When Dark Hearts rain down on Dream Land, it is the power of friendship that saves the day in Kirby Star Allies. It is HAL Laboratory that is the creative force behind the pink puffball’s first appearance on Nintendo Switch, an adventure that is worlds apart from when we restored Planet Popstar’s colour in his clay-built outing on Wii U.
In many ways, the experience that you can expect to have with Kirby Star Allies can be likened to the chaotic madness that New Super Mario Bros. Wii became known for. While Kirby’s Adventure Wii had been the ever-cute character’s first side-scrolling adventure to let up to four players trek across Dream Land together, the developer has found room for a more meaningful and heartwarming reason to let you team up in multiplayer in this Nintendo Switch exclusive.
As you would expect, Kirby remains the star of the show and can still inhale an enemy and either swallow them to gain a Copy Ability or to spit them out as a damaging projectile. But, thanks to a falling heart that hits him on the head, the pink hero now has the power to spread some love on his escapades. This means that Kirby can now chuck a Friend Heart in an enemy’s direction, which, as an early cutscene rather adorably shows, will let him recruit allies to help him hunt down whoever is causing trouble in Dream Land this time around.
This gameplay mechanic soon becomes a key part to your adventure, with the unlikely companions that you rally to your side being called upon to help you overcome obstacles, solve puzzles, and take down enemies that you encounter. Working together in such ways lends a setup that is more than a perfect match for local multiplayer sessions on the portable home console, and results in a gaming experience that embodies its resolute mantra in being able to play anywhere, anytime, and with anyone – even if the game’s resplendent visuals are best appreciated on a TV screen.
That’s not to say that it can’t be enjoyed solo, thanks to incredibly smart friendly AI that knows where it needs to be and when, and loves nothing more than to leap to your defence in combat. There’s far more to Kirby Star Allies than simply using Friend Hearts to make new friends, though. With Kirby free to change Copy Abilities whenever there’s an enemy for him to suck up and swallow, you can also swap out his recruited allies with other enemies that he crosses paths with. And then, there’s the chance that the Copy Abilities that everyone has can be combined.
This basically lets you add different elements to weapons, such as the Ice and Sword Copy Abilities combining to create a Blizzard Sword, or the Fire and Yo-Yo Copy Abilities resulting in the Sizzle Yo-Yo. It’s simple to do (and change), with the player that is wielding a weapon-based Copy Ability holding up on the Left Stick while the other carrying an element strikes them with an attack. Elementally charged weapons not only deal more damage but are used for the game’s many puzzles where you will ignite bombs and smash through walls to uncover the secrets that each stage hides.
When you aren’t punishing your enemies with Copy Abilities, your team will unite together to perform special moves. These are all based on the power of friendship and will see your four characters roll through a stage as a Friend Circle, create a Friend Bridge to safely escort a key-carrying enemy to a locked door, or hop on board the Friend Train – which is both a personal favourite but is criminally underused. It is in these moments, as well as the many boss battles, where the game entertains most.
The problem that Kirby Star Allies has is one that it has run into before with Kirby’s Epic Yarn, in that it is far too easy. Setting out to restore peace to Dream Land with three friends, we managed to reach the game’s dramatic conclusion in less than five hours. At that point, we had around 88 extra lives to spare and it was only a lapse in concentration that ever saw us lose any. That makes the game accessible to all – something that we shouldn’t readily look over – but those that have stuck with the tiny ball of puffy pink mischief over the years will undoubtedly be disappointed at the lack of challenge that this game presents.
After the credits draw to a close, you unlock the chance to replay stages without Kirby in the Guest Star ???? Star Allies Go!, a time attack mode that isn’t that appealing a reward. Neither are the two minigames – Chop Champs and Star Slam Heroes – that challenge you to cut down trees as quickly as you can or strike an incoming meteor with as much power as you can muster using a baseball bat. These are entertaining but shallow additions that fail to retain your interest for long. There is The Ultimate Choice, a boss rush mode where you can handpick your team and choose your difficulty level (one aspect that should have been carried across the whole game), but even in this, you won’t chase your best scores for long.
Even drenched with charm, this calls into question the game’s longevity and whether there’s really enough to encourage you to keep coming back post-completion. There are picture pieces to collect that steadily reveal anniversary ‘celebration pictures’ that you can look at in the Gallery and big switches to hunt out in certain stages that each unlock a trickier Extra Stage, which will add more hours to your playtime.
We know that more Dream Friends will be released over time, which are special characters – like King Dedede, Meta Knight, and Bandana Waddle Dee – that you can summon in-game using the Dream Rod at the Dream Palace to add them to your party. But, again, I’m not sure if this is substantial enough to maintain anyone’s interest.
And that’s a shame, because you will be hard-pressed to find a game with as much visual spectacle on Nintendo Switch at this point in time. From the menu design to the characters to the world map, Kirby Star Allies is a kaleidoscopic treat for your eyeballs, matched with a sensationally energetic soundtrack that you can sit back and listen to in the Jukebox.
Entertaining but lacking the challenge that many will crave, it’s hard not to come away from playing Kirby Star Allies with a mixed opinion. With impeccably polished visuals but uncomplex stages to overcome, this short-lived adventure in Dream Land has much room for improvement which we can only hope the pink puffball’s next outing will deliver on.