Not since Retro Studios rebooted the dormant "Metroid" franchise has a seemingly lost Nintendo series been reinvented with such care, craft, and charm. It's been 20 years since gamers have seen Pit and the "Kid Icarus" series, and "Kid Icarus: Uprising" has not only redefined the series, but has given gamers one of the best original Nintendo titles on the 3DS yet.
Those may be strong words, but expect nothing less from Project Sora, the development studio headed by Masahiro Sakurai, the master hand behind both the Kirby and Super Smash Bros. series. I'm not sure why, but I was not going in expecting to be blown away with such a high caliber and deep experience. I was very worried about the controls, and perhaps because it was on a handheld, or perhaps, because for me, rebooting Kid Icarus was something akin to trying to bring the Ice Climbers back. The original Kid Icarus was long before my time, and when I tried playing it at various points since then, it never really clicked with me.
Somewhere along the way though, Pit has become one of Nintendo's most bad ass leading men. Or angel, I suppose. Instead of a side scrolling platformer like the original two titles, "Kid Icarus: Uprising" reimagines the series as a two part adventure. Pit spends the first half of every level airborne as an on-rail shooter (think Star Fox) and the second half of each level you control Pit on the ground, more akin to a traditional third person shooter.
Though there isn't much traditional about the game: I can't think of many shooters that the enemies can turn you into eggplant or shrimp and then try to eat you. Yeah, the game is out there and crazy, but in a wild and enjoyable kind of way.
And that's where this game soars: charm and character. This is a game that never stops not taking itself seriously. The characters (with full voice acting) are well developed, sarcastic, and funny, making fun of pop culture, gaming in general, and even the current economic crisis. Pit, and Palutena (the goddess of light) banter back and forth during the levels, providing some of the best in-game commentary I've ever seen. Rare are self-aware games that work, but Kid Icarus is on some level a parody of those gaming tropes we know and love. Even Nintendo's other franchises aren't immune, with Donkey Kong, Metroid, and Brain Age jokes all making the cut. It's superb writing, and certainly something I didn't expect from the game or from Nintendo.
The locations are stunningly beautiful, and rival the best graphics we've seen on the 3DS (best from Nintendo at least, and it's a close call between this and "Resident Evil: Revelations"). And that's with a crazy amount of stuff happening on screen at the same time. For some reason screen shots and videos just don't do it justice, and each new level just seemed to outdo the next in terms of visual beauty. I'm still stunned at some of the environments and that the 3DS was capable of pulling them off, and pulling them off in 3D at that. The level pacing does get a little formulaic: flying portion, ground portion, and then battle a boss. But, the varied locations and art style more than make up for this. The music (which is either fully orchestrated or very very well done MIDI) is amazing as well and deserves more than a throw off mention, and the main theme is still catchy as it ever was.
The biggest point of contention (perhaps only) with the game is its control scheme. Instead of opting for using the Circle Pad Pro (which was why I hoped the game was delayed until after the add-ons release), the game lets you customize the controls pretty much any way you can think of, instead of the much needed dual analog. The main set up has you shooting with L and moving Pit with the left circle pad, while aiming with the right hand and the touch screen. Nintendo must have known something was up: They included a plastic stand with the game, which does help alleviate the bulk of the weight system resting on your left hand. I didn't even bother trying to use the game sans-stand, and after fiddling with the controls found that aiming with the touch screen was really the best way to play, and after the learning curve become near second nature, but I still would have preferred two analog sticks.
In a nod to Smash Bros., the game is overwhelming with its depth and included offerings. You can buy, fuse, and trade over 100 different weapons, have idols (trophies pretty much) to collect, unlockable challenges, AR card functionality, and perhaps my favorite of the additions: A slidable difficulty scale that lets you wager hearts (the game's currency) to change the difficulty of each level from 0 to 9.0 (with every tenth place decimal in between an option). I still can't manage to beat the very first level cranked all the way up, and I can't imagine the later levels on difficulty 9. It's an idea that is implemented so well, I'd be shocked if we didn't see other games ripping it in the future. I managed to make it through the main story in just under ten hours, but that was with missing a lot of items and playing through most of them somewhere in the 3-5 difficult range. Completing the game all the way will take even completionists a long, long time.
And then there's the multiplayer. Again, I was not expecting it to be as addicting, fast paced, chaotic, or enjoyable as it was. The game offers a 3 on 3 light versus dark mode with each side having a certain number of deaths allowed before having to protect Pit or Dark Pit from defeat, and then a free-for-all which just gets crazy. Playing pre-launch I noticed very little lag or connection time, but after release I'll be curious to see how everything holds up. I think Sakurai learned his lesson from Brawl's online problems, I would hope. A leader board, or online weapon trading would have been nice, but it's still a very solid addition to an already filled-to-the-brim experience.
Before "Kid Icarus: Uprising," Pit was just another old Nintendo franchise to me, and now he has earned his wings by becoming one of, if not the best original Nintendo 3DS title available. This is a modern Nintendo that isn't pulling any punches development wise, and the game is one of the highest quality handheld games the company has made. Pit has been gone for a long time, but he has risen to the top of Nintendo's highly competitive game releases and joined the upper echelons of Nintendo's strongest IPs. Unlike Icarus, Pit flew too close to the sun and prevailed. Fly on Pit, fly on.