A Kirby Potluck
At last, the mainline Kirby series has finally returned to consoles. Kirby Star Allies revolves around befriending enemies and utilizing their powers, a concept that originated in the SNES classic Kirby Super Star. The game also borrows elements from other titles, such as ability combinations from Kirby 64 and 4-player co-op from Kirby’s Return to Dreamland. Although the core experience feels identical to its counterparts, its potluck mechanics complement each other effectively, bringing out the best in Kirby and his friends.
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The story begins when a mysterious villain performs a ritual that causes numerous purple hearts to possess Kirby’s friends. It’s a standard “Kirby saves Dreamland” plot that wastes no time explaining the premise, and my only disappointment with the story is that it doesn’t expound more on the antagonists, who are the few characters with actual dialogue.
For the most part, Kirby Star Allies features tried-and-true Kirby gameplay. The pink puffball runs and jumps through dozens of 2D stages. His core moves are floating indefinitely, which makes platforming a breeze, and sucking in enemies to copy their powers. The latter ability defines Kirby, and adopting completely novel movesets every few minutes keeps the journey exciting.
There are a whopping 28 abilities, including old favorites such as the boomerang-like Cutter ability, the Yo-Yo power-up that turns Kirby into a breakdancing ‘90s kid, and the Sword that allows him to cosplay as Link from The Legend of Zelda. There are only a handful of brand new abilities, but they’re among the most fun to use. The Spider power-up is tough to use at first, but it’s satisfying to trap enemies in cocoons and bounce friends upwards using webs. The Artist ability isn’t mind-blowing, simply giving you a weaponized paintbrush to give life to art, but the power to spawn healing items is valuable. My favorite – the Staff power-up – arms you with a versatile martial arts pole that you can extend, spin around, and bounce on as a pogo stick à la Ducktales.
The abilities, as fun as they are, are par for the course. It’s how they complement the new allies that makes the experience shine. Kirby Star Allies quickly thrusts players into experimenting with its primary mechanic: befriending enemies by tossing hearts at them. You can add any enemy with a copy ability to your team of four, and either the computer or a local player gains complete control. Each ally shares the same moveset as Kirby would with the same copy ability. The only difference is that the ally can’t change his powers. Instead, you switch out the character. Just as in Kirby Super Star, merely having a companion around to journey together adds a special warmth. Being able to carry other players who need more assistance further promotes the friendly nature.
The game’s adoption of Kirby’s Return to Dreamland’s 4-player co-op excellently expands on that concept. The experience is more enjoyable with friends, and it’s easy to add or remove players at any point. Players in Kirby Star Allies can control any of the allies, leading to flexible gameplay. While computer-controlled allies aren’t as fun to play with, they are thankfully very capable in battle, often destroying enemies before Kirby can even get to them.
The most fascinating aspect of the allies system is the ability to mix copy powers, which was also a highlight of Kirby 64. The combo powers are not as deep as in that game; you don’t get awesome dual lightsabers and drills. Rather, most combinations involve imbuing a weapon with an elemental power. For instance, you can wield a fire sword or an electric yo-yo. With the right allies, you can easily create different combinations and use them to exploit enemy weaknesses. Unfortunately, there are only a few unique mixtures, like the curling stone and the geomagnetic rock. The concept is not as fully realized as in Kirby 64, but it’s still fun to test out, especially in puzzle rooms, which require specific solutions.
These puzzle rooms, along with special segments where all four members combine to form structures like wheels and bridges, bring variety to what is otherwise a straightforward game. The level design consists of straight pathways and very few pitfalls. Although the bosses are cool, especially muscular King Dedede (who makes me laugh every time!), they pose little threat to your team. That being said, the difficulty level is appropriately toned for its target audience of younger gamers.
Kirby Star Allies is rather short; it takes about five hours to beat the main game. By finding hidden switches, you can unlock some extra levels, including areas where you can recruit exclusive party members. Unfortunately, the only real collectibles are puzzle pieces that randomly fill in several large pictures. With the exception of one rare puzzle piece in each stage, it doesn’t matter where you obtain the other pieces, sadly doing little to entice exploration.
Post-game content and minigames round out the package. One mode is a boss rush with adjustable difficulty, and the other tasks you to beat the game as one of the enemy types. The latter is a surprisingly deep mode with collectible stat boosts that assist your playthrough. Both provide a good challenge, even for more experienced players. The minigames, on the other hand, are fluff. One is a meteoric take on baseball and the other is a race to chop down the most wood without getting hurt by obstacles. They’re simple Mario Party–esque distractions without anything substantial to gravitate towards.
Kirby Star Allies is the first mainline game on an HD system, and the series has never looked this gorgeous. The detailed, crisp visuals bring Kirby’s colorful and charming world to life. The landscapes are somewhat generic, but they’re carefully presented with such glowing care that it’s hard to complain. The visuals remain intact on the Switch tablet, with no issues of slowdown or poor presentation. The music is pleasant and catchy, with some remasters of old soundtrack favorites alongside new whimsical tunes that perfectly match the tones of their respective levels.
Even though Kirby Star Allies does little to properly evolve the franchise, it’s a joy to play, whether alone or with friends. While the allies mechanic isn’t technically new, this iteration borrows the best elements from some of the best Kirby games that came before it, forming an experience that remains entertaining throughout its short campaign. The only downside is that it costs as much as other Switch games that offer much more content. Nevertheless, Kirby Star Allies is a charming romp that is bound to make even the angriest puffballs smile.
Note: A review copy was used for this article. This review was originally written on DarkStation.