Have you ever played a Kirby game? While the occasional spinoff game will make some unexpected changes to the tried and true formula, most Kirby games play pretty much the same, but with an added gimmick. One might introduce new animal friends, or maybe a giant robot suit for Kirby to ride around in. In his newest adventure, Star Allies, Kirby gains the ability to turn enemies into friends. An interesting idea, but does it do enough to make Kirby’s first Switch outing stand out?
In the early goings, it certainly seemed like it. Kirby’s always been about taking powers from enemies and using them as your own, but now that you can befriend up to three allies, you can mix and match those powers. Some of them even combine with each other. For example, if Kirby has the Sword power and an ally has fire, that friend can spit fire onto Kirby’s sword, making the Sizzle Sword.
That’s cool, but let’s back up a little bit. Kirby games are 2D platformers. You move from left to right, overcome obstacles, and get to the end of a level. That’s the main loop in a nutshell. There are many secrets scattered throughout the levels though, that often unlock extra new levels. Usually, finding these secrets require you to use a specific power to solve a simple puzzle, like lighting a fuse of a cannon using the fire ability. These are nothing new, they’ve been around since Kirby’s Adventure on the NES. But, with the addition of being able to make friends, suddenly these puzzles can be more complicated. Maybe you need to hit a button that’s on the other side of a cliff. There’s no way to do it easily, but if you combine the stone ability with the ice ability, Kirby becomes a puck, flies off the edge of the cliff, and smashes into the button.
I hope I’ve made it clear that this new gimmick has a lot of potential. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really hold up. What could have been really tricky puzzles fall apart when the required enemies are given to you right by the secret almost every time. What’s more, there’s often signs that tell you exactly which powers to use. I understand that Kirby’s audience tends to be a little younger, but when I was growing up playing the NES game, I had to figure out all these secrets on my own. This doesn’t ruin the game, but it does make it more mindless.
Speaking of mindless, making friends, the thing you’re doing for most of the game, results in the game basically playing itself. Your friends love to attack bad guys for you, and they’re very good at it. That means that if you have a full party, you can pretty much just chill out and they’ll take care of everything for you. Boss battles require a little more from you, but the majority of time you can turn your brain off and watch the AI kill itself.
The other big thing that’s been added are segments of levels where Kirby and all his friends perform a special ability that basically amounts to a minigame. In one, all of them make a big wheel and roll over everything in their way. In another, you make a bridge and have to help another character cross cliffs and open locked doors. These are neat, but rarely amount to more than just a few minutes of fun.
I’ve been pretty negative so far, but I did have a pretty good time with the game. I like Kirby, and Kirby Star Allies is still very much a Kirby game. But could you imagine if they did more with these new mechanics? Even a small change, like making enemies stronger so that you would have to participate in most battles would go a long way towards making this game more interesting.
On the plus side, as I mentioned back in my Impressions of the demo, Kirby Star Allies is gorgeous. The art style is simple, but it really pops in HD. The environments are varied and all look great. Similarly, the music is a delight. A lot of the songs are redone versions of songs that have been around for the entirety of the series, and it’s great to hear them again.
In addition to the main game, there’s a few minigames to check out too. There’s a boss rush mode called The Ultimate Choice, where you select four characters and a difficulty level and then fight each boss. There’s also a mode where you play without Kirby, called Guest Star: Star Allies Go! Here, you play through the main levels, and try to get through them quickly. There’s also items that increase your stats, which is a neat idea. Finally, there’s two much simpler minigames, one where you hit a meteor with a baseball bat and one where you chop down a tree. These are all fun, but after a little bit, I grew pretty tired of them.
Nintendo is supporting the game post-release with what they call “Dream Friends”. Basically, throughout the game, you’ll come across shrines that you can use to summon special allies, such as Dedede or the animal friends from Kirby’s Dreamland 2. There’s been a few added since launch, and it’s cool to see those characters again, but it ultimately doesn’t lead to much.
All complaining aside, I still had fun with Kirby Star Allies. If you choose to check it out, make sure you play through the whole story mode. No spoilers, but the last boss fight is actually incredible. It’s just too bad that the rest of the game doesn’t hold up as well.