a lot of the 3D Legend of Zelda games, with the hack and slash gameplay and having to carefully strafe around the battlefield and dodge attacks. There's also some nice variety in these sections. It's a blast to hack up smaller enemies close to you, then go after enemies in the distance with some blasting. There isn't a whole lot of platforming here, and what's here is greatly simplified with jump pads taking you were you need to go, which might disappoint some, but I found that it actually worked out well given how fast-paced the action is. It would be a bit too much to have to do perfect platforming and also avoid enemy fire, so they simply made things a bit easier in that regard.
Another thing that makes things easier (or harder depending on how you use it) is the difficulty slider. It allows you to set the difficulty of each section before a stage, and can even be modified during a level. I've never seen a game take such an approach to difficulty, and it really works well. There's a default setting that will cost you no hearts (the series' version of currency), but for a fee, you can change it to either make things a bit easier, or a whole lot harder. However, you have to weigh the cost of the hearts versus your present need for them. If knocking the difficulty down one-tenth of a point will prevent you from a weapon upgrade, you probably shouldn't do it.
Sadly, one aspect of the game that definitely makes things harder is its controls. Even with the stand, using the default analog pad to move, L to shoot, and stylus to aim your shots and move the camera setup is awkward and can easily cause wrist pain. Other setups allow you to use the d-pad to aim, which doesn't give you the accuracy of the stylus, or use the face buttons along with the touch screen. I don't usually follow those “take a break after 15 minute” messages, but here, they're an absolute necessity. Even with using assists like auto-aim and auto-fire, the game is still a bit of a chore to control, although those do at least take some wear and tear off of you.
It's very important to note that while the control schemes themselves are awkward, they are incredibly responsive. When you get the hang of things after a few days of playing, you'll still see the flaws in the setups, but will be acclimated to them and know how to work around them. It's a testament to the sheer quality of the game as a whole that even with cumbersome controls, it's still well worth owning. Anyone who's loved rail shooters like Panzer Dragoon or Space Harrier will love this. I played through the latter and a lot of the formers first and third installments before playing this, and it amazed me how they all took the basic concept of on-rails shooters and made them quite different.
One thing that sets Uprising apart beyond its blend of on-foot and aerial play is the ongoing dialogue between Pit and Palutena, his bare-middriffed divine assistant. Normally, dialogue in Nintendo games is...questionable at best. Usually, you've got a bunch of voice quips in games that don't need them, or just outright cheesy stuff that is impossible to take seriously. Not here. This is really a game for slightly older players who know the history of the series because there's a lot of meta-humor here and also a surprising amount of adult-related stuff for a Nintendo release.
The acting is also surprisingly good. The intial trailers showing this didn't do it any justice at all, because when you hear how all the dialogue plays out, you understand that Pit has a slightly sardonic sense of humor, with Palutena as more of a straight man and their interplay is hilarious. The chemistry between all the cast members is outstanding, and even the boss battles are hilarious due to their narration. An early one involves Pit taking down a three-headed enemy one-by-one, with each head having its own personality and the surviving heads bragging about how much better they are than their fallen brethren because they survived. It's all great stuff and is just one reason why you'll want to either play with the volume turned up or use some decent headphones.
The other reason is the music, which is one of the best I've heard on the 3DS. The soundtrack has a lot of relaxing harp and violin music, along with a ton of intense stringed music as well. It all fits the heavenly appearance of many stages and the fast pace of the action. One awesome thing is that you can listen to the music whenever you want after you play through a stage. I always loved the music tests in older games, so it's great to have a game use the feature once again. The only thing that could've made this better was including the music on a soundtrack CD. Beyond being one of the best-sounding 3DS games, this is also one of the best-looking. Character models have pretty good animation, a decent size to them, which is a must given the fast pace, and the environments are beautiful. You'll definitely be wowed by aerial stages that send you through cloudy skies, with many shades of blue or orange above you as you go through the clouds.
Uprising makes surprisingly great use of the system's online functionality. Not only can you use the StreetPass feature to swap items with folks and gain access to weapons and other gear earlier than just going through the game, but there are also two deathmatch modes available. Both team deathmatch and free-for-all deathmatches are here, and let you slash and blast foes from around the world. In my experiences, online play was lag-free, which surprised me given that I was facing folks from Japan during many of the matches. Beyond that, there's a nice little egg-tossing mini-game thrown in to add to your idol count for the game's AR card battle. As the name implies, you use AR cards (some are included in with the game, and many are available outside of it) to create idols to compete in a card battle game. It's not the most in-depth or compelling card game, but it's fun enough and works well as an extra feature.
Even with its control problems, Kid Icarus: Uprising is one of the 3DS's best games. When you overcome the learning curve, you find a game that offers a lot of fun gameplay, some incredible graphics and beautiful music along with a limited, but well-done online setup. It's also got some of the funniest dialogue and best voice work I've heard in a game. Uprising is a must for any 3DS owner, especially fans of either the series or rail shooters.
This review is based on a retail copy of Kid Icarus: Uprising for the Nintendo 3DS purchased by the reviewer.