Kid Icarus Uprising review

Nintendo's cult winged hero returns to save the 3DS with gunfights and peripherals

T3 Platinum Award
Reasons to buy
  • +

    Stunning mix of gameplay style

  • +

    Highly customizable experience

  • +

    Great use of 3D

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    On-screen battles too small

  • -

    Hand hurts without using stand

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Nineteen years on from the previous version, Kid Icarus Uprising is finally here, and in 3D too, but what did we make of it?

There is a well-repeated maxim that no one can make great games for Nintendo machines other than Nintendo themselves.

It's flawed logic at best – Capcom have always made a good fist of the big N's consoles, for one – but has always struck a minor chord and has seemingly come to pass with the Nintendo 3DS, a handheld that has struggled with a dearth of decent games since its launch. The fact the cut-price portable console has a year on the Sony PS Vita, yet less must-play games to its name, tells its own tale.

Luckily Nintendo is here to sort it out, following up its own excellent, if belatedly released, Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 with another old-school reboot: Kid Icarus Uprising. Bearing little resemblance to the mid-80s 2D NES original bar the main character's get-up and the Greek mythology theme, this is a tour de force for the 3DS, showing just how good a console it can be if you play to its strengths.

Mixing up gameplay styles, from Space Harrier-style into-the-screen shooting to Zelda-esque dungeon searching, it's a mini blockbuster full of pure Nintendo joy that grabs you and won't let go.

Kid Icarus Uprising: Features

You control Pit, a heroic but inexperienced angel (think Link with wings), guided by a female (Palutena/Zelda) to fight Medusa and her many naughty underlings with melee whacks and long-range blasts, collecting power-ups and hearts as you go.

Your adventure is broken down into a variety of sweeping and swooping missions that inevitably lead to temple-based old-school boss battles, in between which you can use your accumulated hearts to buy new weapons.

So far, so classically Nintendo, yet Kid Icarus adds to this stock background with several customisable options that cleverly tailor your adventure to your requirements.

Firstly, you can create bespoke weapons by fusing together those from the nine different categories you stumble across, which opens up a host of experiments to improve your chances as different combinations reap different rewards.

Secondly, the intriguing Fiend's Cauldron system lets you bet against the system and put your gaming prowess where your mouth is. You choose your enemies' intensity at the beginning of each mission, on a scale of 0-9, but in a nice twist you have to wager more of your hard-earned hearts the harder you set it, although the rewards are obviously greater too.

It means every mission has to be genuinely contemplated before you begin, as if you cock up halfway through some of your hearts are swiped and the intensity is automatically lowered - a humbling double-header.

The visuals are vivid and vibrant, cutesy but with the necessary menace when necessary, the action built around making the most out of the 3D, always pushing Pit into the screen rather than across it – the first development rule of the 3DS.

The score is suitably stunning, too, rousing and dramatic. It's also the first game we've been entirely comfortable playing with the 3D up full the whole time. It's been a while coming, but we seem to have got there.

Although we were unable to test them, there are several multiplayer modes that replicate the boss battles that pop up throughout the game, but with all players human-controlled. Light vs Dark sees teams of three wage war, while a six-player free-for all is Team Deathmatch meets Clash of the Titans.

There's also an AR mode that has you fighting Idols that pop up on your kitchen worktop if, like us, you put the AR cards on your kitchen worktop.

Kid Icarus Uprising: Gameplay

Kid Icarus is home to a really complicated-sounding control system that actually plays like a dream. Well, that dream where you're having a really good time right up to the moment you wake up and have a sore hand. You control Pit with the analogue circle pad but his shooting reticule with the stylus on the lower screen, firing with the left shoulder button.

It's a classic Nintendo move, utilising the console to its fullest by thinking in a different way to its peers. Capcom could have done this with aiming in Resident Evil: Revelations, but didn't bother so we now have the ugly Circle Pad Pro's second analogue pad welded on to the 3DS's side as a compromise to other consoles.

Likewise, Nintendo could have made this compatible with the same peripheral, but has stuck to its singular vision to the point that it comes packaged with its own stand to take some of the strain. Instead, the Circle Pad Pro is just utilised for left-handers to play in the same way as was originally planned.

Yet the beauty of the control system is that while, yes, it aches after excessive play, it feels completely part of the experience, trading comfort for controls that are truly original and tactile, replicating the action on screen.

Frankly, it's testament to how good the game is that you're playing it for long enough for it to be uncomfortable (Nintendo always warns you to rest between missions, and for once it's bang on).

The action itself is a tightly stitched tapestry of various classic gaming styles, from on-rails shooting ranges thrusting into the screen that recall Space Harrier, literal on-rail sections that doff a cap to Jet Set Radio, combat-filled driving sections that bring to mind Road Blasters, classic "learn the boss routine" battles of yesteryear that wouldn't go amiss in Castle of Illusion, and much treasure chest-opening and melee combat a la Zelda.

Yet it feels consistent and uncontrived, pulling you through mission after mission with a shot of nostalgia for everything new, coexisting as one glorious whole. Controls are fluid, a screen swipe moving your field of vision, a sharp push of the circle pad acting as a swift dodge. Before you know it, combos are second nature.

It's also all tied together with an often funny, fantastically meta script. Early on when befriending a sword-wielding co-hero, you discover a lone treasure chest abandoned outside a temple. "Who leaves boxes of treasure hanging around outside? Clearly it's a trap," warns your pal. "If I see a treasure box, I open it," you retort.

"Let's see how far that gets you," he snorts back. Likewise, levels play tricks on you regularly, contorting your expectations from all sides. It knows it's a game, it knows you play games, and it has some wicked fun at your expense. Luckily, you'll have just as much.

Kid Icarus Uprising: Verdict

Gaming doesn't get much better than Kid Icarus Uprising, a retro-flavoured yet forward-thinking action-adventure package so complete we're already daydreaming about the inevitable Wii U version. It distills everything you've grown to love about gaming in the 26 years since its original namesake was released and serves it up with panache and joyous energy.

After a slow start, Nintendo's portable is beginning to make headway with the likes of Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater and Resident Evil: Revelations upping the gaming quality recent months. Yet you won't have more fun on the 3DS – or, arguably, any console – this year than with this little gem. A franchise is reborn.

Kid Icarus Uprising availability: Out now on Nintendo 3DS

Kid Icarus Uprising price: £30