Few video game franchises enjoy the longevity of Nintendo’s suite of intellectual properties. While Mario commands the spotlight thanks to an almost universal appeal to gamers of all kinds, the big N’s outliers have their own dedicated fanbases. With the likes of Donkey Kong and his punishing platformers serving the more masochistic crowd it falls on Kirby to hold up the other end of the spectrum with his brand of easy-going and aggressively endearing adventures. Kirby Star Allies marks the pink pompom’s Switch debut, bringing with it new gimmicks and full four-player support.
In Star Allies, a mysterious force descends on Dreamland and the greater Kirby-verse, causing its inhabitants to start acting out of character and Kirby himself discovers he now has the power to befriend his enemies and turn them into allies. As with most Kirby games, the story set-up is about as simple as it gets. Just enough to introduce a new adventure and some new mechanics and have the fuscia fuzzball on his way. Spread out over four worlds, Kirby’s journey in Star Allies takes him from Dreamland to the Popstar planet and beyond in search of those responsible for summoning the malevolence plaguing the land. While story mostly takes a backseat throughout, one thing the game does have in almost infinite supply is pure, uncut charm. Each character and environment (save for the surprisingly dull third world) is full of life and there is rarely a moment that the TV or handheld screen is not filled with flashy effects and over-the-top whimsy. The musical score sadly isn’t as strong as previous games, but it’s by no means bad and offers up a couple of standout tracks that will be stuck in my head for the foreseeable future.
Well done guys, we made the nice tree cry!
Star Allies sticks to the tried-and-true gameplay formula of most mainline Kirby games, a side-scrolling platformer in which the rotund, sentient taffy uses his power to inhale enemies and copy their abilities to progress. The gimmick this time around is that Kirby can also use his newfound social influence to recruit those same enemies to a potential party of four and use their unique abilities in tandem with his own. Even more than just working in unison, characters can also combine their powers and elemental effects to solve puzzles and launch devastating attacks. When playing solo, Kirby’s companions are controlled by AI that does an effective job of fending off enemies as well as knowing when their particular abilities are required for an environmental puzzle and using them accordingly. It’s refreshing to know that as long as the right help is on board, the game is smart enough to act appropriately instead of forcing the player to manage their entourage’s every move, but it does make an already easy game even easier. While not necessarily a criticism as much as affirmation that our sentient gumball hasn’t suddenly gone after the Dark Souls demographic this time around, those jumping in to a Kirby title for the first time should know that this game is something of a pushover.
Canvas Curse wasn’t good, Kirby, stop trying to make it happen again
Level design in Kirby games has always been on the basic side of things, but rarely is this more evident than in Star Allies. Aside from being incredibly easy, the game rarely offers up anything to break from the same simple platforming that the series has been known for since the early 1990s. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing in and of itself as fans will know what to expect by now, I can’t recall the last time a Kirby game offered up so little in terms of puzzles and secret-finding in its levels than here. Each stage has one or two major secrets to find, and oftentimes they’re so barely hidden that they’re almost unavoidable. In some extreme cases, there are so few opportunities to stray from the beaten path that they’re just straight-up handed to the player. In the 7-8 hours that I spent playing through Star Allies’ story mode I finished every level to 100% completion on the first try and didn’t die once. Pacing is something that Star Allies struggles with as well. Of the four major worlds in the main game, it’s not until the final one that it feels like all of the various mechanics finally come together and the level environments start to feel varied. The less said about the third world and its ugly, repetitive locales the better. The boss fights are as entertaining as ever, at least, with a welcome increase in difficulty and some cool mechanics. The final boss encounter in particular is a bit of a spectacle and a complete change of pace from everything before.
When a game unknowingly hands you a killer new rap name
Outside of the main game, Star Allies offers up a couple of short mini-games that are entertaining for all of five minutes, as well as boss rush and level gauntlet modes that unlock after beating the story. All of these, story included, can also be played with up to three other people. Subbing in real players in place of the computer-controlled allies adds a welcome human element to a game that almost runs on autopilot otherwise. Coordinating characters and abilities between friends makes for great cooperative experience, and human players are far less likely than the AI to wipe out enemies before Kirby has a chance to steal their powers. While the overall package is a relatively slim one, multiplayer support and a large number of possible ability combinations adds some decent replay value.
Kirby Star Allies is a competent entry in the long-running franchise. It’s fun, but safe, and in the face of the other far more innovative big hitters on the Switch it’s probably not going to win over many new fans. Card-carrying members of the Church of Kirby will eat it up though and being able to share the fun with friends is a nice bonus. If you’ve got a hankering for a good ol’ Nintendo platformer you could do worse, just don’t expect to have your skills or expectations challenged.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch | Review code supplied by publisher