Kirby Star Allies definitely feels like a Kirby game. It’s bright, full of all the classic enemies you’ve come to love, with lots of opportunities to steal their powers. That’s its biggest strength, but also its greatest weakness. While there are a few innovative ideas in Kirby’s latest adventure, the game strays little from what you would expect, and it’s somehow one of the easiest games in a series already known for its breezy difficulty.
This is actually the first Kirby console game in the main series since 2011’s Return to Dream Land, and the first main series game in HD (the Wii U’s Rainbow Curse featured completely different gameplay, so it doesn’t really count). The transition to new hardware has been kind to the pink fluffball. Dream Land and Pop Star have never looked better or more vibrant. Be forewarned, though: while the game looks stunning in 1080p in docked mode, it loses some of its luster when playing in handheld mode. It still runs just fine on the go, but the graphics don’t stand out nearly as much. This is clearly a game meant for the big screen.
That’s nowhere more apparent than with Kirby Star Allies’ main gimmick: full four-player co-op. Even if you’re playing alone, the AI will take control of three companions who will follow you around. These characters are instrumental in solving some light puzzles, which involve combining elemental powers or initiating “friend actions,” which can turn your foursome into a temporary wheel, train, or bridge.
New companions are recruited by defeating bosses or from a literal friendship button. Pressing this button throws hearts at enemies, turning them into allies who fight by your side. Theoretically, this creates an almost unlimited number of strategies for completing levels. In reality, there’s usually only one way to complete any given puzzle, and the game ensures that the powers/friends you need to complete them are at most a screen or two away.
Yes, like most Kirby games, Kirby Star Allies is often mind-numbingly easy, and playing alone only makes the game easier. Your friends will quickly demolish anything that stands in their path using an arsenal of powers that puts hardened space marines to shame. Boss fights, usually one of the highlights of Kirby games, are over almost as soon as they start. The challenge does pick up a bit toward the end of this (rather short) game, but in terms of difficulty, Kirby Star Allies has got nothing on Nintendo’s other platforming series like New Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong Country Returns.
And that’s perhaps Kirby Star Allies’ biggest drawback. While the entirety of the game is technically well made and actually features some of the best music in the franchise, the game can get rather boring to play between the lack of challenge and slower pace. It’s all very bright, and there’s lots going on on-screen at any given time, but there’s not much depth to it. I found myself longing to play Triple Deluxe and Planet Robobot, the two most recent entries on the 3DS, which at least took Kirby in more interesting directions.
At least the modes that are unlocked upon completing the campaign offer a little bit of variety. One has you guiding a team through certain levels without Kirby, which is a nice added challenge. The other is a more standard boss rush mode. Beyond that, there are also jigsaw pieces to pick up throughout the levels to complete pictures of Kirby and his friends, but it’s doubtful these will provide motivation for anyone but the most hardcore of completionists.
Four player co-op often seems like a fool-proof way to rejuvenate an aging franchise (New Super Mario Bros.did just that for the Italian plumber’s 2D side-scrolling adventures), but here it feels like more of a hindrance, at least with this type of execution. It’s likely that younger gamers and those who haven’t played many Kirby games will find a lot to enjoy in Kirby Star Allies, but for everyone else, there are a lot of other titles on the Switch that should take precedence over this platformer.