Gameplay hurt by controls

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new-3starhalfThe inaugural year for the Nintendo 3DS has been rather stale compared to the typical handheld launch schedule. Since its release in March 2011, there has been a noticeable lack of quality games specifically designed to take advantage of the system’s “no-glasses 3D” capabilities. Not surprisingly, Nintendo itself has been the main developer leading the charge with 3D versions of “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time,” “Star Fox 64” and “Mario Kart 7.”

Now, Nintendo has revitalized another of its classic franchises for its handheld system with “Kid Icarus: Uprising,” a sequel to the lesser-known NES game “Kid Icarus.” This game is the series’ first sequel in over two decades, with the Game Boy game “Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters” having been released in 1991. Despite some odd gameplay quirks, the game delivers an oddly compelling story and beautiful graphics that demonstrate the power of the 3DS.

The game’s premise revolves around Pit, a flightless angel and servant of the goddess Palutena, who must stop the evil Medusa from wreaking havoc upon the human world. In order to fulfill his mission, Pit is granted temporary powers of flight that are remotely controlled by Palutena herself. The story is strangely self-aware and regularly breaks the fourth wall, with Pit, Palutena and certain enemies blatantly acknowledging that they are characters in a video game.

The gameplay is divided into two segments; an “on-rails” section similar to the “Panzer Dragoon” series, and an “on-foot” section akin to most modern action-RPGs. Players can customize their weapons by enhancing them with “treasures” found among each level or fusing two weapons together. These custom load-outs can then be used in the “Together” multiplayer modes, which include local and online capabilities.

The game’s controls are perhaps its biggest problem. Players control Pit’s movement using the circle pad while moving the stylus on the touch screen to control the movement of an aiming reticule during the on-rails segments, as well as Pit’s forward direction during on-foot segments. Given the button layout of the 3DS, this creates a slight disadvantage for left-handed players, who need to hold the stylus in their right hand in order to use the circle pad with their left. This can be remedied using the Circle Pad Pro accessory (sold separately); however, the game requiring a separate purchase for a proper experience is rather off-putting. Also, the controls are laid out such that it becomes extremely uncomfortable to play for extended periods of time while holding the system up with one hand.

Project Sora developed “Uprising” with director Masashiro Sakurai (‘Super Smash Bros.). Sakurai’s influence shines throughout the menu designs, and many of the game’s dungeon-crawling sections seem reminiscent of the Subspace Emissary mode in “Super Smash Bros. Brawl.”

The game’s visual style is an excellent showpiece for the graphical capabilities of the Nintendo 3DS, with character models and lighting effects that far surpass the expectations set by the system’s predecessor. Nintendo’s use of their 3D technology seems to improve with every game they release for the system, and this game is no exception; with the 3D-depth slider at its highest setting, the game adds just enough depth to accompany the gameplay without causing major eyestrain.

Despite a few quirks in its controls, “Kid Icarus: Uprising” is a refreshing example of what to expect when a developer uses the strengths of the handheld to the system’s full potential.

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