Whether you are brand new to Kirby games, or a devout member of the Twitter Kirby Club Community, Kirby and the Forgotten Land promises to deliver something hitherto unseen in the series – a fully realised 3D platformer. A mere 26 years after his Super Smash Bros. compatriot Mario made the transition from 2D to 3D, HAL Labs have finally swept Dream Land’s favourite son away from his far more comfortable 2D (or more recently, 2.5D) roots and boldly gone where no Waddle Dee has gone waddled before. But how well can Kirby handle such a transition after waiting so long to make the leap into the unknown?
For many, the debut trailer for Kirby and the Forgotten Land invoked arguably the finest 3D platformer ever made – Super Mario Odyssey. Let’s check those comparisons right at the door though, as Forgotten Land is less of a free-roaming experience, and more akin to Super Mario 3D World. You play through individual levels which contain a series of checkpoints within. Once you pass these checkpoints, you are not able to return to the previous section (often marked by having Kirby whisked off on his signature Warp Star from one area in the level to the next) – this leads to a feeling of the levels being their own self-contained three-act plays. There’s often a lot going on during these plays as well, as the supporting cast help to flesh out the world of the Forgotten Land.
The new enemy type in particular, Awoofy, is so full of charm that you’d be forgiven for not wanting to defeat them at all and just let them lead their own little lives. Sometimes, sure, these cuddly little guys will try to stop Kirby from progressing at all costs, but other times it really does seem like Kirby is actually just a trespasser in their land while the Awoofys go about their normal business. Do you really need to attack the one who’s having a nap? You absolutely don’t and the game doesn’t ask you to. If you want to ignore the guys sitting having their lunch in the mall, you’re well within your rights to do so. Not every character you encounter in the world is a heartless villain who needs to be sucked into the void of Kirby’s food hole and that’s not only something I can respect from a game design perspective, but I’ll be damned if that doesn’t just feel like a big ol’ warm hug for the soul.
Of course, you can unequivocally obliterate every single one of them if you so choose as well. You’re a floating pink demon with the power of fire, why wouldn’t you roast every single one of the guys who kidnapped your buddies, the Waddle Dees, and turned them into collectible currency?
And that is your primary motivation after all – you’re here to free all the captured Waddle Dees from the cages that are inexplicably strewn throughout the land. The reward for clearing each level itself is releasing a 3-pack of the little guys, but there are plenty more to find and save if you want to 100% the game. Every level, including the boss fights, contains several hidden Waddle Dees for you to find. More often than not, this is in a literal sense, where you will have to go out of your way to destroy scenery or solve a puzzle in order to release them. If you’re just rushing your way to the end of the level, it’s pretty easy to miss a good few of them. If you’re taking your time though, and if you pay attention, you’ll actually hear the cries of a waddle dee trying to let you know that it’s nearby and in desperate need of being saved by a passing puffball. You can’t say no to that cry, surely?
The more experienced players will want to explore every nook and cranny of the level to try and uncover all of the hidden guys on their first playthrough of a level, but it’s not always that simple as many Waddle Dees are released as a reward for fulfilling certain conditions during the level, such as not falling in the water during a particular area. It would be unreasonable for the player to understand that challenges of this very specific nature exist intrinsically, but thankfully upon the first completion of a level, you will be presented with a checklist of what you need to do to find all the Waddle Dees. A lot of the tasks you’ll undertake are multi-part ones, such as hitting all the hidden targets in a level. When you complete even part of these, the task is unveiled on the checklist, although you will have to complete all parts of it in one run. If you haven’t uncovered all of the tasks by yourself, you will be rewarded by having one of the mystery conditions revealed to you, so you’ll never feel completely lost and abandoned in your quest to find them all.
Rescuing more and more Waddle Dees also leads to the restoration and expansion of Waddle Dee Town. This serves as a hub area you can return to at any time from the overworld map. There’s plenty of side content to unlock here – from the Waddle Dee Cinema where you can rewatch your favourite cutscenes, to stores where you can purchase temporary power ups, to charming (yet challenging) minigames, you’ll want to come back to Waddle Dee Town frequently just to check out what’s new! The transformation of this initially barren area to one bustling with activity, with Waddle Dees hanging out to chill with, really does make it feel like Kirby is making a difference in the world and not just ticking checkboxes.
If you’ve ever played Super Smash Bros, you’ll know that Kirby’s principle power is the ability to suck in foes and absorb the ability to use their powers for his own nefarious gain. This is naturally the core mechanic at play here, but it does come with a neat little twist. Once you’ve progressed far enough through the game, you’ll unlock Waddle Dee’s Weapon Shop in Waddle Dee Town, which has on display any copy abilities you’ve already managed to use thus far, freely allowing you to choose the best ability for the job before you head into any level of your choosing. More importantly though, this where you’ll be able to present blueprints obtained from boss fights or cleverly hidden within levels, which allow you to upgrade the copy ability in question (in exchange for some rare stones – more on that in a bit). Whilst you can choose which version of the ability you wish to equip at the workshop, there never seems to be a downside to having an upgraded ability, as they come with increases in power, speed, and other more unique traits. I would perhaps have wanted to see more of a risk/reward trait involved in equipping more powerful abilities but it's hardly a dealbreaker - it just means you’ll probably never want to use the base forms once you’ve unlocked their more powerful counterparts.
That’s not the only power Kirby is rocking in his first 3D adventure though! After being sucked through the vortex at the start of the game, Kirby mysteriously gains the ability known as Mouthful Mode, which allows him to inhale obscenely large objects such as vending machines, a car, or a giant light bulb and basically become them, each with a unique action that only these bizarre forms can perform. The first mouthful you get to play with is the car, which isn’t just for chuntering along, but used to gain speed and burst through otherwise unbreakable objects.
