Masuhiro Sakurai's game of two halves continues to delight and frustrate in almost equal measures. When we played the game back in January we came away thoroughly impressed with the aerial sections but less enamoured with the ground fighting elements, and this hasn't changed based on our latest hands-on time with the game.
Three levels were available in this preview build, including the 'easy' stage we played in January and a new boss battle against bickering three-headed dragon Hewdraw.
Pit isn't capable of flight on his own, but Palutena is able to grant him a limited amount of flying time which can be extended by shooting down enemies. In the air, the game shines: you control Pit with the Circle Pad and aim using the touch screen, quickly proving an intuitive control method that'll have you shooting down enemies in no time. The scale of these sections is continuously impressive, particularly in the second stage as Pit flies over a gaol, with shots and enemies zipping about the screen in varying stages of depth. These sections are all presented with some of the best graphics we've seen on 3DS yet, looking and feeling like a home console experience rather than a game that had to be compromised to fit a handheld format.
In the air, Pit proves a nimble little guy, evading enemy shots with a nifty roll and returning fire with a quick tap of L. You can hold L for auto fire, or build up a powerful shot by letting go of fire for a few seconds, with each of the available weapons having its own different attributes and firing types: the explosive cannon is slow but lets loose a huge blast when charged, the bow is best for rapid fire shots but lacks power and so on.
It's when the action hits the deck that Kid Icarus: Uprising runs into trouble. The shooting controls are intuitive and accurate, but the melee combat still felt unnatural even after several playthroughs. Instead of using the stylus to aim, you swipe in various directions to shift the camera, moving Pit around with the Circle Pad and attacking with L. Agile in the air, the game is rather lumpen on its feet, never achieving the same level of smoothness that seems to come easy above the clouds.
If you can convince Pit to obey, he has a decent array of attacks at his disposal, accessed by dashing in various directions and tapping fire. Dashing and dodging is a simple matter of tapping the Circle Pad in a Super Smash Bros. Brawl-like fashion: it's not quite as easy owing to the Circle Pad's lack of elevation compared to a Nunchuk or GameCube controller, and the zoomed-in camera makes it tough to keep track of your location without regular adjustment from the touch screen.
We were also able to try out the augmented reality mode: place two character cards next to each other, press A and watch them fight. As the results are predetermined in a Top Trumps fashion this may not be the most ingenious use of AR yet, but it looked good and seeing a 3D Medusa fight a 3D Pit will give you a smile at least.
Aside from additional weapons and a new stage there didn't seem to have been a huge amount of progress made on the game since our last playtest: the game is still a Jekyll and Hyde affair, with impressive aerial segments giving way to significantly less enjoyable ground combat. If Sakurai and his team can tighten the on-foot sections to the standard of the flying gameplay, Kid Icarus: Uprising will soar to its full potential. If not, it'll stand as a high-profile example of how not to do third-person controls on 3DS.