Nintendo's returning winged angel has been used to great effect to emphasis the gaming experiences only available on the 3DS. And there's little doubt this is a poster child for the machine's specs, impressive flight sequences swooping the kid through canyons and the skies with the fervour of a roller-coaster ride.
It's obviously compelling to many. In a hall that held the latest Super Mario, Resident Evil, Lylat Wars and a half-dozen other big name titles, it was Kid Icarus that had a constant throng of people waiting to play for the duration of Nintendo's all-day event in London. Partly due to the queue, but mostly to savour the build-up, it was the title we left until last in our rotation around the 3DS and Wii titles on offer.
Yet after a three level hands-on, it's the one title we're not entirely convinced about.
Visually, it is astonishing. There's a richness in colour and clarity to the visuals that'd be evident even if the 3D slider wasn't pushed to maximum. With it on we get the same gut punch we had from entering Hyrule Field in Ocarina, exampled by one instance when we shoot up a mountain's side, clouds and enemies whipping past our screens only to burst over its peak and see the continent stretch out below us, the lights of numerous towns twinkling as far as the eye can see. To use another comparison, we haven't felt a developer nailing the sensation of flight so well since Nights: Into Dreams on the Sega Saturn.
These intoxicating on-rail flight sequences open each level, direction gladly handed over to automatic as we concentrate on hammering each attacking wave. For the first time since we got the 3DS, we're clutching the stylus with one hand, tapping the screen to aim bolts of arrows which we fire with taps of LT, and tracing the metallic rod around the screen and holding the button for less-damaging rapid fire attacks. We're holding the 3DS in the other hand, thumb rotating the analog nub to steer Icarus clear of return fire, with a few extra centimetres give when shouldering the limits on the sides of the screen, providing some narrow misses from near screen-wide blasts.
Icarus is a talkative chap, even in the heat of battle, with a near-constant chat track between him and Palutena, connected by mind-link so they can converse and your lady companion can serve as tutorial guide on the fly. There's a lot of dialogue between them, with shades of Disney in tone to the point we wonder if it'd drive players to distraction. We do appreciate however the backstory flashback that uses video footage from the original NES title as a narrative tool.
Even before you jump into a level there's an extensive selection of weapons for Icarus to choose from, from bows to blades, claws to cannons, each offering short to long range advantages, which will likely play a heavier role in your tactics when your feet touch terra firma.
It's on land that our positive impressions of the game take a dive, and it's mainly due to the control scheme. Over the course of the day we found each 3DS game's dealing with camera to vary in success. Super Mario kept it locked, Metal Gear Solid harked back to the N64 controller by mapping the control to the four front buttons.
Theoretically, and we admit that with time, patience, and dexterity, Project Sora's setup could prove fantastic; twitch-control for the third person actioner. On initial attempts though, we found it massively frustrating and dialled our enjoyment gradually down to zero.
You continue to control Icarus with the analog-nub, with a quick tap forward twice to dash. Camera control is mapped to the Touch Screen, along with aiming. You need to flick the stylus over the screen to twist the camera around in the choosen direction, with heavier or lighter flicks denoting either a 90 degree turn or a complete 180.
As a process, it's both cumbersome and overly sensitive, and given that enemies can roll, spin, or soar over you, you struggle to keep them in your sights. You shouldn't be combating the camera more than you're combating monsters.
It's slightly better during boss encounters, rounded arenas and one massive baddie being easier to negotiate. But in later levels when you're progressing through a cavern with a winding staircase, its enough to have us put down the 3DS for a bit to calm our nerves and our eyes. We pity anyone trying to play this while travelling; motion sickness it as forgone conclusion.
It's also an strain on the hands, balancing the weight of the 3DS in the palm of one hand while shooting and moving, and pressing down on the Touch Screen with the stylus-clutching other. There's no comfortable way to hold it for longer play sessions, and is a control scheme we never quite mastered even on the DS.
If there was some lock-on system to allow you respite from the camera, then things would proceed a lot smoother. As it is, it brings our enthusiasm for the title crashing to earth, and we wonder if many have the patience to master the controls. We can see the hook and the reason for them - monsters are legion, attacks are frequent enough that you need to keep moving - but that the game, or at least this demo is so action-packed we're not given the time to acclimatise to the tempo.
Here's hoping the next sessions will yield better results, because this is a title we're desperate to like; a new IP (of sorts) that owes nothing to long-standing franchises or remakes. This is the sort of game that needs to succeed to prove there's much more to the 3DS than re-issues.
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