What if a post-apocalyptic world didn’t have to be dreary? Instead of a brooding bandit out for revengeance, you could be a child with no preconceptions? That shift in perspective changes what kind of game you have. This isn’t a wasteland, it’s a PLAYGROUND!
Welcome to the hooman world, Kirby. They made all these great things then destroyed themselves. Oops. I believe their special ability was “overthinking”. They also moved in three dee. That means you can have three Waddle Dees pop out from behind each other, while also being in the same place. Crazy! You can move up and down without jumping.
Sometimes when a series goes 3D it feels completely different, but this is an exception. With more of a fixed isometric view, Kirby retains the tight platforming feel it always had, with the added benefit of a more interactive world. It’s like if Mario transitioned to 3D world before letting you control the camera in Super Mario 64. We don’t have full camera control here but it doesn’t feel necessary. Immediately upon moving Kirby you can feel that polished smooth Nintendo feel as Kirby bounces and waddles around responsively. It just feels good to move around in this game.
Oops, we don’t have the right ability to cool this fire! We’ll have to go and eat a snowman and come back. Little side alleys and secrets like this are scattered throughout the levels as a nice incentive to explore. It’s amazing all the new places Kirby can go!
We also have brand new Mouthful mega-abilities now, which are abilities on top of others. If you have the Sword for example, you can add the Car or Stairs on top and keep both. It’s like wearing a hat over a hat. This allows many new mechanics to be introduced while keeping the gameplay as seamless as possible as you just keep going and spit them out. Tutorials are imprinted on signs and don’t slow you down, load times are short, this game just allows itself to be played with so many small but critical design choices.
Part of the genius of Kirby games is how the controls remain simple and intuitive despite the fact that you have so many tools. All the Mouthful abilities just use a single button in addition to jump. The car in particular is incredibly easy to drive with the left analog stick, you can even do a burnout effortlessly just by rotating the stick. Things like this justify the fixed camera, otherwise the car controls would be too complicated to switch to on a dime. These controls are basic at their core, but allow you to do so much. That’s Nintendo magic in a nutshell, where the developers worked extremely hard to make something feel simple.
Multiplayer, you ask? Yep, a second player can jump in any time and play as a Bandana Waddle Dee with a Spear. I haven’t really played this much so I’ll keep this short and describe the basics. After playing the intro level this gets unlocked, and a second player can jump in quite easily from the menu. There’s also a cafe mini-game and colosseum tourney where you can team up with a friend. Strictly friendly, nothing competitive. We’re all friends in Kirby land (unless you’re stabbing each other in the back in Star Allies).
Multiplayer is strictly local, but thanks to some very smart Waddle Dees the internet is still working in this post-apocalyptic techno wasteland. You can get useless stats in the main town about how many billions of things Kirby has inhaled amongst the global player base. That’s the only social media I need, to be honest. Mmmm yes, we are close to a billion tomatoes.
The soundtrack absolutely slaps, something Kirby games always deliver on. They don’t just rehash old themes but introduce brand new songs that suit the new environments. My review for Rainbow Paintbrush praised the soundtrack to no end, and this is a similar level of ambition. Brand new melodies bring these new worlds to life. From the magically cosy Northeast Frost Street to the crushing beats of the Power Plant, the music makes Forgotten Land feel like a grand adventure with its own identity.
Outside the regular levels, the world map is scattered with challenges that can earn you some extra Rare Stones. These challenges force you to use a single ability in a time trial or challenge scenario. This is a welcome addition to a game with an overwhelming amount of powerups, where you often find yourself wondering “which powerup should I use?”. The challenges pick the conditions for you, and you just roll with what you have. I found these a great way to get used to individual powerups in a “training” scenario. There’s an optional time goal that is quite difficult to beat, but by the end of a good challenge you’ll feel more confident with that ability for the rest of the game. The Rare Stones can then be used to upgrade your abilities which adds a bit more depth and even new visual designs.
Difficulty is often brought up as a condescending jab at Kirby games. “This is too easy!” You might say after beating level one. Of course, the first few worlds aren’t going to be too challenging, but it ramps up. You still have to take the level design seriously and use the right powerups to find secrets. Furthermore, you have the option of making it more difficult by pursuing extra challenges and objectives. Some challenges like fighting a boss without taking damage can be extremely difficult.
If that’s not enough you can speedrun the game. I’ve always been of the opinion that you can make your own difficulty in an “easy” game, and Kirby gives you all the tools for it. Sometimes it’s nice to just put the game in Spring Breeze difficulty and relax. I played in Wild difficulty which felt pretty well balanced, like the normal difficulty in most other games. Then if you want to 100% complete the game, you’ve got some incredibly difficult fights and challenges in the post-game. It definitely tested me and it took me about 30-40 hours game time to get everything. This game has a huge amount of content that I won’t spoil.
Let’s talk about the boss fights in more depth since “3D combat” is a somewhat new thing in Kirby. It feels surreal to be strafing around with Kirby like Bayonetta in an explosive Platinum Games action romp. The camera will move by itself in a fixed arena, and generally it does a good job focusing on the action. The same basic principles apply to any boss fight really, watch its patterns and dodge. Sometimes you’ll need to jump away, but if you hold the block button and strafe at the right time, you can get a badass “slow-mo” where you can inflict a bit of damage. The bosses get more and more complex towards the end of the game and I think they did a great job with them. Without spoiling too much, the designs are impressive and spectacular and Kirby definitely gets a workout.
I’m overjoyed to say this is one of the best Nintendo games I’ve played on the Switch, it really exceeded my expectations. Personally I’m going to declare it the best Nintendo platformer since Tropical Freeze and Woolly World. It successfully pushes the Kirby series forward with new gameplay and creates its own identity with new worlds and levels. A great game bursting with creativity and joy that I’d recommend for any age. Scratch that, especially for adults.