Kirby Star Allies Review
Kirby has been around for what seems like forever, although he only actually debuted in 1992 on the Nintendo Game Boy in Kirby’s Dream Land. For many of today’s gamers that is pretty much forever, coming only a few years after the hobby went totally mainstream in people’s homes as well as throughout the arcades. People also think of him as very much a Nintendo character. He is, in a way, given he’s only ever been on Nintendo platforms, but the creators and developers of the Kirby series of games is actually HAL Laboratory. A name which to many will mean very little, to others will spark a chuckle as it’s very much one step ahead of IBM in every way. To me though, it makes me a little warm and fuzzy as HAL Laboratory is a big name in the history of Nintendo - bringing us all the Kirbies, Smash Bros. and of course, Iwata-san, the chief architect of Nintendo’s current home run — the Switch.
Kirby then, is synonymous with Nintendo and a part of the company’s success over the years in some way, similar to any other company mascot. With Kirby’s Star Allies we have the series’ introduction to the Nintendo Switch. A side-scrolling 2.5D platformer, it’s immediately notable for the insane levels of cuteness pervading every corner of the game. Kirby himself is a spherical ball with feet and eyes, blobby hands and no end of skills. He’s joined on this adventure by a variety of friends, selected by the player dependent on which of the bad guys you want to make your friend. Yes, the game allows you — nay, encourages you — to make friends. Bloody brilliant.
There’s some story about how on the planet Jambastion some evil magician executes a ritual ensuring the fragmentation of some crystalline heart-like material, flinging dark hearts throughout the universe. Most infect peaceful creatures turning them bad. In Kirby’s case, it gives him the aforementioned power to make friends. So begins a journey across the worlds to free everyone of the evil hearts and make the galaxy safe once more. It’s a platform game and the story is totally throwaway. It’s a MacGuffin of sorts, there purely to give you some baddies and provide Kirby with his power.
Kirby’s ability to make friends is the crux of the game. A standard platform game leveraging the level and world setup made popular by Super Mario Bros. 3 all those years ago, the game takes you through a few worlds with all kinds of levels — normal and secret — in each. Any given level sees Kirby moving around in all axes, aiming to kill the baddies by way of various attacks determined by his moveset at that point in time, and his companions. Kirby will meet friends along the way and be able to throw hearts at enemies, converting them to loyal friends who fight by his side. Kirby can fight alongside up to four friends, and each one has a different ability. You might have a fiery attack or a sword attack; you can be a vacuum cleaner or a painter. Your companions will work alongside you and the AI is pretty clever in that they will just fight, or make the big doorway open for you without you having to worry. You can truly leave them be and they will not hinder you in any way. In boss fights you could even stand aside and likely win despite that slightly cowardly decision. If you have enough real people and controllers you can play cooperatively with up to three others, working together to save everyone around you.
You can change your companion group members at any time during the game when the option presents itself. This might be for a change or because you want a specific move, which can either come from your buddy, or from Kirby absorbing it. Yes, Kirby can take on any of his mate’s moves. This means you can keep your preferred characters around and have the moveset you want as well, rather than it being a binary choice of one or the other. Your group remains with you between levels until you either change in-game, or via the unlocked character choice level where you have the chance to summon legendary friends.
One thing Kirby Star Allies isn’t is a challenge. It is spectacularly easy. By the end of the first world I had twenty-four lives and I hadn’t died once. In fact I hardly died throughout the whole game. So don’t pick it up and expect Super Mario World Special World level difficulty. That’s part of the point though. Kirby is a cute and fluffy bundle of platforming fun. He’s designed for all gamers — that means those like me who have grown up practising pixel-perfect jumps in Super Mario Bros. The Lost levels as well as youngsters whose first introduction to gaming is via the Nintendo Switch. For anyone of the latter grouping this game is likely to be the best thing ever. For the former? It’s still a hugely fun distraction for six hours or so, full of massively over-populated levels, giant boss characters and all kinds of cutesy fun punctuated with a reminder that friendship is great.
The bottom line is that HAL Laboratory has given us a colourful and cutesy bundle of energy with lots to do and lots of ways to do it in. There are all kinds of hidden exits and doors in the levels enabling the collection of serious stars (many stars equal extra lives) and fun secret levels off the critical path. The variety of ways you can tackle a level means replaying it is perfectly enjoyable and the difference between worlds is enough to ensure the main game keeps you engaged for the duration of its short runtime. If you have real friends with Joy-Cons you can play cooperatively quite organically given there are always up to four goodies on screen at any one time anyway. This can become rather hectic as the action is always totally over the top with all kinds of things happening at any point in time, but this — like the game as a whole — is all rather lovely fun, if short, and easy.