Kirby Star Allies is the latest in a long line of Kirby games, developed by the now legendary HAL Laboratory. We seem to get a new Kirby iteration every console generation and they’re always solid platformer romps. So how does Kirby Star Allies hold up? Lets find out.
Kirby’s one of those characters that we, as an audience, probably shouldn’t find compelling. A giant pink ball that gobbles up its enemies and steals their powers sounds like something that should belong in Silent Hill! But I think that because the design is so simple, that Kirby lends itself to being such a well received and loved Nintendo character. With the release of Kirby Star Allies, I don’t see anything changing it’s standing as a beloved, albeit strange, mascot.
Kirby’s never really been one for a Game Of Thrones-esque story. If you’re coming to Kirby for an epic tale then you’re going to be sorely disappointed. The story in Kirby Star Allies is a basic one. A strange evil has corrupted the inhabitants of Kirby’s world and, of course, there’s only one person who can reverse the corruption. Using the power of friendship, Kirby throws his love at his enemies, bringing them to their senses and causing them to join with Kirby’s crusade. That’s about as far as the story goes and if I’m being perfectly honest, I don’t think it needs to be more than that. Kirby has always been about its tight gameplay loops, lovable characters and frankly awesome music.
The beauty of having a crack team of four means that, if you decide to have some multiplayer fun and toss your friend a JoyCon, they can choose to hop in as one of your plucky allies. Though I didn’t get a chance to try the multiplayer, I don’t have any friends, I feel it’s safe to assume that due to the simple nature of the game, popping into multiplayer in Kirby Star Allies will probably trivialise any challenge you could encounter.
As we all know by now, the Nintendo Switch isn’t exactly a powerhouse of a console, with some members of the gaming community referring to it as a glorified handheld, but Nintendo know how to get the most out of their systems and I think this really shows with Kirby Star Allies. Graphically everything is incredibly crisp and colourful. The foreground objects are easy to spot, which helps when some of the more puzzley aspects of the game come in to play, such as using the Burning Leo powers to set off cannons, while Kirby holds open a giant umbrella to stop the flame from going out. Or having to turn Kirby into curling stone (you know, that thing from the Olympics) and having one of your Star Allies smack you across the map.
It’s these little minute to minute changes that makes the gameplay so compelling and I found that I was actively hunting out all the special collectibles just so I could figure out what combination of powers I needed to use to scratch my collection itch. On the subject of collectibles, the game features pictures that the player collects little puzzle pieces to unlock. Every level has a special unique puzzle piece that will clear out certain sections of the picture, while the player also collects generic pieces that fill out the rest of the picture. You’ll probably need to do a bit of grinding of previous levels to get enough of the generic puzzle pieces to complete all the pictures, as playing through everything left me short by a fair bit.
Kirby Star Allies also features full team moves, where Kirby and his band of merry men come together like a Megazord and give you some sort of movement ability, such as turning into a wheel and rolling down a section of the level, or becoming a ladder and assisting a character across a chasm so they can open a door.
All the classic characters are here too which is to be expected. Could you honestly call it a Kirby game if MetaKnight or King Dedede didn’t show up? Once you beat these bosses, they become available in the Dream Palace, a magical place the basically roulette wheels you a stronger than normal ally. For all these allies, Kirby can’t actually absorb their abilities, so their only use is to help you plow through the enemies in the game.
The issue that Kirby Star Allies runs into then is that, although the team up moves are interesting, the gameplay in between figuring out a puzzle, or doing a 4 person team up, is very basic. The flow of the combat is to walk up to an enemy, decide if you want to befriend it so that it fights with you, eat it and steal its powers or just to smack it with whatever power you currently have. Not every game has to have a robust combat system, I certainly can’t imagine a Kirby game having a Smoking Sick Style like Devil May Cry, but it’s just a shame that the actual fighting boils down to “mash attack until boss dies”.
The real shame is that the only time the combat does actually change is during the encounter with the final boss. Obviously I won’t be spoiling it here, but it really does make the end of the game feel actually epic. I don’t really understand why HAL didn’t bother to make more of an effort with changing the gameplay for the boss fights, because you do just end up fighting the same bosses you’ve fought for years, in exactly the same way as every other enemy. To me, it feels like a missed opportunity.
As expected from a Kirby game, once you complete the main story, you unlock additional modes which is where I can foresee spending more time with the game.
You get two mini games, that essentially boil down to mashing and timing button presses. The real meat and replayability come from the other two modes. One is a boss rush, where you can alter the difficulty to give you more puzzle piece rewards. The harder you make it, the more bosses you have to beat in a row. This seems like it’d be the best way to grind out enough pieces to finish all the pictures in the game.
The final mode in Kirby Star Allies is a second romp through five slightly modified stages, hitting most of the bosses in the game. The best thing about this mode is that you don’t actually play as Kirby. You pick any of the enemies that you can absorb and play as them. Completing this mode also unlocks the ability to play through it as any of the classic boss characters, so naturally once I’d finished it I instantly relaunched it so that I could smash through the game as MetaKnight. What’s interesting about this mode is that it adds a pseudo RPG element to the game. Instead of the big puzzle pieces you find different stat boosts, boosting your attack, health and speed. When you have maxed out attack, you absolutely trash any boss you encounter, almost making this mode into a speed running mode.
Overall, I think Kirby Star Allies is a great addition to any Nintendo Switch owners library. I probably wouldn’t say go out on grab it at full price, as the game is very simple and can easily be blown through. Playing with a friend or spouse is probably the way to go, especially while trying to beat the higher difficulty levels on the boss rush mode!