REVIEW

REVIEW

Kirby and the Forgotten Land

April 8, 2022

GOOD

  • Great visuals & music
  • Tight controls
  • Creative platforming level design
  • Mouthful Mode & upgradeable Copy abilities

BAD

  • No-return one-way checkpoints
  • Uneven Co-op

GOOD

GOOD

A joyful, imaginative platformer from Hal Labs that simultaneously redefines the Kirby series while still providing a bright, welcoming adventure for players of all ages and skill levels.  

Nintendo’s relationship with Hal Labs goes back a very long way.  And their interconnectedness is probably best exemplified by the late and very fondly remembered Satoru Iwata who started off at Hal but went on to become the President of Nintendo. Because of this link, Hal Labs has been involved in a number of properties synonymous with Nintendo, including the Mother/Earthbound games, the beginnings of Smash Bros. and more recently even the Box Boy series. However, it is undoubtedly the now 30-year-old Kirby series that really marks their partnership. In Kirby and the Forgotten Land, we not only again see Hal’s willingness to flex their creative muscles in a new direction with the pink puffball’s impressive foray into 3D gameplay, but also a wonderful demonstration of their ability to breathe such fresh life into a series while still maintaining its core, friendly approachable nature. And I simply loved my time with it.

Suck it up and save the world

In this quite unexpected adventure, our beloved Kirby is swallowed up by a rift in the sky and flung from his home on Planet Popstar to a strange, seemingly quite-human and apparently abandoned world. As you begin to explore this peculiar place, Kirby’s heroic nature immediately draws him into saving the Waddle Dee inhabitants that are being attacked and kidnapped by the ferociously (cute) Beast Pack. Despite this slightly darker tone (that Kirby lore has leaned into occasionally in the past), this forgotten land is bright, colourful and gorgeous to behold. The cinematics are simply wonderful and Kirby and the other characters’ facial expressions are expertly animated, emotionally charged and often made me giggle throughout my playthrough.

The cinematics are simply wonderful and Kirby and the other characters’ facial expressions are expertly animated, emotionally charged and often made me giggle throughout my playthrough.

Rather than a fully explorable sandbox-style world, Kirby’s journey is punctuated by a series of levels in specific areas. Each level takes place in a large (reasonably open) 3D space and definitely allows for some exploring. However, each level also has definite boundaries you cannot go beyond as well as marked checkpoints you pass. Each also has a specific goal to reach: Getting to the end and freeing three caged Waddle Dees. Disconnected from these distinct areas, Waddle Dee town is a sort of central hub which can be visited at any time. This space features unlockable mini-games, an upgrade ‘store’ and a few other collectables that provide a nice little break from the regular gameplay loop. That said, the demarcated levels might sound a little limiting especially if you were expecting big BOTW-like open exploration (and some of the early trailers definitely gave that impression). However, I was quite happy with the more linear progress. I think I would describe it as a sort of updated Super Mario 3 overworld map with levels that definitely give off a kind of super-charged Super Mario 3D World vibe and I really enjoyed both those games, so found the combo really works in Forgotten Land. I also think this setup is less daunting for younger/less experienced players.

Some things are just tougher to swallow

Of course, this leads to the discussion about difficulty. The criticism of being ‘too easy’ is often hurled and many Nintendo games – especially those that go for a brighter, more cutesy aesthetic. This latest Kirby game definitely falls into that category visually, and to be honest, even gameplay-wise, it is very forgiving. However, difficulty is really subjective. And while it is quite clear that exclusively following the main storyline is meant to be doable even for younger/inexperienced players – there are extras and features which mean if you find the basic gameplay a little too simplistic you can up the challenge. Starting off there are two difficulty modes. If like me, you’ve played any game in this genre before, I’d recommend starting off in the harder ‘Wild mode’. In this mode, I managed to complete the main story – having ‘died’ only a handful of times (and even these deaths were usually due to my own impatience, rather than any big spike in difficulty). However, after playing some co-op with my wife at the higher same difficulty – she immediately decided she would opt for the easier mode on her own playthrough. And so I think the fact that the (even) easier option exists is great and for anyone playing with younger kids the Spring-Breezer mode will I suspect be perfect.

Difficulty is really subjective. I finished the game dying only a handful of times. My wife immediately wanted to hope down to Spring-Breeze Mode. We both had fun.

However, for those looking for a bit more of a challenge, like most games from the Nintendo-stable, there are a bunch of optional collectables in each level. These extra tasks are not essential to progress, but require players looking to 100% the game, to do just that little bit more. This usually means more thorough exploring and meticulous collecting, but occasionally also include completing slightly trickier platforming sections or environmental puzzles. Additionally, after completing each main level – Treasure Road levels are unlocked. These are short, ability-specific timed challenges. A few of these are significantly tougher than general levels and completing them under the suggested time limit often requires some skills that I suspect more casual players just won’t have. As your progress, you’ll also unlock the mini-games in the central hub world. These start off quite easy, but ramp quite steeply and completing the hardest challenges took me more time than I’m willing to admit. And while even the Boss fights can be made a lot easier by using obtaining certain power-ups – heading into some a few without said powerups and completing them in one go – will be something I suspect not many will be able to do in one go. So, despite what you may have heard – I’m pretty sure that except if you’re expecting a Souls-like hard mode, pretty much everyone is going to find something to enjoy – I know I did.

