What’s round, originally white and later pink, and sucks? It was seemingly only in 2011 that Europeans finally became truly aware of another of Nintendo’s significant platform personalities, Kirby. While Mario, Donkey Kong and Zelda have no problems achieving a high level of market penetration, Masahiro Sakurai’s creation has sadly been largely overlooked on these shores.
Following the supreme, and extremely surprising, success of Kirby’s Epic Yarn on Wii, all eyes were on Nintendo to see what delights could be cooked up next. Surprisingly, the result is Kirby Mass Attack, a stylus-controlled adventure that bears more than a passing resemblance to how Pikmin DS may have been envisaged.
The recently released console outing, Kirby’s Adventure Wii, focuses on a return to Dream Land, and Kirby’s attempt to help an alien that crash-landed on Planet Pop Star to go back from whence it came. Kirby Mass Attack, meanwhile, focuses on the eponymous hero and an unwarranted attack from a nefarious villain named Necrodeus, who tears Kirby into ten weaker versions of himself in the hope of eliminating the vivacious pink chap forever.
Rather than plumping for a standard platform jaunt, though, Nintendo has continued its tradition of using Kirby games as a breeding ground for recognisable genres with the integration of fresh ideas to create fairly unique experiences. As with quirky slants on assorted themes such as the racing antics of Air Ride (Game Cube), the crazy golf shenanigans in Dream Course (SNES), and even the addictive puzzler duo of Star Stacker (GBC) and Kirby’s Ghost Trap (SNES), the development team at HAL Laboratory has chosen a route that is somewhat akin to real-time strategy for Kirby Mass Attack.
Working solely with the touch-screen, as in Power Paintbrush, players are tasked with moving a troop of Kirby characters throughout numerous stages filled with luscious, vibrant visuals, plenty of familiar enemies, and awhole host of differing hidden objects tucked away in the array of pathways available en-route to the final exit.
On commencing the first level, only one Kirby is in tow, but after collecting a sufficient amount of fruit, either by discovering it lying around or defeating creatures along the way, more can be added to the group, with ten being the maximum number permitted. Movement is carried out simply by tapping where you wish them to wander, with a swift double-tap causing them to break into a gentle trot. Holding the stylus down in one particular place will group them all together in a ball that can then be dragged around to previously unreachable heights or to steer the collective Kirby hive away from harm’s way.
For Kirby purists, this almost relates to the floating out of danger aspect of yore, but it comes into play in other impressive ways, such as when a large boulder with a small missing segment comes rolling onto the screen, and huddling collectively to squeeze into the gap is the only way of avoiding death.
While Mass Attack’s levels, filled with special hidden medals, multiple paths, enemies, and all sorts of intelligently designed platform elements will seem familiar from previous games, the approach to attacking is radically different. Kirby can no longer ingest enemies and mimic their powers; instead, ganging up for a fist-fight is the order of the day, with Kirbys piling onto enemies to swipe away at them until they burst into pieces of Kirby-creating fruit. Attacking can be carried out by either tapping an enemy, or launching Kirbys in their direction.
There is never any real fear of the Kirby clan perishing at any time while traversing the game’s five standard worlds (forest, desert, volcano setting… you know the drill), since being struck normally results merely in one or two of the group bouncing to one side before re-joining the fray. Even when they are harmed, they simply lose their pink hue and take on a pale blue shade. Should the worst in occur, however, one of the heroes will turn into a ghostly apparition and try to float off to Kirby heaven, although all it takes to prevent them from resting in peace is to launch a living Kirby upwards to drag them back down to the ground.
Even the blue Kirbys can be revitalised part of the way into a stage, thanks to a special hoop they can be flung through. Anyone hoping for a difficulty level than previous iterations will be disappointed, but the amount of extras to discover, the wealth of achievements to unlock, and all of the bonus mini-games, plus the general sense of charm Kirby Mass Attack exudes, help to make this one of the finest Kirby games for many years, and most definitely a candidate for Nintendo DS game of the year 2011.
The one thing can be said about HAL Laboratory is that it has incredible courage to throw its arguably most prized possession into all manner of scenarios, and Mass Attack is a breath of fresh air in a world filled with identikit annual game updates. Everything could have gone terribly wrong with Mass Attack, but instead, the gamble was an astute one, and although traditional platform fans may err on the side of caution, preferring to stick with Kirby Mouse Attack or Kirby Super Star Ultra, for example, those willing to take a leap of faith with this quirky release will be repaid in an abundance.
This is, without a doubt, the pinnacle of touch-screen gaming on the Nintendo DS.
You can rent or buy Kirby Mass Attack at Blockbuster.co.uk.