Pulled into a strange vortex that appears in the sky above his home on Planet Popstar, Kirby and the Forgotten Land sees the ever-courageous pink puffball brave a mysterious world in which he explores the remnants of a long-forgotten civilization. What makes matters worse is that the mischievous Beast Pack has started capturing the Waddle Dees and stealing their food, and so Kirby sets out on an adventure to rescue them – with newfound companion Elfilin in tow – and to work out how they all can safely return home.
It’s hard not to find Kirby and the Forgotten Land absolutely adorable right from the word go. With the little pink hero’s 30th anniversary celebrations in full swing, HAL Laboratory has gone all-out in an effort to deliver a sensational game that’s worthy of the occasion. If Nintendo was ever worried about continuing to achieve its mission to bring smiles to people’s faces, this game never failed to raise one. Whether it be the breezy theme song that accompanies the game’s title sequence or playfully waving at Waddle Dees while scurrying around in Waddle Dee Town to the unexpected surprises that await you at every turn and the imaginative boss encounters.
There’s much to the Kirby “formula” that remains familiar. The powerful pink puff’s basic actions remain the same, seeing you run, jump and float around while inhaling and gulping down enemies to absorb their Copy Abilities. The most significant change here, however, is that as Kirby hits the big 3-0, the developer has seen fit to break its iconic creation free from the confines of 2D-orientated platformers and into a three-dimensional realm. The result is marvellous, even if it’s taken longer to reach this point compared with Nintendo’s other mascots.
With the chance for a second player to locally team up with you on your adventure as Bandana Waddle Dee, there’s no doubt that Kirby remains the star – not least for the Mouthful Mode ability that he gains from flying through the vortex. This new power is something that HAL Laboratory has clearly had a lot of fun with, seeing Kirby awkwardly stretch his elasticated mouth around otherwise mundane real-world objects such as a car, traffic cone, water tank, storage cabinet, boating rings and more. The ability quickly proves to be more than a comical gimmick, frequently producing many of the game’s most memorable moments.
The main storyline stages encourage exploration and a desire to satisfy your own curiosity – looking to discover what secrets lie hidden off the beaten track. It’s worthwhile to do so, too. While reaching a stage’s conclusion will let you break three Waddle Dees free from a golden cage, many more are waiting to be saved in each stage. These are either in hidden locations or challenge you to complete side missions, which are often more playful distractions such as destroying animal snow sculptures dotted through a stage, reuniting lost ducklings with their mama or watering wilted flowers so that they can bloom once again.
Not only will you need to rescue enough Waddle Dees to open each territory’s gate to confront the boss protecting it, but their return to Waddle Dee Town will reward you with new shops and minigames. These include Waddle Dee Cinema where you can grab a bag of popcorn and rewatch the game’s cutscenes, battling it out in the boss rush Colosseum, buy health, attack or speed-boosting buffs from Waddle Dee’s Item Shop or head to Gotcha Machine Alley where you can spend your Star Coins on amassing a collection of capsule toy collectibles.
There are new Copy Abilities, too, of course. The new additions are Drill which, somewhat predictably as it sounds, lets you dig beneath the ground to burrow under barriers and enemies alike, and Ranger, which lets you shoot targets to uncover secrets and pick off the Beast Pack from afar. Where Kirby and the Forgotten Land really excited me was in having the chance to evolve every Copy Ability at Waddle Dee’s Weapons Shop. You will first need to recover Blueprints from the stages that you explore, but these souped-up powers can really pack a punch to help you get through the game’s more punishing moments.
That’s not to say that you can become overpowered quickly, though. You will need a large sack of Star Coins and Rare Stones to purchase upgrades, the latter of which are mostly obtained from Treasure Road stages – shorter time-based challenges that also serve to familiarise you with the Copy Abilities and Mouthful Mode objects that Kirby has at his disposal.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land looks wonderfully sublime – especially when the adventure’s bursting with colour on the Nintendo Switch OLED Model‘s vibrant 7-inch screen – and the soundtrack is packed with energy, but there are technical limitations evident that detract from what is an otherwise wholesome experience. The most noticeable is a development trick that we’re starting to see increasingly used in recent first-party games, where characters, enemies and items in the distance have their animations reduced to run at lower frame rates. It’s rare that you will ever pause the action for long enough to notice this regularly, but it’s hard to ignore once you have spotted it. It becomes disappointingly obvious even in Waddle Dee Town’s confined hub later on in the game when it is built up more.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land may be seen as an evolution rather than a revolution for the mightily-powered pink puffball, but the result is a stride in the right direction and what easily ranks as one of Kirby’s best adventures to date. The experience never failed to raise a smile and that it left me never wanting the adventure to end certainly can’t be a bad thing – especially with an appetite as endless as the game’s heroic pink star.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Nintendo