A darkness descends upon the land. Glowing organs fall from the sky, corrupting all they touch. A single brave hero must recruit a mercenary band to push back the encroaching evil; that hero is… Kirby?
It’s Kirby, guys.
Kirby Star Allies is the latest in the long running and much beloved franchise, but this time comes with an ingrained and omnipresent co-op twist, and that’s convincing enemies to join you by throwing hearts at them.
It sounds simple, and it is; this isn’t an extreme departure for the lovable pink balloon golem, not in the same way as Breath of the Wild was with its open world of exploration. Star Allies is still, at its core, a 2-D platformer. And you know what? That’s what it should be.
As far as aesthetics go, it’s again sticking to basics, and doing it well. The game looks gorgeous but still runs like a dream, not bloated down with unnecessary additions. The enemy design is mostly excellent, despite a couple of very similar models that could’ve been a bit more unique. Levels are also quite basic, but they do the basics well so it’s difficult to complain about; they’re not breath-taking labyrinths, but they get the job done. The music is a variety of remixes of the classic Kirby sound, which are nice to start but will, I assume, eventually drive anyone insane. Also Kirby yelling ‘Ohai’ all the time will grind you down, but at least it’s not every few minutes… Oh wait, it is.
But aside from anything else, the stand-out of the whole game has got to be the allies. While Kirby can gobble up enemies and gain their powers, much like Zachary Quinto could in Heroes, whoever gets to be Player 2 simply takes the form of the character itself. This can be both hilarious and useful, as some abilities simply can’t be used by Kirby, like the cool giant beetle I learned could grab and throw others around the map like a demented living tennis ball. Now THAT’S gameplay!
Look, there’s not a lot of challenge to Star Allies. If you want to pick it up because you just can’t wait for Dark Souls, you may be barking up the wrong cartridge. I’m not even sure it’s possible to really lose; the first time one of us fell in a pit and died, we had 17 extra lives left, so didn’t really panic. Combat can get frenetic, with button mashing being a favourite strategy during our sessions, but that almost always worked so, ya know, don’t get too hung up on your mad skillz after you beat the first boss.
The exception is the additional modes you unlock at the end of the campaign; the story is pretty short but, if you love it, this game is chock full of replay value. A time-attack mode lets you play as an Ally and go pell-mell through the campaign, so if you REALLY want you could do that with literally everyone. There’s also an adjustable difficulty mode, which can lock abilities, increase damage, and reduce health. It’s still no Dark Souls, but if you’re all about that challenge then I encourage you to stick with it until you dial that junk up to 11.
I played alone and with friends, and let me tell you, it’s night and day. While the AI is pretty good, and only sometimes ruins your cool fire sword by spitting water on it (DARREN), it can get pretty dull just doing variations of the same thing over and over; the only way I kept myself amused was by making up names and backstories for my AI partners.
However, split your Joy-Con and you’ve got yourself a party game. While we played in a more agent of chaos, ‘let’s see how annoying it is to mount other players and ride them around for a while’ style, it’s undeniable that it was way more fun to share this experience with another human sitting beside you. You can argue about puzzle solutions, panic at bosses, constantly change characters to confuse everyone, and all around have a ball. This is one for the dock and a group of people who want to turn their brains off for a while; nothing wrong with that.
Kirby Star Allies may not break the mould in the same way as Zelda did with Breath of the Wild or Mario did with Odyssey, but it’s still my favourite Kirby game. I’m not a die-hard fan, but in the age of online multiplayer and split screen dying the death of the outdated, it’s heartwarming to see Nintendo sticking to its guns and remembering the pure enjoyment of chilling with the family and playing some harmless platforming fun.
I can see adults getting bored pretty rapidly, and I doubt I’d play any more solo. But, if you’ve got kids who haven’t yet experienced this classic series, Kirby Star Allies is a very worthy introduction.