It’s been a long time since we’ve gotten a mainline, console-focused platformer centered on the pink-puffball, seven years in fact! Kirby: Star Allies is the first entry in the platforming series on the Switch, and it features a more traditional style but in 2.5D, with amore of a traditional storyline as well. However, does the new game stack up to classics in the franchise? Or does it pale in comparison?
Kirby: Star Allies
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Platform: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed)
Release Date: March 16th, 2018
Players: 1-4 Player Co-op
HAL Laboratory has experimented with the Kirby games when it comes to visuals, adopting yarn-like or pastel-like themes and aesthetics to further reinforce a gameplay mechanic of some kind. If you were never really a fan of those alternative styles, you’ll be happy to hear this is an orthodox style.
The game is basically what you’d imagine a full high-definition, home-console Kirby title would look like, and it’s quite fantastic. There were several moments where I was really impressed by how cute and crisp the overall visuals, environments, characters, and effects are. It’s a delight for the eyes.
Overall performance in the game is great, although it is limited to 30 frames per second – a deliberate move because of how graphically intense and wonderful-looking the backgrounds can become. This is easily the best-looking Kirby game to date, and really channels the series classic imagery.
Much of what Kirby: Star Allies is can be considered somewhat vanilla in terms of overall Kirby series mechanics. There are no drawing mechanics or hardware peripheral-focused mechanics. You play as Kirby just as he was decades ago, inhaling your enemies and absorbing their powers.
There’s a new mechanic of sorts in that you can now befriend your enemies, enlisting the aid of up to three powered-enemies, i.e. the same enemies that you can get new powers from. As you explore, you can mix and match enemies to get your preferred team, and even unlock secrets with them.
The befriending of enemies can be really fun when it comes to the various puzzles, both mandatory and not, that require you to get certain combinations of befriended allies that get you the right power combination.
These include things like the “Sizzle Whip,” which combines the main fire power with the whip power, engulfing your whip in flames. My favorite was probably the “Splash Ninja” combo, which combines the water power and the ninja power, giving you both water-imbued ninja stars and sword.
One of my only real gripes with the game is that its core story is almost too easy. There’s no real challenge, especially if you manage to keep some of the more well-rounded and damage-dealing friends or powers. I’m not sure if there are people that play Kirby titles for the challenge, but I digress.
Coming off this, you can basically let your allies steamroll anything in your path, as their A.I. is typically pretty good. I’d say there were only a few boss fights where the player’s damage really makes the difference, however your allies can really dish out the pain too.
There are bonus modes, one in particular dubbed “The Ultimate Choice” in which you can unlock higher difficulties to get a bit more of a challenge. While this is a nice change of pace, it’s relegated to a mini-game and not the core story.
The game can be played with friends, which is honestly where lots of the fun is with this experience. The bots can give you a nice feeling of camaraderie, but you’ll have the most fun yelling at each other and fighting over health recovery items as you explore each level.
All of the series’ iconic sound bytes are here in full effect within Star Allies, as well as both whimsical new music that is broken up by old classics that are neatly hidden. The game feels right at home, even with newer renditions of old classics like “Green Greens,” now called “Green Gears.
A nice variety of instruments, both traditional and electronic, are utilized in the games soundtrack. There’s even a super funky bassline in tracks like “Eastern Wall,” while some favorites of mine are “Planet Frostak,” “Nature’s Narvel,” and “Sacred Square.” Every tune just screams “Kirby!”
Overall I was really happy with the little sound bytes that Kirby and his enemies/allies make, from movements to abilities and various blurbs in cutscenes or puzzles. Whether you’re a longtime fan like me or a newcomer, you’ll get the full Kirby audio experience.
The game once again stars the titular pink ball Kirby, who is just enjoying some rest and relaxation on his home planet of Popstar. An explosion from a dark crystal heart over on the distant planet Jambastion sends fragments of the dark material across space.
Iconic series villains like King Dedede and Meta Knight go to investigate nearby heart fragments from Jambastion, and become possessed. While Kirby gets struck by one of the heart fragments, it doesn’t possess him, because he’s too much of a good boy.
Instead, he gains the power to befriend enemies, which is the aforementioned core mechanic of the entire game. As you progress through levels on specific planets you’ll fight bosses new and old, recruit more new friends, and eventually unravel the mystery behind the Jamba Hearts.
The story is very much similar to previous entries in the series, which can be seen as both a good and a bad thing. Some kind of invading force or presence is tainting things and or characters, while Kirby the incorruptible is tasked with defeating and cleansing everything of this evil power.
There aren’t really any twists or turns in the overall story of the game as this mostly feels like a play-it-safe story to just appeal to the fans. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s pretty standard Kirby fare. Returning fans will be delighted to see iconic bosses, some of which you can befriend.
Overall I was very happy with my time playing Kirby: Star Allies. It’s not quite the system seller other Nintendo first-party titles are and doesn’t really do anything new, but it’s definitely a very fun experience for both veteran fans of the series and newcomers alike.
Kirby: Star Allies was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a review copy purchased by Niche Gamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.
The Verdict: 9
- Whimsical, crisp, and colorful visuals
- Fun and bubbly soundtrack with hints of nostalgia
- Entire game is a love-letter to veteran Kirby fans
- Main story feels a bit short compared to other mainline Kirby titles
- Lacks real challenge or difficulty outside smaller mini-games
- Returning fans looking for new stuff may be disappointed