I can hopefully say without being met with too much snorting in derision that I am a fan of Kirby games; for such a simple, under-designed character many see it as comparable to saying you’re a fan of water, or bread. Indeed, Kirby himself isn’t the appeal of Kirby games (though I do find solace in his snorlaxian appetite and the fact that he adventures begrudgingly either so he can go back to sleep afterwards or because King Dedede nicked all the cake), but the simplicity certainly is; Kirby can have numerous abilities but only one at a time, and the levels are carefully crafted around this fact, encouraging exploration and experimentation. Or should I say, used to be.
The plot of Kirby: Star Allies is cryptic even by Kirby standards, which is to say, more cryptic than millenial’s texts are to Octogenarians. In a crypt. The opening cutscene features some bloke and his three… sisters? Daughters? Flatmates? Doing… something, vaguely sinister and magical to some crystal heart… thing, which shatters it, which is presumably bad. The shards fly off and strike recurring Kirby-series villains, turning them evil (they were ostensibly evil before, but maybe they leave their dirty dishes out on the side or something) but also waking Kirby, who as usual naturally senses something is wrong and runs off in a random direction to “help.” Fortunately the plot of Kirby games doesn’t, and never has, mattered, so is more just something for those unfortunate enough to be under the age of 5 to enjoy, as well as an excuse to kick the sap out of Whispy Woods for the gazillionth time.
What does matter is the presentation, and in this department at least Kirby:Über Allies is no slouch. Given that previously the most powerful system a main-series Kirby game was on was the Wii, which had all the processing power of a picture of Mario taped to a toaster, the jump up in graphics is noticeable. While all the game objects and characters maintain their colourful appearance and simply look crisper and benefit from extra polygons (this is not a drill: Kirby is rounder than he has ever been), it’s ironically the backgrounds that stand out. Vast sweeping vistas, beautiful sunsets, the infinite twinkling expanse of space; all things I never expected to be describing in a Kirby game. There was some fuss prior to release about the game being capped at 30 frames-per-second, but I’d prefer a consistent lower frame-rate to a jittery-but-occasionally-higher one; given how often the screen is consumed in particle effects even maintaining a smooth 30 FPS is impressive.
The music is solid too; the same peppy, energising, sugar-sweet melody-box it’s always been. Although, some more new tracks would’ve been appreciated – I use the term “same” melody-box quite literally, to the point that Smash Bros. replays on the Kirby stage were getting taken down on YouTube because the music was exactly the same and the dumber-than-rocks YouTube algorithm assumed they were leaked Star Allies footage. I know they say “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” but I’m pretty sure, for example, we’ve all now upgraded from our Nokia 300 brick-phones, and those things were famously indestructible.
So, gameplay-wise, what does Kirby: Space Mates use all this extra power and graphical capability to achieve? Well… not a whole lot. The main gimmick, as implied by the title, is the ability to use Kirby’s new “Friend Heart” ability to control or otherwise ally enemy characters. Between this and Super Mario Odyssey I’m not sure where Nintendo’s sudden obsession with mind control has come from, but someone might want to pop down to the office and check on them in case it’s some sort of cry for help. Regardless, having friends control this newfound pals in local multiplayer is fun. A lot of fun. More chaotic than a phonebox full of baboons, but fun; each ally has their own short list of “moves” they can perform, which are just deep enough to keep them entertaining – you’ll quickly develop favourites and be happy to see them, which is far too twee a sentiment for its own good.
Without a bunch of slightly intoxicated friends screeching at each other, however, is where this game begins to fall apart. Firstly, to compromise for all the idiots running about on screen the complexity of the level design has been scaled back significantly; gone are the interesting labyrinthine layouts, and in their place is “advance screen right until screen stops advancing right.” This wouldn’t be such an issue if it didn’t tie neatly into my second, larger complaint, which is that this game is sickeningly easy. I get that this game is catered to a younger audience, but unless Nintendo is designing a gaming platform which is literally available to the foetus (which I really hope they aren’t), even kids are going to find this insultingly lacking in challenge. While preparing for this review I replayed a good portion of both Kirby: Mouse Attack for the DS and Kirby: Triple Deluxe for the 3DS; neither of which have this difficulty problem and, as the late great Stephen Hawking always warned us, the problem is the AI. The titular Star Allies are intelligent to the point of overkill, often solving puzzles and beating enemies for you to the degree that often the game plays itself.
Finally, while I won’t spoil anything, and while this may seem like an odd criticism, the finale of this game is too good. It’s so spectacular and over the top you find yourself asking “why wasn’t the rest of the game this exciting?” and realise that unlike the refreshing overhaul Zelda and Mario received last year, Nintendo has played it frustratingly safe with Kirby: Star Allies.
I’ll leave you with an anecdote that I feel sums up my personal experience with this game; after you defeat certain bosses in Kirby: Star Allies, you can use your Friend Heart to immediately add them to your squad. On defeating King Dedede, me and my friends all spammed him with hearts so quickly that the game crashed. My love for Kirby cannot be contained within a mere cartridge, even if this one isn’t his finest outing to date.