Kirby started out on the NES as a platformer. But in recent years, or better yet, console generations, the little pink ball has been experimenting with his platform roots. His last console outing, Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush, was exemplary to this. Since that game was my first encounter with Kirby outside of the Smash Bros. games I was happy to see that Kirby was going old-skool on his first outing on Switch.
From what I gathered from other reviews on this game, Kirby is going really old skool in fact. The first two worlds serve as a sort of throwback to early Kirby games. This becomes apparent to me because the bosses from these worlds also appear in the Smash Bros. games, meaning they are pillars of the franchise. A fun little nod to this fact is given by the game as well because when you beat the first boss the game suggests you’ve beaten the game and shows you fast-forwarded credits. A nice little touch.
From a gameplay perspective, this is old-skool Kirby gaming with co-op gameplay tacked on. You control Kirby who can jump and attack. His main attack and his signature move is the ability to suck up objects, including his enemies. The neat trick is that when he does actually inhale his enemies he can choose to absorb their powers. All of this is what you should expect from a Kirby game. New this time around is the option to literally spread the love around and throw a heart at an opponent. Doing this will turn most baddies into buddies (see what I did there?) that is either controlled by the CPU or by an additional player in a drop-in type of deal.
For seasoned Nintendo gamers, the default control scheme might be hard to grasp. By default, jumping is set to the A button with attacking mapped to B. When you try the demo this is the on control-scheme available to you. The full game, however, has the option to change it to a more natural feeling (to me at least) Y for attacking and B for jumping. Good to know here is that you can only change this setting from the title screen and it applies to all players, which is a shame.
The co-op gameplay is arguably the biggest addition this game adds to the franchise. Up to three players can drop-in and out without a problem. The gameplay is similar to the New Super Mario Bros. games albeit a little less annoying as it’s harder to troll each other. You still can, but it’s just harder. While it’s easy to jump in and out of the game you are stuck with whatever character the main player has picked out for your position. Changing that on the fly isn’t possible (or at least I didn’t figure out how).
Kirby Star Allies is definitely a game targeted at a younger demographic. Of course, the game looks adorable but that never stopped Nintendo from delivering a proper challenging game. This time, however, the looks match the difficulty. The game never becomes really challenging and when playing in co-op you can help your fallen teammates making it that much harder to perish. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it makes it a fun game to play together with younger or less experienced players, but gamers looking for a proper challenge are better of looking elsewhere (try Celeste for instance).
The game’s initial content seems rather sparse with only four worlds to beat. But this is because completing the story mode will unlock quite a bit of additional content in the form of various game modes. These range from playing story mode type levels with any of the non-Kirby characters to a wood-chopping mini-game. This mini-game actually gives you the option to use the Joy-Con’s motion controls which I can always appreciate.
The game also sports collectibles in the form of puzzle pieces you need to find hidden in the levels. These aren’t really limited so you could replay the same level over and over to collect pieces. Also, they aren’t hidden that well so tracking all of them down isn’t the gratifying challenge it could have been.
Overall there isn’t that much to say about Kirby Star Allies. It’s a well-made but easy platformer. The Kirby twist is executed well as is the cooperative gameplay. This makes it a good fit for younger players or parents looking for something to play with their (younger) children. My six-year-old and his friends adore the game and completed it in a few days of play. For me (at 40) it’s fun to play a ‘normal’ Kirby game but it never really hooked me. This is mainly due to the lack of depth. Nintendo always had a knack for layering their game in such a way that gamers of all ages could enjoy them and sadly that isn’t really the case here. Yes, it’s beautiful fun and cute but the lack of any proper challenge does hold it back. Kirby fans, parents and people looking to ease back in platforming should really consider this. The rest should definitely check out the demo first (and remember that the full game has a different control scheme!).