Games 4/3/12: Kid Icarus: Uprising, Ninja Gaiden 3, Closure

Kid Icarus: Uprising
For: Nintendo 3DS
From: Project Sora/Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (comic mischief, fantasy violence, mild suggestive themes)
Price: $40

Are you willing to suffer for your hobby? Because “Kid Icarus: Uprising” may be the best game you’ll ever have to endure literal pain to enjoy.

It’s also the wildest reinvention of an inconic Nintendo character since Mario started talking and running around in three dimensions.

Though it resurrects the same characters and themes that have been in hibernation since the original “Kid Icarus” games came and went more than two decades ago, “Uprising” is otherwise a wholly different animal. Those older games were slightly methodical 2D platformers. “Uprising” arrives in full 3D — both dimensionally and stereoscopically — and is anything but meticulous.

When Pit (that’s you) is in flight, “Uprising” is a high-flying on-rails shooter. The circle pad controls Pit’s lateral and longitudinal movement, but he continually soars forward by himself. The stylus and touchscreen handle his targeting reticule, and the L button allows him to fire his weapon either rapidly (hold it down) or powerfully (lay off, let it charge, press L to unleash).

Having to balance those three disparate inputs is a bit dicey at any speed, and “Uprising’s” action doesn’t roll by at any speed. It’s fantastically fast and — depending on where you set the difficulty via a clever slider that pays more rewards and unlocks more secret areas the higher you set it — quite challenging.

Holding the 3DS and balancing those inputs is such a clumsy proposition, in fact, that Nintendo included a plastic stand that does the holding part for you. It’s an amusing solution that makes “Uprising” the most unportable portable game since Nintendo’s Virtual Boy days, but it’s an effective one.

Got all that? Good, because when Pit touches down on the ground during the second half of these levels, things get even harrier.

For the most part, the inputs remain the same. But when Pit has his feet on the ground, you exercise full, 360-degree control over them. L still fires and the touchscreen still aims. But having full range of motion also necessitates a need to control the camera independently of Pit. “Uprising” maps that to the touchscreen as well, only via brisk (and therefore imprecise) swipes instead of the drags used for aiming. The line between making Pit amble (slow push on the circle pad) and dash (quick push) forward is similarly imperfect, especially when an accidental dash sends him over an edge.

Harnessing this control scheme, even with the stand’s considerable help, is awkward in short bursts and very literally painful during extended plays. “Uprising’s” isn’t as fast on the ground as it is in the air, but it’s comparable, and it’s crying out for a second circle pad to balance the load. (Bafflingly, while “Uprising” supports Nintendo’s Circle Pad Pro attachment, it’s only for left-handed support and not to enable dual-stick controls.)

And yet, “Uprising’s” action is fast and exciting enough to make the pain worth it. The level design is insane, and the enemy and boss designs run the gamut from ginormous to comically weird. Pit’s story, which plays out with full voice acting in the second screen while you play uninterrupted, is engaging and sharply funny. It’s also lengthy and — thanks to a scoring system, the aforementioned slider and a massive array of discoverable weapons, gear and special powers — highly replayable.

Amazingly, “Uprising” even has a multiplayer option (six players, local wireless or online) with lone wolf deathmatch and a clever team deathmatch option in which teams share a single lifebar. You can bring any weapon you’ve discovered into multiplayer matches, but the better your weapon, the more damage your team’s lifebar suffers when you die. The action is, predictably, complete bedlam — imagine six people dealing with that control scheme and each other at once — but as an amusing throw-in for a content-loaded game, it suffices just fine.

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Ninja Gaiden 3
For: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
From: Tecmo Koei
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language, suggestive themes)
Price: $60

The more credit you give “Ninja Gaiden 3” for respecting your ability to play it, the likelier it is to make you rue the thought.

That alone makes “NG3” — a beautiful, blazingly fast action game that’s also a descendent of one of the most perfect action games ever made — a crushing letdown.

Superficially, “NG3” looks a lot like 2004’s “Ninja Gaiden,” a game so cherished that Tecmo keeps reissuing it (most recently, for the Vita in February). Ryu Hayabusa (that’s you) remains one of gaming’s most agile action heroes. The places you’ll visit are beautiful and diverse, and while many of the enemies you face look like reskinned versions of enemies you saw already, the bosses — from a T-Rex to a giant witch whose body becomes a level unto itself — are satisfactorily outrageous.

