Outside of its central gimmick, Kirby Star Allies doesn’t do much new and plays it safe in that it keeps to a lot of key Kirby mechanics and tropes. That said, this is no bad thing and Kirby Star Allies is well worth your time if you’re a fan of the little pink guy who resembles a smiling teste.
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 16th March 2018.
When you look at the Nintendo staple of IPs, you start to see a pattern of difficulty. A Mario platformer tends to be a middle-of-the-road affair. Donkey Kong games, on the other hand, are created in mind for more skilled-players and, on the other end of the spectrum, we have Kirby games which represent the easier Nintendo titles.
It’s no coincidence that Kirby games are intended to be this way given their cutesy aesthetic; their levels are flush with bright, bold colours and jovial music. Kirby games are for entry-level Nintendo gamers – for the young kiddies – with little or no experience playing videogames. And then there are the Nintendo faithful – like you and I – who will pick this up and give it a go, despite it not really being made for us.
With that in mind, I’ll call Kirby Star Allies an easy game and assure you that’s not intended as a criticism as it is piss-easy by design. I am quite far into the story and haven’t felt remotely challenged once (although I have it on good authority that the game becomes more challenging after completion). If anything, Kirby Star Allies has been a relaxing little romp through Dream Land – the game’s setting – and the thing is: I actually don’t mind.
Maybe it’s because I knew when coming into Kirby Star Allies that it would be an easy game. My expectations were managed here and I think its fair to manage those of anyone who is thinking of picking this up but hasn’t heard much about it. What it lacks in challenge, Kirby Star Allies brings an experience that kind of washes over you. Its jaunty music and luscious-looking environments evoke a sort of euphoric trance and it is easy to slip into a sort of mesmerised state, smashing through levels and boss-battles like it’s the only thing that matters. That may sound like a load of pretentious, wishy-washy game reviewer bollocks but, at least in my experience, it’s true.
The difficulty of Kirby Star Allies is also lowered in part due to its central gimmick. As the name suggests, you make allies in this game to help you on your adventure. You do this by throwing a little heart at an enemy which instantly turns/ brainwashes them into becoming your ally. You then get to benefit from their respective power. You can have up to three allies and you can also absorb enemy powers for yourself.
Experimentation, then, is a huge part of Kirby Star Allies and perhaps one of the most fun aspects of the game. Simply playing with and understanding the mechanics of each power is a good enough reason to replay levels but you can also combine your own power with that of an ally for enhanced attack power. For example, if you absorbed the power of a ninja and combined it with an ally’s electric power, then kablam, you’ve got yourself an electric sword my friend.
More pertinent to the experience is combining these powers to solve puzzles. One example was a scene with a pile of gunpowder and dynamite sits on the one side of a room, the fuse on the other and a waterfall sits in the middle. If you have a fire power equipped, you can ignite the fuse but the water will put out the flame. However, if you have a waddle-dee with an umbrella in your pack, then you can use his power to stop this. Admittedly, there isn’t much to figure out in these situations. The game prompts you to combine powers (although you can turn this feature off in the options) and, assuming you and your ally have the corresponding power, the game will do the rest of the work.
The number of power combinations seems endless at first and that’s one of the best parts of Kirby: Star Allies. It belies Nintendo’s mantra of experimentation and testing ideas that we’ve seen in its recent first-person IPs like Zelda and Mario and it is nice to see this form part of its second-party offerings.
Having up to three allies, useful as it is, can lend to the game feeling a bit manic and chaotic when there is a lot going on the screen. This is especially prominent in boss-battles where there are a lot of AOE attacks with visual-effects going on. The AI – both your allies and enemies – dash around the screen during these battles and with so much to pay attention to, it can be hard to keep up. That said, instances like these are few and far between and often, the on-screen action is more manageable to observe.
Outside of its central gimmick, Kirby: Star Allies doesn’t do anything that much differently to your traditional platformer. Perhaps this is good – a nice break from the more experimental Kirby titles from the Wii and Wii U era. That’s not to suggest that experimentation in game design is bad but, if you just like your platformers to be platformers with not too much deviation in format and design, then Kirby Star Allies is the closest you’ll get from a Kirby game in recent years.
Visually, this is the best Kirby has ever looked and, while Kirby and the Rainbow Curse and Kirby’s Epic Yarn took on a unique, crafty aesthetic, Kirby Star Allies embodies the typical Nintendo mode of presentation since they made the leap to HD. Kirby Star Allies is not a technical beast but art-design is excellent overall. Each stage is distinct and varied. They also have a sense of depth with background that look exceptional. Sound and music, the technical counterpart to graphics and visuals, are also outstanding. HAL Laboratory have gone out of their way to both craft new soundtracks and touch up traditional Kirby music to great effect. These revised versions of older Kirby tracks are only utilised in the unlockable, hidden stages and represent Nintendo’s recent habit of playing homage to one self, as seen in Super Mario: Odyssey. Nevertheless, the music is varied. It can go from rock-inspired tracks to jovial and light tunes and is, overall, a standout soundtrack.
The story, however, isn’t much cop, even by Nintendo standards. Conversely, given the game’s target audience, it’s as complex as it could get and the simple good guy(s) vs. bad guys dynamic is put across well enough to be understandable. That said, story -telling has never been at the forefront of Nintendo game design, at least with platformers, and the focus is on gameplay. Kirby Star Allies, like other Nintendo platformers before it, gets a pass here too.
Kirby: Star Allies is a continuation of Nintendo’s incredible streak of outstanding first and second party software for the Nintendo Switch and marks another decent entry to the Kirby staple of games. While it may not end up having the most lasting effect on the franchise, its a worthy addition to the library of Nintendo Switch software.
Like the look of Kirby Star Allies but still not sold on the Nintendo Switch? Take a look at our review of the console one year on and make up your mind. Go on, make a decision for once in your life. Geez.