Well. It’s finally here. In celebration of 30 whole years (!) of 2D and 2.5D adventures — with a little 3D sprinkled in for good measure — Kirby’s first proper fully three dimensional mainline escapade has now arrived and, as long as you know exactly what to expect from the little pink puffball, it’s an absolute delight. Kirby and the Forgotten Land is 100% aimed at younger gamers; it’s not particularly challenging, it won’t leave you scratching your head over puzzles or pulling your hair out over tricky bosses, but what’s here is still hugely endearing and highly replayable stuff, even for those of us who are perhaps slightly older (and this writer is ever-so-slightly older) than the target audience.
We’ve already discussed in our hands-on preview of the game’s first world how Kirby and the Forgotten Land eschews the wide open 3D environments of Super Mario Odyssey in favour of tightly designed little playboxes in the vein of Super Mario 3D World. There’s no fully controllable open world camera at work here, the paths through levels are framed and revealed just so, and this is a design decision that Kirby and the Forgotten World sticks to resolutely for its duration, offering up delightful little play areas that afford you a reasonable amount of freedom within their confines whilst doing a great job of mixing easy breezy combat with addictive secret hunting and a handful of hilarious new gimmicks to keep things from growing stale. This is not the great big open world 3D romp some may have been expecting, and that’s absolutely fine.
HAL Laboratory has managed to successfully transpose everything we know and love from classic Kirby titles to this new game, with our little pink hero’s exhaustive roster of copy abilities having made the jump intact (here bolstered by a handful of new variants) and, of course, Mouthful Mode. It’s the bit that’s got everyone talking pre-release and, as it turns out, Mouthful Mode is as funny, daft and delightful as it appears in the game’s trailers, with Kirby warping himself into all-manner of outlandish shapes in order to solve puzzles, best baddies and rescue as many Waddle Dees as he can.
Ah yes, Waddle Dees. Kirby’s little buddies have been captured by the villain of the piece — a villain who shall remain nameless here — and stuck into cages that are hidden all around the Forgotten Land, a land through which you must now jump, glide, motorboat, rollercoast and… eh… yeah, whatever it is he’s doing with that vending machine, in order to rescue each and every one of your imperilled pals whilst dishing out a right royal doing to the expansive roster of bosses as you go.
But it’s not all battering baddies. In fact, the bulk of the action here is about exploration — about searching every nook and cranny of your surroundings in order to track down as many Waddle Dees as you possibly can. You’ll even require a set number of them in order to unlock the final stage of each world and progress to the next area. Each level comes with a set list of five missions in this regard, with each completed mission netting you an extra Waddle Dee or two towards blowing open that final big boss lock. It’s all fairly straightforward stuff — clear the stage, rescue all the Waddle Dees, eat a specific number of doughnuts, defeat a boss with a certain type of weapon, destroy animal sand sculptures and so on — but it’s these missions that provide Kirby and the Forgotten Land with much of its actual challenge during campaign missions, and a fair bit of replayability to boot.
There’s more challenge to be found in the game’s side missions, too; extra areas that open up throughout each themed world as you progress, little tears in the space/time fabric that suck you into all manner of minigames to test your mettle and net you upgrade materials and coins. You’ll find yourself bowling bombs down moving platforms in order to hit switches, using spinning Chakrams to grab coin pieces from across spike traps, ice-skating across moving platforms and much more besides. It’s in these side missions that players wanting a little more to chew on will find themselves most satisfied as meeting and/or besting the time records for each course here is actually pretty tough stuff. You don’t need to meet any set time to pass the mission or anything like that (this is still a Kirby game, after all) but the platforming challenge is there and it’s a stiff one at times for those who choose to accept it.
With regards to the game’s combat, well it hasn’t been left on the back burner either. There’s plenty of enemy types to engage with across the various worlds and every level affords you the opportunity to tool around with any and all of your copy abilities, giving the whole thing a nicely free-flowing, experimental feel. Copy abilities are upgradeable now, too, using power stones you’ll nab from those side missions, a neat touch that sees your basic fire and sword abilities, for example, strengthened through several levels that go from your bog-standard blade or fire attack to blasting hot streams of Dragon lava and wielding Gigant sword variants that can make short work of the biggest of bad guys. It’s classic over-the-top Kirby, and it’s mirrored in a campaign that starts out with the usual forests, deserts and snowfields before escalating delightfully into much more outlandish fare which we ain’t gonna get into spoiling here.
