My first Kirby experience was Kirby’s Pinball Land on Gameboy back in the mid-90s, and as I only ever had three games for that system, it got played a tonne. I didn’t necessarily enjoy it enough to want the other titles as they came out, but as a Nintendo character, I lumped Kirby in with the good guys. Of course, as a pinball game, it meant the whole adventure/side-scrolling aspect of the series was absent. So Later, when I got Kirby’s Dream Land, I thought playing the game how it should be and giving the character a real job to do would show me why this series is so popular and I’d fall in love with it…but it was just okay. 20 plus years later, I finally decided to try again.
Kirby Star Allies is Kirby’s big debut on the Switch, and it certainly looked like it was going to take full advantage of the system’s capabilities both visually and logistically. In the visuals department, I can’t fault the game – the worlds are beautiful, the backgrounds bring everything to life, and the animation is peak Nintendo produce. The absolute best example of how sparkly, magical and downright cute Star Allies can be is during the final boss fight. The battle itself isn’t especially creative, and it’s more long than it is difficult, but I would happily revisit the boss just for the amazing scenery. A sprawling galaxy that twinkles and morphs, and an endless universe reflected in an obsidian stage while battling the most detailed and memorable thing in the whole game was easily the highpoint of the experience.
The issue is it took me nearly six hours to get to a point where I felt engaged by the game, and then it was over. There are only four worlds, so naturally, I assumed the first would be tame enough to ease me in to get acquainted with the game, but the difficulty never really picks up. As with most Nintendo games, the controls are easy to grasp, Kirby doesn’t have that many moves to master, and the pause screen offers fast access information on him and any other character with you. The big new feature of Star Allies is the ability to friend enemies, and this is actually pretty fun. It only takes a second, and then you can have a team of up to three NPCs accompany you, fight with you, and share their abilities amongst your group. I also found it was very easy for me to hand a controller off to someone else and have them join my team, which was helpful as the NPC team didn’t always understand my intentions.
The different enemies and mashable abilities add some variety to the levels, but it’s not really enough to keep things interesting. Even a smattering of smaller enemies doesn’t provide the stages with any real energy as they always just merge into the same mindless sideways trek, and at no point does the game offer any challenge. After travelling from the first to the last worlds and playing their variation of themed levels, it all ends up feeling like much of a muchness. It plays out slowly for almost the entire game until it suddenly jumps to a dark and intense conclusion. As a result, I found I had to go back and force myself to go over narrative points again because I was so bored I forgot to pay attention. I attempted to put some effort into the collecting side of the game, but the puzzles just offer a full picture as a reward and stars give you extra lives. Without trying, I finished the game with 116 lives.
In saying this, there are a few fun features that manage to get Kirby Star Allies just over the line. The ally capture mechanic is well conceived, and your ability to play alongside NPCs or other players works pretty well. I also like that you can eat your friends if you decide you want what they have, reset everyone at a rest stop and shuffle things until you have the team you want, or add elemental extras to your or your team’s weapons at any point. It’s impossible to have a bad team, and every level with an elemental weakness or boss conveniently offers you suitable baddies to prepare you for what’s ahead, just in case you don’t get the hint. Keeping your team alive is easy, too. If anyone picks up food, they’ll run past the whole team and automatically share it with anyone who needs it. It can sometimes feel chaotic, but it all adds to the experience and makes each stage a little less predictable.
Kirby Star Allies is cute, comfortable to play, and easy to get someone else involved in, but it’s also totally forgettable. I thought perhaps it was just that I hadn’t played a Kirby game for years or maybe it was better suited to younger audiences, so I got my son to join in for a second opinion. However, to be completely frank, it was only ever as fun as we made it, and this was especially disappointing for him as he’s always placed Kirby on a pedestal. There are certainly some components of the game I can appreciate, but, overall, the experience feels hollow.