For starting out as nothing but a placeholder sprite with a ridiculous name, Kirby has become one of Nintendo’s most iconic characters. Since the second game in the series, Kirby has had the unique ability to cannibalize the people of his world and absorb their powers to make his own. This vore fetish brought to life manages to make almost every game in his series fun and entertaining, even if there is not a single challenging entry in the series. With the ushering in of a new console for Nintendo, it was inevitable that there would be a new entry into the Kirby series. Kirby Star Allies brings 2d platforming to the forefront on a console that is supposed to be the future of Nintendo games, and still manages to remain fun and interesting, though not really bringing anything new and unique to the table other than one thing: a four-player cooperative mode.
The primary draw of Kirby Star Allies appears to be this cooperative mode, which is worked into the gameplay even if the player decides to play solo. One of the few new abilities in the game allows Kirby to hold a heart and throw it at enemies, creating a team of up to three new slaves that will be forced to fight alongside Kirby until they expire. After creating allies from one of several different times of enemies in the game, Other players can then join the battle and take control of the separate allies. There are twelve different abilities, meaning that twelve different allies can take a place beside the pink puffball as he explores new worlds, defeats new bosses and eats everything in sight. If having four allies were all there were to the game that made it special, it would not be much of a Kirby game. Fortunately, Kirby Star Allies utilizes this ally system in ways that keep the levels interesting, and keep the player from just grabbing the first allies they see. There are several different roadblocks in the environment that require different combinations of allies to overcome, from cannons that have wicks normally too far to reach for just fire demanding a combination of fire and something with reach, like a yo-yo or whip, to more simple things like doors that will only open if the player makes it to them with all of their allies mostly intact. More than just having different ally types that are useful in different situations, Kirby can also simply hold up whatever power he is using to create all sorts of interesting combinations of allies’ powers. Heading into a fight with the sword ability, Kirby can choose to hold up his sword and let his flame-covered brethren add a buff to the blade giving him a sword with extra damage and a fresh new look. Just hitting things and opening doors are not the only uses that the powers have, however.
Several moments in the game will require actual puzzle solving if the player is planning to attempt to get 100% completion. Many items and many doorways are hidden in ways that can only be accessed with a very specific combination of powers. Knowing this will keep the player constantly on the lookout for suspicious landscapes or hidden powerup combinations they may need, and also provides a reason to keep switching out allies. It is entirely possible to play through the game with the first four allies met, but several secrets and items, and extra levels will be missed if the player does not take advantage of all the options made available. Indeed, there were moments where backtracking was necessary after finding a path that could not be opened to a secret without a power that had been skipped earlier in the level. The only problem with this system is something of a recurring problem throughout the game, and that is the under-utilization of it. Even though it is necessary to use different combinations and try new things to collect everything, nothing about collecting them is difficult or used in especially creative ways. Typically the power combination just causes an object to move out of the way, or something to explode, or a doorway to appear that was not previously present. There is a definite lack of a challenge to anything that would be considered a puzzle in the game.
The multiplayer system itself is quite functional. It is possible for a player to jump in immediately and take control over one of the allies Kirby has enslaved by simply holding down the L and R buttons, allowing for seamless entry of another living person into the player’s world. Unfortunately, a huge misstep was made by not including an online multiplayer. Even if it would have required there be loading times and less seamless entry of another player, there still should have at least been a version of the main game that allowed for online cooperation in a game so hellbent on pushing the cooperation angle. While there is no online multiplayer and the use of humans as allies is fun, the game is still enjoyable solo. The AI controlling the allies is actually very competent. There are moments when Kirby and his allies are split apart into two different sections of the level and have to cooperate to get switches and doors to open, and the computer manages to do this just as well as any player would. Perhaps even better than most Switch owners would be able to manage. Again, this is due in part largely to the lack of a challenge in these moments. For the most part, these sections just involve both parties running to a button until the end of their section is reached in a back and forth loop until each section is completed.
As is true of pretty much every game in the Kirby franchise, there is hardly any story to speak of. Some new terror has arrived in Dreamland and has deposed even King Dedede from his throne. The arrival of this new mysterious force is disturbing enough to wake Kirby from his eternal slumber and set him out on another gluttonous quest to devour every citizen in the world while defeating bosses along the way. The Boss fights are enjoyable interruptions in running from A to B in every level, though none provide any real kind of challenge. Having four people fighting them does create a huge disadvantage for most bosses, but eventually, they start to use tactics that split up the group or even the odds in their favor in other ways. Even with this, there is hardly a moment where the player feels any sense of danger even in the final fight, as crazy as it gets. Combinations of different and unique allies can make all the difference here as well, and the right ally can turn a boss fight into a joke. Having Waddle Dee with his umbrella – Or Chumbrella as it is called when powered up- can block many different kinds of attacks which can trivialize a lot of bosses.
While there are actually several levels to complete and several different worlds to explore, the game feels rather empty a lot of the time. Almost every level can be beaten in a matter of minutes, and while there are several that are nice to look at and that change up the general formula, most just involve running from the first door to the last in a straight line with little to no interruption or challenge between each door. The entire main campaign of the game can be beaten in under five hours unless the player is attempting to get 100% completion, and even that can be done in easily less than ten hours. The map between worlds and on each world can be walked on from node to node, which is fun in its own way but adds nothing to the gameplay. When the player has completed the main campaign, there are a few extra game modes to try and bring some more value to the cartridge.
Guest Star ???? Star Allies Go! is the extra game mode, acting as sort of a highlight reel to the main campaign. The primary difference to this mode beyond just being a shortened version of the campaign is that the player chooses one of the Allies to play as instead of playing as Kirby himself. This does make for some interesting challenges, as it means that the player loses the ability to swap out powers whenever they want and so must plan out stages a little bit more to ensure completion. The regular collectibles that were found throughout the campaign have instead been replaced with power-ups granting the character attack and life bonuses. This mode does add some extra gameplay and value, even including a few rooms that can only be seen while playing it. The other actual game mode, The Ultimate Choice, has the player choose a team of allies to run through a gauntlet of bosses. While this mode had the potential for challenge, the bosses remain just as easy as they had been in the campaign, and so no real challenge is presented to anyone who has already beaten them other than getting to pick a premade team, which could arguably remove even more difficulty. This could have potentially been made challenging by having the player permanently lose allies if they die between boss fights, but unfortunately, allies can be revived which just further trivializes any potential difficulty. The other two game modes are just simple mini-games, and add no real gameplay beyond a small bit of fun with friends.
Overall, Kirby Star Allies is a great addition to the Kirby franchise, but like many other Kirby games the lack of challenge and depth mean there is not much replay value. The allies are a major part of the game beyond just being the main focus of the title, and the way that they are utilized is fun and actually works, which is more than can be said of many other buddy systems in games. The AI is competent when the computer has control and it is extremely easy for a human player to jump in or out at any time. The major thing preventing this from being an A-tier game is the price tag. There is no way that this game is worth $60, despite how fun it is to play. Charging the same amount for this as something with more than forty hours of gameplay is a slap in the face to consumers. Despite the terrible price, the game is fun and everything plays exactly the way that it should, and considering that the game is definitely aimed towards a younger audience, even the fact that it is too easy cannot really detract from the fact that it is a well put together game in the end.
Title: Kirby Star Allies
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Platform Reviewed: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 16 March 2018