Perhaps the most creative mode utilised in the game is the O-ring, which really highlights just how much fun this new power can be from both a player and a developer standpoint. On its own, the O-Ring essentially turns Kirby into a big doughnut, with the ability to produce gusts of air. Whilst that’s fun enough by itself, this adaptable power-up can be used to blow away piles of sand in the desert, defeat enemies, or serve as a jet propulsion system for a boat, allowing you to traverse waterways and burst through blockages at speed. But wait, there’s more! You can even hop into conveniently O-shaped holes in walls to solve puzzles, unlocking secret areas. All this versatility from turning Kirby into a polo mint. The game is littered with these types of puzzles that really does make Mouthful Mode an absolute joy to play with. I honestly hope this is not the last we see of it, as it feels like we’re only just scratching the surface of what’s possible. Why not make this the calling card of 3D Kirby games going forward? I’d jump into another game with this as a core mechanic in a heartbeat.
As with the majority of Nintendo first party Switch titles, this game comes bundled with the ability to sit and play with a second person in local co-op. If you want to play with someone else, player 2 will be taking up the mantle of perennial Super Smash Bros bridesmaid, Bandana Waddle Dee. As much as a cult hero as he is, if your player 2 wants to have a go with Kirby’s special powers and not just poke things with a stick, you’re going to have to learn to share controller 1 – otherwise it’s very much a case of player 2 assisting player 1.
Whether playing Docked, or in Handheld mode, Kirby and the Forgotten Land delivers in spades when it comes to its visuals and presentation. In true Switch fashion, I spent large amounts of my time playing this game in the living room on the big TV, so that I might drink-in the best the game had to offer at a greater resolution, but found myself unable to pull away from it so had to continue the adventure in handheld in bed for an extra hour or so each day. The cut-scenes in particular are a joy to behold no matter how you choose to experience the game. Unfortunately, there are instances where the Switch struggles to keep up with the ambition of the game and suffers from a few bouts of frame rate issues and pop-in. These are extremely few and far between, and generally only happen when there is plenty of activity going on in the far distance. The rest of the time however, it runs as smoothly as a Waddle Dee’s bottom. The music is some of the best in the series to date, with particular highlights being “Welcome to the New World”, “Wondaria Remains”, and of course “Roar of Dedede”.
Perhaps nothing encapsulates the charm offensive more than the gotcha coin machine though. The sheer glee on Kirby’s face as he turns the crank, wondering what little statue he’ll get this time with his hard-earned star coins… It would melt even the iciest of hearts. Even when you’ve got every collectible there is to get in the machine, you won’t want to stop putting coins in because how can you deny that adorable face? Let him waste his money on duplicate trinkets, he worked hard today. Yes he did!
Of course, working hard is a relative concept. For many gamers, the concept of “Kirby”and “hard” don’t mix in the slightest. HAL Labs have tried to adjust for this by introducing 2 difficulties – Spring Breeze and Wild Mode. The primary differences are that Wild Mode’s enemies are a bit tougher to deal with, and Kirby has half the health gauge of Spring Breeze mode. In exchange for playing the tougher version, you’re rewarded with more star coins for your exploits. The majority of players will likely play the main game in Wild Mode as it is marginally more challenging, but having a more accessible option from the start is never a bad thing. Perhaps an even harder challenge mode from the start could have been included to appeal to a wider demographic, but there is still plenty of challenge to be found in the game itself. In particular, the ‘Treasure Road’ side-levels; which need to be completed to obtain Rare Stones for ability upgrades, turn into precision platforming challenges when trying to beat the target times. I would personally compare these directly to the difference between the regular single player mode and Octo Expansion in Splatoon 2. If you want to rise to the challenge set, you’re going to learn a lot about squeezing the absolute maximum out of Kirby and his powers just to earn that little tick. But boy, does it feel good when you do.
This game absolutely oozes charm from the moment you start, and it never lets up. You can take it at your own pace and if you want to 100% it, you’re going to find a decent amount of challenge in your wake. It’s not the longest game in the world, but it has one of the largest hearts. You’ll find yourself humming the theme as you stroll down the street and you’ll be wishing that Nintendo had released a fluffy Awoofy amiibo alongside the game (there’s still time to make this right Nintendo!) Mouthful mode is an honest-to-goodness gem of an addition to the series that will have you wanting more and more until you’re full to bursting.
I asked the question at the outset of this review ‘how well might Kirby handle the often difficult transition from 2D to 3D’. I’d say that HAL Labs have not only navigated the dangerous shores of taking the series in a bold new direction, but they’ve come out the other end of their journey with something that they can be especially proud of. They’ve managed to retain the elements of a traditional 2D Kirby game; the plethora of fun copy abilities, tight controls (that really get put to the test on Treasure Road) and a colourful, charming cast of characters, whilst also cooking up something special that builds upon the well-honed base experience of the series and bring Kirby forward into a land that will not be forgotten any time soon.
Hopefully this isn’t the last we’ll see of 3D Kirby, because if this is where we start, imagine where we might warp to next…
Kirby and the Forgotten Land is a game that can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of their gaming experience level. It is a true mouthful of delights from start to finish, well worth inhaling a car and driving to the store to check out!
Where to buy
• My Nintendo Store - £49.99 https://tidd.ly/3zCQtYb
• ShopTo - £39.85 https://tidd.ly/3MR4vrW
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Review written by Pawl S.Lax
Edited by Paul L. Russell
Review Graphic by Paul L. Russell
Additional Support from Mark McAllister