In between missions you’ll return to Waddle Dee Town, the game’s breezy little hub area, which is slowly rebuilt and furnished with all manner of facilities and diversions as you rescue Waddle Dees from peril. You’ll start out with just a cinema for checking out cutscenes from previously played levels, but as things progress you’ll add that all-important weapons upgrade shop, Kirby’s very own house, an item store where you can pick up health and energy supplies, a bunch of minigames — Flash Fishing is our current favourite — and even a great big bloody Colosseum, where you can go let some steam off by battling through waves of the game’s bosses in order to earn some special prizes.
There’s a smart core gameplay loop at work here overall; jump in to take on story missions, hoover up Waddle Dees and hunt down upgrade blueprints, do a few side missions then return to town to sharpen your tools, spend coin down Gatcha Alley and bash some skulls in at the Colosseum. It’s a thoroughly pleasant time all around.
It’s also a credit to this game that we can’t think of a single level throughout its entire campaign that actually bothered us in any way. Usually with this type of 3D platformer there’s some area or specific gameplay mechanic along the way (yes, we’re talking about you Flipswitch Galaxy) that we see coming and think “oh no, no thanks”, but that’s just not the case here — which is quite the feat really given how much Kirby and the Forgotten Land manages to throw into the mix.
Over the course of the roughly seven hours it’ll take you to blast straight through the main game here (double that if you’re a completionist and then add another hour for post-game surprises) you’ll do battle with an impressive array of minibosses and grandstanding end-of-level baddies. You’ll ride rollercoasters, drive boats, race cars, swim, glide through the sky, burrow underground, wobble around in a body full to the brim with water, swallow a vending machine, become a lightbulb and part of a theatre sign, and more besides. Kirby and the Forgotten Land pulls all of these various aspects together — the copy abilities, the Mouthful Mode tricks, the puzzles, exploration, platforming and combat — into an adventure that’s a delight both for younger kids and adults alike. All those mismatching oddball elements are blended into a coherent whole here with a flair and seeming effortlessness reminiscent of Super Mario Odyssey. And remember, the entire thing can be played in seamless drop in/out co-op, making for a grand old time if you’re looking for something to sit down and play with your children or less experienced players.
Yes, there are a few weak points here and there, most notably with regards to the game’s penchant for wheeling out the same handful of minibosses ad nauseum, and some levels do feel like they recycle the same tricks one too many times, but by and large what’s here works, and it works well. It’s a beautiful looking thing, too, absolutely jam-packed full of environmental detail and lovely little animations that, besides a couple of very minor frame rate wobbles, manages to play and perform almost perfectly in both docked and handheld modes.
Each and every one of the worlds you bound through here looks and sounds the absolute business, from the lush overgrown ruins of Natural Plains to the crystal clear waters of Everbay Coast and beyond, it really is great-looking stuff that’s driven forward by a delightfully triumphant orchestral score. We love the range of expressions Kirby shows off in this adventure, too, his personality really shining through the side-glances, grimaces, panicked looks and wonderfully caring little smiles he dishes out to Waddle Dees as he rescues them. The little details here almost left us feeling bad for some of our expressive enemies at times, most especially the game’s doggos, who don’t seem to know whether they’re meant to be bad guys half the time. You’ll find them asleep and blowing bubbles on a bench before they stir to life and take stock like “oh, oh yes, I’m supposed to be a bad guy, that’s right!” It’s delightful.
After the somewhat disappointingly safe Kirby Star Allies, this latest adventure feels like a proper celebration for Kirby, a great big 30th anniversary bash that’s stuffed to the gills with fun times, a grand — and suitably OTT — main campaign, tons of side activities, minigames, collectibles, seamless co-op play and more besides. Kirby and the Forgotten Land is the very best this franchise has been since Kirby: Planet Robobot, and if you know how much we like Robobot, you’ll know that’s quite the recommendation.