Common wisdom states that Kirby is Nintendo's closer. At the end of any given generation, you can expect a new big adventure on Planet Popstar. In the off years, you may get side games or experimental takes on the formula. The big adventures inevitably close out a console's lifespan. This makes sense, as young children will hold onto an older system even as others move towards new machines. Therefore, Kirby fits in perfectly, as he's an all ages hero with an eternal appeal. Things seem different on the Switch. Nintendo's newest device merges portable and home console sensibilities. Its first year saw both Zelda and Mario hit the system in a big way. With all logic out the window, why not have Kirby Star Allies as a second-year title?
Continuing on in the tradition of Planet Robobot and Triple Deluxe, Star Allies is a back to basics Kirby platformer focused on absorbing neat powers to solve environmental puzzles. This time around, Kirby has a second way to take advantage of the enemies that litter his world. Not only can the pink puffball consume his enemies and take on their traits, he can now also throw hearts at them as a sign of friendship. With this power, a lonesome battle against invading forces becomes a road trip alongside a rotating cast of three buddies.
You can, of course, play alongside your friends in full four-player co-op, and the game seems designed around this inevitability. Kirby Star Allies' single-player experience sees the player struggling to stay relevant as their AI partners complete puzzles and tasks with blistering efficiency. Kirby games have never been difficult affairs, but some moments here recall Nintendo's old days of implementing Super Guides and reminders to play outside.
Thankfully, even if you're mostly a passenger, Star Allies retains the trademark charm that HAL's platformers are known for. This is the first Kirby platformer playable on the big screen since 2011's Return to Dreamland on the Wii. The upgrade to HD means that characters can be that much more expressive. The backgrounds, while still simple, are varied and colorful, enhanced by a soundtrack that just drives you forward. Your visit to Dream Land may only last a few hours, but you'll be smiling the whole time.
Your allies/tour guides/brainwashed compatriots will share in your joy. Each power has a representative enemy to either absorb or befriend, and the cast is a good mix. Not since Kirby Super Star have players been able to gain direct control over franchise stalwarts like Knuckle Joe and Bonkers. If that wasn't enough, players can also enlist the help of a sextet of Kirby's most famous cohorts. For some fans, seeing Gooey and Marx playable in full 3D is a selling point in and of itself. It was disappointing to learn that Gooey can't gain copy abilities in this one, but anyone not playing as Kirby will have plenty of fun options to choose from.
Despite that variety, one of my major issues with Star Allies is how standard the game's gimmicks end up being. Take the ability for two characters to combine their powers. You might imagine a slew of interesting and creative combinations. Wing and Fire could combine to create a Phoenix Kirby. Cook and Ice might refrigerate foes and store them for later. That's just off the top of my head, but the system actually in the game is much more simple. Most powers are either elemental or weapon-based. Elemental powers can bestow their power to weapons, which slightly boosts attack power and solves various puzzles.
There are just five elements total and the combinations outside of this system are few and far between. The most noticeable are Friend Actions, which are giant setpieces where your entire team joins up to form a bridge or a wheel. These are neat, but they're tied directly into the design of the level and feel separated from the normal gameplay. Some abilities just offer enhanced versions, such as throwing your friends into Cook's pot for enhanced healing. There are a few unique combinations, like having Rock Kirby turn into a curling puck with the help of a broom.
Still, this feels like just scratching the surface of possibilities, and having more abilities to discover would give players something to do in these relatively easy stages. You can compare this to the mix abilities from Kirby 64. In that game, you only had seven components to combine, but each power joined together in an interesting and fun way. The entire game bursts with moments of experimentation as you figure out what each combo does. In Star Allies, you quickly see the limits of the system, and any specific powers you need are signposted heavily. This causes players to slip into autopilot rather than enjoying the discovery.
After finishing the main campaign, there are four sub-games to discover. These can be handily split into two minigames and two alternate campaign playthroughs. When compared to past offerings, the minigames in Star Allies are rather lacking. One is basically Timberman with a Kirby skin, and the other is a Mario Party-style button masher. Both have optional motion control elements if you're into that sort of thing, but I always felt more comfortable with real buttons. Simply put, I don't see either one of these becoming the next Dedede's Drum Dash.
The two new game plus-style sub-games are far more interesting. The Ultimate Choice is a boss rush with an adjustable difficulty, similar to the All-Star mode from Smash Bros. The Guest Star mode lets you play through the game again with one of the allies replacing Kirby in the staring role. If you've ever wanted to see Waddle Dee star in his own Nintendo game, this is the mode for you. The playthrough is slightly different in some stages to keep things interesting, and that's for the best. This is especially the case when you play as major characters like Meta Knight or Gooey, who get altered soundtracks recalling their past adventures. For those who want to dig into hidden final bosses and alternate paths, this is the best way to do it.
Kirby Star Allies Review | Final Thoughts
Kirby's first outing on the Switch is a step down from his 3DS adventures. While its allies system isn't as complex as I would have liked, complexity is not really what Kirby players are looking for. It's hard to compete in the joy department on a system that already has Super Mario Odyssey, but Kirby Star Allies shares that good feeling throughout. Playing the game just makes you smile. It's a great choice to share with friends even if they're not normal gamers. The simplistic controls and low stakes gameplay make this an adventure that everyone can take part in.
Kirby Star Allies was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a copy provided by the publisher.
- Flawless Presentation
- Breezy Platforming
- That Ol' Kirby Charm
- Shallow Helpers System
- Limited Single Player Appeal
- Lame Minigames