Kid Icarus: Uprising – so spectacular it’s agonising

A sight for sore eyes in more ways than one. Hands-on with Nintendo’s high-powered 3DS remake.

By Edwin Evans-Thirlwell, February 14, 2011

Love, as Bill Shakespeare off Moulin Rouge once quipped, is a many-splendoured thing. Love comes in all shapes and sizes, times and places. There’s the kind most of us yearn for, the unquestioning, natural kind that manages to feel entirely off-the-cuff yet solid as a rock, and the fraught love that hangs from every word or gesture, and the love that somehow survives in the face of jibes, pulled hair and thrown crockery. There’s the love you read about on Valentine’s Day cards, and there’s the Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name.

And then there’s the love that burns houses and topples dams, the insatiable, incubus-love that loves too hard and too fast, and this, ladies and gentlemen, is the love Kid Icarus bears for your lenses and retinas. Many-splendoured? You don’t know the half of it, William.

Nintendo could have picked a better time of day to introduce the UK-based gaming press to playable 3DS builds in January. With flights leaving London for Amsterdam at ungodly hours in the morning, most of us arrived at the venue in a zombified state, begging for caffeine or, failing that, a defibrillator, less than prepared for the unique perceptual demands of a parallax barrier screen.

I wasn’t doing too badly, at first. Super Street Fighter IV gave me a bit of a headache, but Pilot Wings mollified my protesting lobes with its primary colour panoramas, and the pacing of Resident Evil 5: Mercenaries allowed me to digest the illusion of depth comfortably. But then I got hold of Kid Icarus: Uprising, and the world exploded into a billion, shrieking, rainbow fragments.

Kid Icarus: Uprising - not to be confused with what you'll see after visiting one of Amsterdam's famed coffee shops.

Where the ancient original Kid Icarus was a side-on action-platformer, Uprising is an on-rails shooter cut from the Sin & Punishment mould. Commanding the infant Pit, a teeth-grindingly perky mix of Cupid and any given protagonist from Insert Square Enix Game Here, players hurtle through the skies of a fantasy world, zapping bogies and being zapped at in turn. There are a lot of those bogies, they send a lot of heat your way, and the landscape behind them teems with colour and motion.

The general experience is thus of dozens of objects flying towards your mug at somewhere near the speed of sound. With the 3D off, this is very impressive. With the 3D on, it’s a little like throwing handfuls of glass Christmas decorations at a bank of industrial fans. Dazzling, yes, but painful.

As the perspective fills with bat-winged eyeballs, streaking plasma bolts, whirling contrails and gormless farting jellyfish, the natural instinct is to lash out, stymieing the onslaught before your optic nerve starts to crisp. Occasionally developer Project Sora relents, toggling cruise control in order to show off some monstrous background feature, like the smug spectral outline of Medusa, Pit’s nemesis. But the reprieve is inevitably short, the ensuing fury all the more furious.

There are some nasty/jaw-dropping surprises in store. At one point in the second (and tougher) of the demo’s levels, Pit circled a shadowy Gothic castle, shooting the breeze with off-screen cheerleader/heavenly sponsor Palthena. Relaxing a little, I allowed my eyes to focus appreciatively on the distant, lavishly-modelled crenellations and turrets. Suddenly – PRANG – lollypop-red laser beams raked the foreground, sending the muscles of my irises into paroxysms. It was like being punched in the face by Disneyland.

As with other 3DS action games, the blow can be softened by tweaking the projection continually (during my hands-on a smiling, inexplicably cruel PR person kept pushing the slider up to full). It’s hard to get the better of the game’s bone-shattering control setup, however. Using the touch screen to aim makes sense, but this leaves your left hand in charge of both movement with the thumb pad and attacking with left shoulder button.

In a game geared to continual dodge-shooting, putting that kind of weight on one pincer is a big ask. Imagine, if you will, popping every bubble in a two metre sheet of bubble-wrap, at speed and in random order, and you’ll have a fair approximation of the things Uprising will do to your thumb, forefinger and wrist. The agony reaches its apex when Project Sora introduces a dash move, triggered by two tricky-to-articulate sideways tugs, which keys into more powerful projectile attacks.

Zap - there goes my fitness for military service.

When he isn’t scouring the heavens like an angelic toilet brush, Pit likes to throw down with the Medusan hordes on terra firma, shoulder shooter style. Players gain control over the camera in the process, stroking the periphery of the screen to orient it in large-ish increments.

This is less awkward than it may sound to those who heed the Call of Duty, thanks to broad, obstacle-free level design and a no-nonsense waypoint indicator, but responding to threats from the rear (after dashing through a charging foe, for instance) shows up the clunkiness of the system. All told, it’s hard not to wish the developer had stuck to the on-rails template, dialling back the pace a few notches to accommodate slightly more complex enemy behaviours.

If Steel Diver and Street Fighter are the meat in the 3DS sandwich, Kid Icarus: Uprising is the dressing – a high-saturate dousing of proof-of-technology, flexing the handheld’s not-inconsiderable processing muscles and squeezing the very last thimbleful of sex appeal from the 3D display. The risk, of course, is that all this excess will come at the expense of a game you can relax with. Uprising is clearly a labour of love, restoring a forgotten franchise to the limelight, but playing it is something of a labour too.

Release dates have yet to be announced.

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