First Impressions: Kid Icarus: Uprising

Our Big N hearts go Pit-ter patter

As its sequel itself is keen to point out in a tongue-in-cheek manner, it's been 24 years since Pit flapped his wings up, up and away in his nail-biting platform debut Kid Icarus. The NES original cribbed the best bits of franchises like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda and Metroid and crafted an ambitious, albeit flawed, little cult gem.

In our hands-on with the game in New York City and Amsterdam last week, we weren't really surprised to see that 24 years later, the series is lifting the best bits from another franchise for half of its gameplay: the forward-moving airborne portions of Treasure's Sin and Punishment: Star Successor. Or, if your gaming vocabulary is a bit more old-school, Space Harrier.

Our demo included two portions of the game: one labeled Easy from early on in the adventure, and another dubbed Hard that occurs further in. We zoomed into Easy first to get a good feel for the controls before jumping into further slaughter, and it wasn't long before we found ourselves barreling through the air and blasting baddies out of the sky. Before we began, we were prompted to choose one of three weapons to bring into battle, with a sword acting as the all-around type and two others balanced for melee strikes and rapid fire.

There are two types of play in Uprising: up in the air and down on land. The opening stage starts off in the sky with our boy Pit bantering back and forth with the goddess Palutena as she explains how to maneuver, target and fire upon Medusa's minions. While flying, players can only move Pit along the X and Y axes using the Circle Pad, as Palutena propels you forward — but only has the power to do so for up to five minutes at a time, apparently. Aiming is done with the stylus and holding the L button allows continuous fire, or if you're up close and personal will trigger a melee attack. A large circle surrounding your reticule indicates whether you have a charge shot ready, which is automatically fired upon first blast and recharged by resting that trigger.

Up in the air, Pit controls like a dream: it's very easy to zip about with the Circle Pad and take down targets by aiming with the stylus once you're accustomed to holding the 3DS in a claw-like manner in one hand (just like for any DS first-person shooter), and the depth granted by the stereoscopic effect really makes enemies pop and the looming sky look endless. We'd be pretty happy if Uprising called it a day with only air battles, but they're only half the package. The other half, unfortunately, isn't quite as tight.

Eventually Pit's flight path takes him down to a courtyard in front of a temple that housed a mean-looking-but-marshmallow-y fire dog thing, and it's here where Uprising gets a little hairy. Masahiro Sakurai is the mastermind behind both Nintendo's fighter series as well as Uprising, and it's very evident in how Pit handles. The Circle Pad controls his full ground movement, with quick Super Smash Bros. Brawl-style slams used to pull off dodges. The stylus still handles aiming, but the game runs into a problem that many first-gen Wii shooters ran into: the dead zone for aiming is far too large for quick movements, as you turn much too slow. There is a quick-pivot accomplished by swiping the stylus in the desired direction and then tapping the screen again when you want him to stop, but it's a little hokey and feels like a weird bandage over a larger sore. Another oddity relates to the camera itself: we noticed it jerked slightly towards enemies as an auto-lock, but it sometimes got in the way of us just turning our viewpoint. Perhaps these things are something that require more time with than we were afforded to get used to, but the land portions left us a little cold.

Pit looks strikingly similar to his Wii appearance in Smash Bros. Brawl and the world follows a similarly thematic suit. It's a very appealing style, with lots of smooth and round surfaces that work quite well in 3D. As is the case in other games we tested, a little went a long way for the stereoscopic effect. While the screens stay relatively clutter-free and thus avoid the pitfall of having too much to focus on, we found little benefit in cranking the 3D volume slider very high as it tended to look a little over-focused around the edges of the screen.

In our time with it, Kid Icarus: Uprising played nothing at all like the franchise's other two decades-old games, but that's not necessarily a bad thing in this case. The game was easily one of the playable highlights of the event and is one to keep your eye (or two) on down the line when it eventually releases sometime in the 3DS's eight-week launch window.