Thursday, April 19, 2012

Review: 'Kid Icarus: Uprising' burns its wings

(CNN) -- When the Nintendo 3DS was introduced at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in 2010, one of the announced games that drew the most favorable reaction was "Kid Icarus: Uprising."

A follow-up to the original "Kid Icarus" title that came out 25 years ago, this new version offers updated graphics, classic boss battles and humorous dialogue that, unfortunately, quickly becomes cheesy and trite.

The story harkens back to the original as the forces of Light battle the forces of Darkness with the player acting as the champion for Light. The angel hero, Pit, must set out once again with the help of the goddess of Light, Palutena, to defeat Medusa and end the threat to the human race.

Players control Pit with the device's circle pad and use its stylus to aim and turn him. Firing his weapon is done with the left shoulder button on the 3DS. Fortunately, the game comes packed with a nifty stand, because trying to hold and maneuver gameplay was quite the contortion.

Even using the stylus after a while became painful in my wrist. The game does remind you from time to time to take a break, so perhaps the developers thought there might be a problem.

Combat is broken down into three sections for each chapter: flight battle, ground battle and boss battle. In the air, Pit attempts to shoot enemies while continuously flying forward. He is able to dodge around the screen but his motion is always moving ahead.

On the ground (because apparently this angel has a limit on how much he can fly), Pit navigates through a series of rooms and pathways, defeating enemies and collecting hearts. Hearts are the currency by which players can obtain new weapons and skills.

The boss battles close each chapter, involving classic characters and a combination of nimble dodging and intense firepower. The bosses are returning enemies from the original title, but offer new challenges for fans of the franchise.

The intensity of each chapter can change as well, ramping up the enemies and the loot. A device called the Fiend's Caldron allows players to spend hearts to adjust the difficulty. Want to make it easier? That'll cost you. If you want more, you bet hearts that you can complete the chapter, winning you more hearts.

Pit has nine weapon types at his disposal and can equip one before each chapter. Ranging from rifles to clubs, each offers special advantages. One nice feature is that some weapons can be fused with other weapons to create even more powerful attacks. Plus, some of the names are really quite charming.

If there is a downside to the game, it is the dialogue. It starts off being funny and cute, but I get the feeling the writers were trying too hard in the later stages of the game. There are plenty of silly pop-culture references that don't quite work in this mythological setting: "Happy meal of pain"? Really?

The talk also clashes with the action. Many times, the dialogue ran on so long that I completed the fight before the characters were done trash-talking each other. It ended up almost ruining the entire experience.

Overall, "Kid Icarus: Uprising" does offer some solid combat, some great visuals and a good soundtrack. The gameplay is good, and the story does move along at a brisk pace.

However, it's hobbled by an uncomfortable playing configuration that cries out for a second circle pad (Circle Pad Pro, anyone?) instead of the stylus pointer..

"Kid Icarus: Uprising" is available now and only for the Nintendo 3DS. It is rated E 10+ for everyone 10 years old and older due to comic mischief, fantasy violence, and mild suggestive themes. This review was done using the Nintendo 3DS with no extra hardware attachments.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The future of gaming: It's now

(CNN) -- The future of video gaming is bright, according to four industry visionaries who spoke at a recent gaming event.

Kellee Santiago, Ken Levine, Paul Barrett and Mark DeLoura were part of a panel discussion at the opening of a new Smithsonian exhibit, The Art of Video Games. Each has been successful in the gaming business and has great hope for what's to come.

Barrett, the senior creative director for BioWare-Mythic, said people who are going to make games in the future are playing them right now. He describes this time in those gaming lives as their Golden Age.

"What's interesting about my Golden Age is it is where I learned my prejudices about what games I liked and I don't like," Barrett said. "That period defined my understanding of games so that when I had the chance to make games, those are the kinds of game I wanted to make."

For the gamers of today, he said, "The current Golden Age is pretty bloody good."

Others on the panel said they were also driven to create games that reflected or expressed something they wanted to share with others. For Levine, the creative director of the "BioShock" franchise, it is about creating worlds and telling stories that mean something in those worlds.

He related a story about the creation of "BioShock," where players can save or sacrifice young girls, known as Little Sisters, to gain power. In the beginning of the creative process, the little girls were sea slugs.

"In order for the story to be meaningful, we had to create empathy between the player and the thing they were making a decision about," Levine said. "That took a while for that to come about. The actual choice became simple -- what do you want to do with this little girl?"

Santiago and DeLoura hope future game designers go beyond what games are about today and challenge themselves and the industry about what gaming could be.

DeLoura, the vice president of technology at THQ, wants the constraints of today's design to seem archaic to those who are just getting started and hopes for more diversity.

"The games that break down (the conventional) mentality is what does it for me," he said. "For us pioneers up here, one of the things I would like to challenge us to do is to reach out into communities you don't expect games to come from and really pull those out and get them shared with the broader community."

Santiago, co-founder and president of thatgamecompany, echoed that sentiment of opening up new ideas for games of the future. She is also a partner in IndieFund, which helps independent game developers reach and maintain financial independence.

"My biggest hope is that the people who will be making games, what those people look like, completely changes," she said. "We're going to see new types of stories and new types of experiences. With greater technology and distribution channels, it has flipped a switch for people and they say, 'Oh, I could do that too!'"

Levine added that with additional venues for gaming like app stores and Kickstarter, future game designers don't have to be driven to find funding to produce games anymore. He said that without that financial pressure, creativity goes up.

"Games were my companion as a kid," Levine said. "It didn't shut my world down. It opened my world up."

Barrett said there is a whole new wave of people who want to make games that are fearless, expect success and have wide ranging views. He said those future designers have one goal in mind.

"They don't want to make games that are art. They want to make games that are awesome."