Kirby's new journey sees deep space threats, wonderous abilities and a pure multiplayer focus.
The Kirby franchises knows how to deliver on enjoyable gameplay experiences. From his main 2D adventures to interesting spin-offs, Kirby's world just has a little something for everybody. Naturally, it was only a matter of time until the next game would arrive on the Nintendo Switch. Kirby Star Allies, the title in question, promises to deliver new ideas and a multiplayer focus that leverages the new system. In the latter, Kirby Star Allies is certainly succeeding, but is it more than just that?
Kirby Star Allies' story is, in all honesty, quite intriguing. An unknown intergalactic threat is harming the lives of Dream Land’s residents as well as the wider Planet Popstar. Allies and rivals alike are acting out of character, almost as if they are being controlled. Kirby, the unexpected hero he is, makes haste towards King Dedede's castle to find out what is going on. Along the way, the pink ball finds out that he has gained a mysterious power. A power that allows him to throw hearts and make powerful friends in the process. Kirby and these new allies will need to work together to save their beloved home!
From the outset, Kirby controls exactly like you would expect him to. HAL Labs knows not to change a winning formula, and this showsin their key character. Kirby can walk, run, jump, climb, slide, and hover his way through various platforming stages. Naturally, you can also swallow up enemies to give him a variety of powers. This ranges from classic powers like the Yo-Yo to brand new ones, which I will get into in a little bit. With every ability, the control shifts just a tiny bit to offer various adjustments to movement. Nothing earth-shattering, but definitely noticeable.
The abilities are more just something to give Kirby new powers. Unlike the previous multiplayer Kirby game on Wii, Star Allies give you control over the enemies you share a heart with. This gives additional players the chance to control some of their absolute favorite enemies. This ranges from the Blade Knight to Bonkers, and from NESP to Parasol Waddle Dee. There are even exclusive characters that can only be played in this matter, such as Chef Kawasaki. While Kirby's usage is a one off special power, the chubby chef throws pans and cooks food to help his friends out.
What makes using the friends special in comparison to three other Kirbys, is the way in which they all move about. NESP (ESP ability) moves slower than most, but his teleporting and magic measures are nothing short of amazing. One of my absolute favorites is Bugzzy (Suplex) who moves about about comically with his twig like legs. Bugzzy's hard hitting moves, however, are a thing of beauty and certainly turned me into a Waddle Dee destroying machine. Honestly, I had the most fun discovering the various allies to see what they would bring.
To bring additional flavor, Kirby Star Allies also offers three brand new abilities, which can be enjoyed both as Kirby and an ally. First up, we have Camo (Spider). With this power, you can shoot strings and create spiderwebs in a variety of flavors. You can throw webs into the air, ensure that allies can jump on them, or envelop an opponent in strings. They aren't the most powerful moves, but they are essential for crowd control. Vividria (Artist) felt slightly more complicated to get the hang of. Outside of the quick slashes with the brush, the drawing and sculpture side of things were elements I needed to work to grasp. Finally, we have Jammerjab (Stick). This fellow is clearly inspired by the Journey to the West tale, considering his appearance and weapon choice. Jammerjab can perform various jabs, counter attacks, and spin it around him. Anyone can instantly understand him, while still being a diverse new asset in Kirby's arsenal.
Finally we have Friend Abilities. By combining the powers of two friends, brand new paths will open up for you. A good example is how you can combine the Stone ability with ice to form curling stones, which will allow you to hit certain switches. Another is how you can add fire to the stick ability and burn otherwise unreachable objects. Kirby Star Allies manages to fit this idea into many puzzles, but luckily the right help is always around the corner to minimize frustration. It is how you will get to most of the game's hidden collectibles, so taking a peek around can be helpful.
As we move onto the stages, I must say that I am impressed by the game's sheer variety. It starts on the world screens, which can be explored in 3D. You start off in the lush green plains of Dream Land, where you will find Waddle Dees galore. This comes together in the level Honey Hill, where the little lads form big balls in an attempt to crush you. Naturally, this world also features your yearly encounter with Whispy Woods, which has one or two new tricks up its sleeve.
