Every time I think I’ve grown up and left my childhood behind me, something comes up to remind me that I’m not quite the adult that I fancy myself to be.
Japanese robots. Chibi characters. My fluffy and adorable bichon frise. All of these turn on a switch in my brain that makes me mentally devolve into a 10-year-old all over again.
Needless to say, it’s the same feeling I get every time I see Kirby. I don’t know what it exactly is. But seeing a round, pink blob with nubby little hands and feet just makes me want to hug the nearest pillow. Add his baby talk and I pretty much tap out from cuteness overload.
Still, I thought years of Kirby games have inoculated me somewhat from his cute shenanigans. ?Then I saw a big ball of Waddle Dees rolling down a hill in Kirby Star Allies.
This game, man.
I mean, that pretty much just killed me right there.
Now, despite being a fan of the beloved Star warrior, I must say that I’m sometimes surprised by the franchise’s staying power. I mean, Mario continues to endure after many decades but mainline Mario games often come with, pardon the pun, game-changing, uh, changes. With the exception of things like Epic Yarn, Kirby platformers have essentially stayed the same.
Despite that, Kirby Star Allies debuted at the top of the Japanese sales charts with a 222,000-plus unit total on March 16. That’s a big accomplishment in Japan, where console games don’t pack quite the same sales punch they did prior to the arrival of mobile games. Heck, it’s still fourth place two weeks later, bringing up its sales total to more than 357,000 units.
It probably helps that the franchise has been around long enough to reach that same demographic sweet spot that Pokemon enjoys. Little kids will always like Kirby. At the same time, you have older fans who have grown up but still have a soft spot for the guy. Add the fact that Nintendo’s Switch is selling like glow sticks at a Japanese idol concert and it’s no surprise that Star Allies has done so well.
All that being said, it also helps that Star Allies is actually pretty fun. The game starts out the same way many Kirby games do. Oftentimes, that entails a sleeping Kirby getting a rude awakening as the latest crisis to hit Dreamland unfolds. This time around, the culprit involves dark crystals that plummet down the land from space. These crystals end up possessing the characters that get exposed to them, triggering strange effects. All I can say is, Buff King Dedede.
In the case of Kirby, however, the crystals lends him the power to become friends with characters who possess special abilities by throwing friendship hearts at them. This gives birth to the main mechanic of the game, allowing Kirby to create a party of four to tackle Star Allies’ challenges. It’s a change that adds some extra strategy to the gameplay. While you can still use Kirby like a powerful vacuum and absorb his enemy’s powers, you now have to make a conscious decision whether it would be better to have Kirby absorb a foe and gain its powers or have him befriend an enemy instead in order to fight by his side. Later on, you will also get the option to recruit special characters such as King Dedede as well as those from past games via a special area.
In addition to fighting by your side, allies can also have various synergies with Kirby and the rest of the team. A common example includes powering up weapons held by Kirby or other allies with an element. In some cases, you will actually need to befriend an enemy and add it to your party in order to get past certain obstacles. In fact, the game has a habit of encouraging you to frequently change your team makeup by throwing a variety of impediments along your way that require specific solutions. Many times, I found myself getting attached to certain characters, only to be forced to drop them a few stages later because I needed another character’s ability. It can be a bit of a bummer at first but it does help you discover new favorites that you might not have tried otherwise.
The enemy AI is also surprisingly competent. They’re especially great at attacking, which can admittedly be an issue sometimes when you want?to befriend or absorb a foe, only for it to be unceremoniously killed by a hyped-up Waddle Dee. Bad, Waddle Dee, bad! They also will occasionally have brain farts where they just stand there and get in your way sometimes.
For better pinpoint control, you can also hand extra controllers to other players and have them join you in co-op play. As someone who’s a big fan of couch co-op, this is certainly a welcome addition that makes Star Allies a great game for families.
In addition to the main campaign, the game also adds different modes for extra variety. One has your sidekicks racing through remixed stages while another lets you pick an ability and embark on a boss rush. Star Allies also serves up several multiplayer mini-games such as a tree-chopping contest and the baseball-style Slam Star Heroes that has you smacking falling meteors in an attempt to hit a home run.
As with many Kirby games, difficulty — or the lack thereof — can be an issue with the campaign. That’s actually a plus for, say, parents who want to play with younger kids. For older fans who want a challenge, though, it can make the game feel less exciting. Then again, the lack of difficulty has never stopped Kirby fans before. Instead, Kirby games are mostly about providing a fun, low-stress experience while pumping out cute, colorful visuals in a charming world. As always, more hardcore players also have the option to hunt for all of the game’s hidden secrets for an extra challenge.
If you love the franchise, this is another worthy addition to the Kirby stable.
The beloved pink puffball returns in Kirby Star Allies, this time with the ability to recruit friends into battle. As a Kirby game, this one is accessible as ever and the addition of couch co-op play as well as extra modes is welcome for families. It’s a still a bit too easy as far as platformers go. For Kirby fans, though, this is another charming platformer that will suck your time. It’s an adorable, family-friendly romp for the young and young at heart.
Rating: 8 out of 10Cost: $59.99, Switchhttp://kirby.nintendo.com/star-allies/
Technobubble covers games, gadgets, technology and all things geek. Follow Technobubble poobah Jason Hidalgo’s shenanigans on Twitter @jasonhidalgo or his Tabiasobi Youtube channel.