While we wait for the first 3D Kirby game (affectionately dubbed “The Last Of Kirby” by me of now) to launch next year, let’s talk about the last main installment in the series, 2018’s Kirby Star Allies.
The Kirby series is arguably the most traditional of Nintendo’s portfolio.
Kirby is Kirby, and the developer, Hal Laboratory, believe that Kirby is Kirby because it’s simple, it’s traditional, and it’s accessible, especially regarding the main series and it’s main genre, platformer. We have seen interesting spin on the formula with Kirby Mass Attack, Canvas Curse and it’s Wii U sequel, Kirby even had small rhythm spin-off, an entire spin-off dedicated to fighting, a pinball spin-off, and even a racing game. Each, even a “battle royale”. Kinda.
But Kirby is mostly a series of platforming that are charming as they are incredibly traditional and fairly easy for experienced players, but fun, wholesome and entertaining regardless, in fairly typical Nintendo fashion, so the formula is the same each main installment, but there are new systems layered on top of the basics.
The story is typical Kirby fluff, so something “DaRk” arrives in Dream Land and starts “possessing” it, in this case a literal evil black heart.
In this game’s case, the gimmick is in the title, and it’s a homecoming of sorts, since this is fairly similar to what the cancelled Kirby Adventure for Gamecube was gonna do, with 4 characters on screen and the ability to enlist enemies as allies that fight alongside you, or can be controlled by the other players. As in, the other half of Kirby Adventure for GC; as Return To Dream Land also took the totem gimmick from the cancelled title.
Now Kirby can launch hearts at enemy with an ability, and basically enlist it to fight alongside the pink powerpuff. You can then combine abilities with the ones your allies have, so if you have Kirby with a sword ability of sorts, you can ask mates to enbue it with ice, water, fire, but there are other ways the powers can combine to create powerful abilities, which is reminescent of Kirby 64.
Of course there are also new copy abilities, my favourite is the “Sweeper”, it’s fun to use a broom to kill enemies by swooping them away or fly on it, and there are designated points in the level where you and your IA allies unite, forming a rolling “ball”, a “human” bridge, and so on
it’s a cute gimmick and works well to bake in co-op, with section where the group is split in two section and has to activate switches so the other group can pass, nothing complicated, but it shows how it was built for co-op play more than other Kirby titles. And it’s one of those where you can play 2 players with a joy-con each, quite nice.
You can also jump on your allies and control them if you want, and share health gained by eating/getting food by getting close allies with a not-complete life bar, which is cutely done almost in a “kiddie kiss” manner. Quite cute.
Of course, nothing stops you from playing it single player, and the ally IA isn’t bad, far from useless. Actually, if anything it’s a bit too good where it could use to be less proficient, and a bit dumb where it could use to be better. As in, your IA allies are quite proactive and good at kill stealing, or killing an enemy with an ability you might have wanted before you have a chance to “brainwash” it to your side, but often won’t cooperate fast when you have to lit a fuse and then enter cannons to smash a huge rock, so you’ll have to try again.
Nothing major, but some annoying niggles.
A proper downside of this set-up is that Star Allies is easier than most Kirby games, i mean, mini-bosses are a complete joke even with IA partners (since – as i said before – they are quite proactive), and even proper boss fights come off easier and feel like they weren’t exactly balanced to accomodate 4 players in regard to difficulty.
Yes, there are points where you’re forced (actually not really) to deposit the allies you’ve made before progressing. but even if you play along and deposit the allies and your ability… immediatly just after you find more enemies to make new allies. Because it would undermine the focus of the game, i get it, but still, this was the perfect time to actually make a Kirby game harder than usual and for good reason. You could still give help after failing x number of times or give the option to get a super power up like they did in Mario titles, and aside from the usual idiots, no one would have complained.
But this is a side effect of being traditional to a fault/conservative, i guess, which is why there is a lives system… just for a laugh, since you easily rack up so many you might as well not have it, it’s purely vestigial.
Still, you could have made some boss fights where you were forced to do them with half the team or alone, or something to curb the obvious advantages of having 3 characters and yours gangup against a single one. Even a bigger healthbar would have helped, but the bosses often try to separate the team in two or more by using gimmicks…. still doesn’t fix the issues properly.
Only late in the game the bosses manage to get a bit harder and kill off or gravely damage your allies, and even this isn’t always the case, even a double version of Kracko isn’t that hard, even with just 3 total allies (kirby included), just some specific bosses are hard in the late game. At least the pre-final boss is harder than most, as you would reasonably expect. The final boss battle is pretty cool, though, and the final boss has a good design as well, and it also fought in a shoot em up style, like Hal Laboratory loves doing for the final confrontation.
The fact the game also bother to give you a Smash Bros parry ability is galling, i completely forgot i had it, found it by chance, and i had no use for it during my first run.
On the world maps there also a Sanctuary (one per world) when you can enlist legendary enemies and friends of Kirby to your team, but it’s a random “wheel spin” that determines that. The game has 4 free patches that added a good number of enemies and friend characters from previous titles, like the animal friends from Kirby Dream Land, the villain from Squeak Squad, the robot boss enemies of Planet Robobot, etc.
Almost forgot, the game looks quite good, good music as well, simple but cute and charming art style as you would expect from Hal Laboratory and the series at large, and it shares similar character designs to Triple Deluxe and Planet Robobot, especially for the villains.
Like in the Kirby titles on 3DS, there are hidden switches to unlock extra levels and puzzle pieces to collect in the levels, some found in hidden bonus rooms that require a specific ability combos, but the game often just offers one of the abilities you need in the bonus room itself. Aside from completing the puzzle pieces, there’s what usually comes with the main story mode, aka a lot of secondary mini adventure and mini-games.
This time we have a time trial where you just use the allies/enemies converted instead of Kirby, a boss rush with an adjustable difficulty (the harder it is, the more points you get for completing the various fights), a “parallel dimension” mini adventure that teases a new ending, nothing we haven’t seen before, but its fun stuff none the less and always a good place to find some challenge, i like the one where you simply have to use a (mostly) fixed helper ally instead of Kirby, simple but fun.
As far as mini-games go, we got a baseball with meteors minigame (up to 4 players) with 3 different difficulties and that can be played with the Joy-con shake (but thankfully they’re not mandatory), and chopping wood minigame with 3 difficulties/levels that also seems made for motion controls, but can be also be played with normal controls. Not much to say about these.
Good one, but i feel the previous titles on the 3DS (especially Planet Robobot) had a better gimmick and a better balanced difficulty, and a better selection of villains, here i feel like they basically redid the ones in Triple Deluxe and Planet Robobot. Heck, even for a Kirby title, the story is lacking, i wasn’t even sure of why the evil villains did anything, like at least give them a motive of some sort, aside “because they’re evil, look at them and the dark miasma they ooze out”, only at the end you get some cutscenes explaining, and it’s basically a sort of cult exiled in space who wants to resurrect their evil god of darkness, of eternal void and terminal blackness. Kirby is there to stop that.
Classic Kirby, of course there’s some eldritch deep space abomination against the universe itself to fight as a cute pink ball of destruction.
Also, the story mode feels a little bit shorter than usual,(the last world it’s twice as long/big as the normal worlds seen before, so it’s NOT shorter than normal for Kirby games, but it feels that way), and not that inspired, not bad or mediocre, but just not THAT inspired. And it’s a bit odd to say, since you basically go through space and on themed planets-levels, very Mario Galaxy-ish, but i feel they didn’t managed to fully use the concept to make more crazier or imaginative levels.
At the end of the day, it’s not the best (or worst) Kirby game, but it’s good simple fun nonetheless.