Where the game starts to come into its own, however, is in the second and third worlds. The second world sees you traveling on top of Planet Popstar, and going to several areas to set things straight. The usual environments, which you would expect to see spread across a few worlds, are here together in a tightly packed group of levels. You will travel to the autumn elements of Friendly Field before swiftly going to the beach in Reef Resort. Each has its own preferred set of abilities for the various secrets, making every journey delightful. While I could say a lot on the third world, I personally think it is better to leave some things unsaid. A huge shift occurs once here, and sets the stage for where the game is going.
The stages themselves focus a lot on the multiplayer. You will see special rooms where four allies are required to move onward or positioning certain characters is important. This is great when you are playing with a couple of friends, but way less fun while playing alone. You will come to rely on your new CPU friends a little too much, sometimes letting them do the finer work completely. Is the ability combining required? Let a CPU come to you to make the fusion happen. Do you need a certain obstacle destroyed? Let a computer do it. The AI takes a lot its own initiative, going as far as homing in on bosses for your honor. What I am saying is, there is barely any challenge when going into the Story Mode alone. The big exception are, surprisingly enough, the bosses.
Even though Kirby's difficulty never truly mattered, at least I was making my own mistakes. At the end of Star Allies, I had over 100 lives left after finishing the game solo. What didn't help matters was that the special Puzzle Pieces, used to complete special artwork, were quite easy to find. In other Kirby games, I’d find myself overlooking trinkets now and then, but here I was almost always instantly on the money. The only times I didn't get it immediately were due to the lack of an ability, but those were usually only a small distance away from the hidden location in question. Next to netting the big Puzzle Pieces in levels, which are needed to complete the purple parts, there are multiple ways to earn the basic blue ones. A good way is to scan in seven amiibo per level, which will grant you healing items and stars for extra lives as well. The Kirby sets will net you better rewards, so be sure to keep those around you at all times. In every level, the same ones can be used over and over again.
To some degree, I miss the point to point action from the Nintendo 3DS games. Every screen set the next slew of elements in motions and never really slowed down. Star Allies eases you more into every screen, and gives you time to settle in before moving on. Once again, that is great for a multiplayer setting, but not so much on your own. Regardless of the setting you play the game in, the Friend Powers concept still clicks. You will, for example, combine to form the Friend Circle. This will see you rolling, jumping, and slamming everything in your path. Another neat one was the Friend Bridge. This results in puzzles in which you guide a monkey with a key to the correct location. When these golden stages popped up, I instantly jumped up from my seat and enjoyed the madness.
Next to the Story Mode, there are various extras to sink your teeth into. Two that I can discuss today are Star Slam Heroes and Chop Champs, which are both three stage minigames. Both can be either played with buttons or with a singular Joy-Con's motion control. In Chop Champs, four Kirbys try to chop down parts of a tree. By pressing the A-button or swinging the Joy-Con, you will do just that. To give it some sort of a twist, you will need to use a stick to move left and right. Various obstacles will try to stop you in your tracks and prevent you from moving ahead of the pack. The other minigame, Star Slam Heroes, sees you pressing the A-button to adjust the strength of a baseball bat. You’ll have to swing at an asteroid that is quickly coming your way. By pressing A again or swinging the Joy-Con, you will send it packing. The goal is to time your swing better than your three opponents. None of these options made a lasting impact on me, and I moved on quickly.
As far as looks are concerned, Kirby Star Allies looks fantastic. The colorful style feels right at home on the Nintendo Switch, and it all runs without any problems. The world looks vibrant, the various layers are nicely separated and it is very easy on the eyes. Personally I did expect some issues in handheld mode, but I was very impressed with how it held up. The select few cutscenes are the most impressive, and look wonderful wherever you play. Sadly, the game does only run at 30 frames per second, but it is just a slight bummer in the grand scheme really. The soundtrack is equally great, with both uplifting and adventurous tunes. Some of my favorite tracks are present in this entry, and I really want to listen to them over and over again.
Overall, Kirby Star Allies left me somewhat torn. As a multiplayer game, I am positive in what it gave me. The way you combine abilities, work together and get through obstacles is enjoyable. As a single-player experience however, I am left with wanting somewhat more. The experience was one of the easier Kirby games I've played, and this was mostly because the CPUs helped me so much. In either case, I can't deny that the variety is there and Kirby Star Allies certainly looks the part. It might not be the Kirby experience some were searching for, but for those with a family, it is a video game that all can enjoy.