In flashes, “NG3” also fights like the original “Gaiden,” which treated every single enemy as a significant danger and provided the ingredients — a healthy offensive and defensive arsenal for Ryu, some cunning intelligence for his enemies — to turn the most ordinary fight into a showdown more tense than many games’ boss encounters.

But those flashes — where you’re evading a pattern of attack in perfect time and countering to turn the tide — are fleeting. “NG3’s” tendency to crowd every encounter with roughly six to 10 mindless grunts leaves little room for showdowns, and respecting your enemies’ intelligence simply leads to cheap, frustrating barrages of knockdowns where the game effectively strips control from you. You’re better off just mashing the attack and evade buttons mindlessly and relentlessly — which is about as much fun as it sounds — because that’s all your enemies are doing to you.

The result looks spectacular, in part because “NG3” takes a page from other games and uses interactive cutscenes to add flair to Ryu’s kills. But the satisfaction of a grueling fight intelligently won — the main pillar of the original “Gaiden” and, to a dampened degree, its sequel — is just about gone this time around.

Boss fights, sadly, rarely fare better. There is a gem or two, and the one-on-one format certainly provides some badly-needed focus to the action, but sloppiness and repeat encounters abound all the same. More than not, the same rule of engagement still applies: Give a boss enemy’s attack pattern more credit than it deserves, and prepare to get burned and just mash away on the next (and likely successful) attempt.

Elsewhere, “NG3” takes steps forward and backward to ultimately settle comfortably into mediocrity. A surprising attempt to tell a more personal Ryu Hayabusa story results in the usual incoherence, but the presence of one character lets the story to fulfill its mission to partial effect. As bloodthirsty ninjas go, Ryu’s a pretty nice guy. Who knew?

The not-entirely-welcome infusion of interactive cutscenes and quick time events has a similarly mixed effect. “NG3” looks great when Ryu’s cutting a helicoptor to pieces while it’s in flight, but it screeches to a halt every time you have to laboriously press the triggers to climb a wall. When did simply pushing up on the joystick stop being enough?

“NG3” also marks the series’ first hand at online multiplayer, and the result likely matches your expectations for it. The solo or co-op Ninja Trials mode presents no-frills missions that load up the screen with enough enemies to bring down the framerate, while Clan Battle (eight players) lets you cut your friends to pieces via team deathmatch. “NG3” bakes in a leveling and upgrades system to encourage replayability, but the sloppy gameplay that ails the storyline also persists here. And without that story to pull it along, the novelty runs out pretty quickly.

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Closure
For: Playstation 3 (via Playstation Network)
From: Eyebrow Interactive
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild fantasy violence)
Price: $15

If it’s in the dark, it doesn’t exist in “Closure,” a deviously clever 2D sidescroller that once again proves all the brilliant ideas for rethinking 2D games aren’t yet taken. In “Closure,” the vast majority of a level exists in complete blackness, and anything that exists in blackness doesn’t exist at all. The object is to employ the available light sources — some static, some maneuverable like adjustable floodlights, some you can push around or carry with you — to design a tenable path to the exit. If the path in front of you is entirely blackened, you need to illuminate it, lest you fall into a bottomless pit of nothingness. And if walls block the exit from all sides, you must suppress the light to make one of those walls disappear. Sounds easy, right? Sure. But “Closure’s” method of terrain manipulation represents an abstract new way to get from A to B, and success frequently entails disobeying age-old 2D gaming truths and forcing yourself to think along dramatically different new lines. Naturally, just as the new normal settles in, “Closure’s” 80-plus levels grow increasingly labyrinthine, with multi-level cause-and-effect puzzles, moving parts you can and cannot control, and keys and other objects you must protect from the abyss while also watching your own step. Fortunately, wicked though “Closure” can get, the process of conquering it is aggravation-free. There’s no timer rushing you along, and if you fall or have to reset the level, it restarts immediately without fuss. The pleasant demeanor extends to the visual presentation, which resembles a black-and-white woodcut illustration come charmingly alive. Monochromatic games are en vogue right now, but “Closure’s” stab at it is a fresh departure from its dour counterparts.