Despite the Kirby franchise acting as more of an introduction to platforming games (especially when stacked up to Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong Country), there has always been an appeal to the series for gamers across various skill ranges. Indeed, there’s a cutesy charm about the characters that occupy the world in every core iteration, and while the gameplay itself fails to evoke much of a challenge, Kirby Star Allies takes the most engaging aspect of the series and fleshes it out via throwbacks to past games and local co-op.
It’s no secret that every Kirby title in recent memory has gone out of its way to provide a unique gimmick that makes revisiting Dream Land a more appealing endeavour. Planet Robobot (2016) introduced a mech, Epic Yarn (2010) featured a string-based aesthetic and altered powers to match, and even The Crystal Shards (2000) was the first 3D iteration of the series that allowed the hero to combine abilities of multiple baddies. This time around, HAL Laboratory and Nintendo have opted to reintroduce the latter’s mechanic of blending powers through the inclusion of 4-player, cooperative multiplayer. It works wonderfully.
Generic enemies that Kirby once used as fodder to gain powers now have a much bigger role to play, as the pink blob is capable of simply lobbing hearts at appropriate baddies to befriend them – allowing other players to take control if they’re present. Doing so is essential for solving puzzles and discovering secrets in the environment, but the layout carries over quite well for single-player aficionados that are hoping to traverse the title sans a real-life companion. It’s an inclusionary approach that ensures that, just because users are playing by themselves on the go or on their couch, they won’t miss a beat.
These rent-a-pals that litter each stage can be broken down into three specific categories: elemental, physical, and special. The elemental types (i.e. fire, electricity, ice, etc.) are utilized to power up the physical attackers – creating weapons like a flame sword or an electric whip. There are a number of these enchanted armaments just waiting to be discovered by players, as they help to solve puzzles and take on enemies that have particular type disadvantages. Mini-bosses and large-scale opponents are sure to be quickly dispatched for those that play their roster’s ability properly, and mini-bosses can even be befriended after their defeat (these make up the special category) which provide unique abilities to gain access to hidden items and secret areas.
All mini-bosses can be tamed, that is, with the exception of the bipedal walrus known as Mr. Frosty. I’m not sure what the problem was with him, but he just transforms into a Chilly (the angry snowman). Sorry for your horrific loss, Mr. Frosty fan(s).
Of course, standard baddies aren’t the only foes that can be made into friends, as Star Allies also brings back iconic frenemies like Meta Knight, King Dedede, and Bandana Waddle Dee – all of which are capable of joining the puffball. It’s been confirmed that past allies from previous Kirby titles will be coming as free downloadable content in the future as well – as detailed by the same showcase that released the first trailer of Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo Switch. These heroes are none other than Rick, Kine, and Coo (acting as a single character) from Kirby’s Dream Land 2, Marx from Kirby Super Star, and Gooey from Kirby’s Dream Land 3, but their imminent inclusion only further plays into the aforementioned theme of this “franchise look back” as a whole.
References to past adventures are present throughout, ranging from rock-ability transformations like the Robobot Armour to hidden puzzle pieces present in every stage that unlock images of previous entries in the series. There is some fantastic fan service imbedded into Kirby Star Allies that longstanding fans will love, and while it will completely go over the head of newcomers, it’s an noteworthy effort from the developers.
The only drawback that rears its head in frantic portions of the game is the busyness of the action on-screen. With Kirby, three other allies, and a number of hostiles in an area, it’s easy to lose track of what’s going on, and it can even lead to a few unnecessary deaths for those that find themselves struggling to identify when they’ve been heaved off a cliff by a foe’s attack. It’s difficult to balance four-player co-op with any sense of organization, this is almost certain, but it’s clear that the pros of the feature still outweigh the cons.
Even with mayhem unfolding on-screen, the frame rate remains steady. Visually, Star Allies also provides what is easily the best-looking rendition of Dream Land’s Star Warrior ever, as the graphics truly shine on Switch. Indeed, the world and the characters that occupy it are more “aww”-worthy than they’ve been before, and that holds true right up until the point that I would slash them with sword and watch them explode into a fireworks display featuring a menagerie of colours. It’s simply wondrous.
Kirby Star Allies is portable rendition of Nintendo’s adorable platforming property and it provides a look back on where the franchise came from that encourages the player to experience every retro nod, puzzle, and boss all with friends.
After much thought, that’s something quite special.
Kirby Star Allies arrives exclusively for the Nintendo Switch on March 16, 2018.
You can follow Riley on Twitter (@TheRileyLittle) if you like seeing an unnecessary number of tweets about Super Smash Bros., but he’s really not great for much else.