In fact, I only had two or three relatively minor issues in my time with Kirby. The first had to do with the checkpoint-level design. As mentioned above, each level has some extra tasks. Exactly what you need to do is hidden at the start of a level and a few of them require you to do a very specific thing (like remove 5 posters for example). However, that requirement is only revealed when you remove your first poster. So, occasionally you get near the end of a level, only to realise you must’ve missed one. Unfortunately, because at least some levels have these ‘no-return’ type checkpoints (i.e dying will have you respawn there but you’re not able to backtrack any further back) there may be no way to go retrace your steps and find what you missed. So, you basically have no choice but to start the whole level again. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen too often and the levels are quite short at least early on – but the hard-lockout checkpoint definitely felt like a bummer for completionists like me. Then, my other small gripe is that during co-op play the second player is forced to be a Waddle Dee with a bandana and a spear. While the movement is great and spear attacks are actually fun to perform – you can’t help but feel like you’re missing out when Player One (controlling Kirby) can swap through abilities several times during the level. Along with that, the camera is always fixed on Player One – and as soon as player two moves too far they’re immediately warped back next to Kirby. It seems clear that co-op play (while still a lot of fun) is probably designed for a situation where a parent/older sibling is playing with a younger child – basically ensuring that Player Two can be “carried” if needed. And while that’s kinda great for a family game like this – it does mean similarly skilled players won’t quite get the same great experience.

The ‘no-return’ checkpoints definitely felt like a bummer for completionists like me

Pink, it’s my new obsession

Now, despite what you may think about the difficulty and acknowledging my smaller issues, the reason I enjoyed Kirby as much as I did – was that it fulfilled a very fundamental personal requirement when I’m playing video games – it is really fun! Joy explodes from the first note of music you hear. The soundtrack is simply great and blends from pleasantly peaceful to intense and triumphant and feels unique to each new area you explore and each Boss you encounter. Plus, once you get through the quick intro you’re welcomed into the new world with a wonderful, voiced anime number – that really sets the tone! Each new area you visit also feels distinct and beautiful. Every area is detailed and unique and some are really memorable and filled with personality. And even now, several hours after finishing the game, I can’t help but smile as I think back to exploring the abandoned mall or the deserted carnival.

I’m really impressed with how good Kirby feels to pilot around the world and how truly creative some of the level design and platforming is.

In terms of gameplay, as a platforming enthusiast, I am happy to report that the controls feel tight and the movement silky smooth. I’ve already heard some people saying that they prefer this game to some of Mario’s recent outings and while I definitely wouldn’t go that far – I’m really impressed with how good Kirby feels to pilot around the world and how truly creative some of the level design and platforming is. Kirby’s traditional copy abilities are the best they’ve ever been – both in terms of how they feel and function in a 3D space. And now, having the ability to upgrade is awesome. Your simple swiping sword quickly becomes into a vibrant vorpal weapon of astounding room-clearing ability and I’ve got to admit that ice-skating up a dead escalator while blowing a blizzard ahead of me felt immensely satisfying. Plus, returning to older levels with fully-evolved (somewhat OP) abilities may sound like overkill, but feels great and actually brings a nice level of replayability.

However, as you probably know by now – this new Kirby game provides Mouthful Mode; A interesting twist on the traditional copy ability and you may have seen what entails when you saw Kirby swallowing and basically embodying a variety of massive objects including a Traffic Cone and a Vending Machine in one of the trailers. I’ve got to admit that at first I was worried that this was going to just be a bit of a fun gimmick. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how much the new mode was used, and more than that, how it brought some wonderful variety to the gameplay and highlighted the clever design. For example, when in the now-infamous Karby mode – you’re not only able to crash through some obstacles on the road and move around a little more quickly, but later levels actually introduce car racing time-trial sections! Then, as a personified (or is it Kirby-fied) light bulb, switching on and off, especially in the wonderfully atmospheric UV-light lit carnival area, not only highlighted certain pretty visual details you may have normally missed but actually also allowed for some simple but enjoyable environmental puzzles too. Plus, you can also look forward to flying, becoming a big cupboard and or a giant filled-water-balloon-like pink blob of terror in other sections too. They were just used so cleverly and often unexpectedly that I never really got tired of them and instead couldn’t wait to find out what Kirby would try to swallow next.

I was pleasantly surprised at how much the new Mouthful mode was used, and… how it brought some wonderful variety to the gameplay and highlighted the clever design.

Let’s blow it up!

Now, after saying all that I can also happily confirm that having ‘rolled credits’ there is still more left to explore and I’m really looking forward to playing it. And my wife can’t wait to start her own proper solo playthrough too. And, really often that’s the strongest praise you can give a game – the fact that you want to just keep playing. Yes, sure it’s not a gritty dark and relentless experience that’ll keep you entertained for hundreds of hours. However, the this shorter, simpler package you get little bursts of joy in an ingenious little platformer that continually brings a smile to your face. And with Kirby and the Forgotten Land, Hal Labs provides yet another great reason to own and love the Switch!

April 8, 2022

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