The Kirby pile faces challenges and minigames galore.
In my previous impressions of the game, I had wondered whether later levels would expand gameplay mechanics and increase required strategy and dexterity. After another chance to check out the game with Nintendo, I am happy to say that this is indeed the case. Each level I played included novel interaction and challenges, which required changes in strategy. Additionally, the inclusion of mini-games is a welcome bonus.
Mass Attacks levels feature varied environments, which can easily switch between desert and sea within the same level, requiring changes in gameplay style. For instance, while swimming, you must watch your air meter and collect air bubbles along the way. An chain-like enemy, made up of different vulnerable compartments was the boss of one of the water areas. "Mass" does play a big role in various situations as changing weight by changing the number of grouped Kirbys can shift objects around.
While it is often an effective method to clear a stage, an icy underground cavern was designed in such a way as to discourage simply plowing forth and spamming Kirbys. Coming from behind, a massive ice dinosaur named Freezy Rex gives chase, destroying everything in its path. You must break through ice and avoid succumbing to the beast. Yet, various blocks of ice are full of spikes and other hazards or bonuses that will put you in harms way. Players must be dexterous, but cautious.
Every once in a while, a quicktime event would manifest, requiring rapid tapping of on-screen buttons in order to clear an obstacle. In one case, a timing aspect was introduced where the Kirbys went fishing. Tapping had to be done once the bait was taken. Little things like this kept the game fresh, and a little humor (and Kirby abuse) was thrown in, as well.
Another stage introduced bubbles. These bubbles contained counters that decreased with every hit, but would reset if they touched the ground. The bubbles would come back into play during a battle against perennial boss, King Dedede. The fat penguin floated at the top of the screen in a hot air balloon dropping timed bombs in bubbles that had to be bounced back up at the right time to blast him out of the sky. Following this, a more traditional Dedede battle ensued, with his trademark hammer smash as the new weapon of "mass" destruction.
It became abundantly clear here that different strategies must be used to control the Kirby pile. As more Kirbys are gathered, they increase in mass and move more slowly as a group. This can have disastrous consequences during boss battles, and as a result, you can easily spend more time recovering Kirbys than actually attacking the boss. Thus, proper use of moves such as the dash move, among others, must be employed at the right time to avoid injury. Managing Kirbys in these situations is frantic.
Each world's stages are spread across concentric circles. The inner circles start off hidden, and though each circle contains a number of levels, it is not clear which will unlock the path necessary to process to the next ring. Each stage is marked by a number that represents the minimum number of Kirbys required to enter the level.
Traditionally, Kirby games have strayed on the easy side, though sometimes ramping up difficulty when it comes to unlockables, and such is Mass Attack. Simply completing levels should be relatively easy, but obtaining medals in each stage is no small feat. Bronze medals are awarded for not allowing any Kirbys to die. Silver is given if no Kirbys become angels (hit twice). Gold is the reward if no Kirbys are hit at all, and given some of the stages I played, that is a nearly insurmountable challenge. Careful and planned play styles are definitely required to achieve the top medals.
Medals found hidden within each level (as opposed to the level-completion medals) unlock a number of extras in Kirby Mass Attack, including an exciting variety of minigames and other bonuses such as a sound test. Warp doors are found within each level to ease collection of medals after returning to completed stages.
I had the chance to try out one of the minigames, Strato Patrol EOS, which was essentially a Kirby-themed Xevious clone. The stylus was used to move Kirby (who shot automatically), and the trigger buttons dropped bombs. The music was even similar to the arcade shooter. The range and depth of the minigames are compelling; in simpler days each one of them would be considered a full game.
Kirby Mass Attack is a inventive new addition to the Kirby franchise. With all of its stylus action, the game can be a bit tiring on the hands. The variety of environments and unlockables should provide plenty fun and challenges. The game is already out in Japan, and arrives in North America and Europe on September 19.