E3 2011 hands-on: Kirby Mass Attack

(This article comes courtesy of N-Sider, a site for well-adjusted Nintendo fans. N-Sider has served the Nintendo community for more than a decade.)

While there’s been a decent amount of good software this year, there really hasn’t been much in the line of that particular joy you get when you’re playing software that is totally new. Wii U isn’t yet mature, and Nintendo has said they’re currently more interested in building a familiar franchise library for 3DS than dipping their toes into more experimental waters.

But even though nobody’s really talking about it—its “announcement” at the Nintendo press conference consisted of a logo that popped up amongst many others on the stage backdrop when the presentation concluded—there is one title hidden away in that booth, without a sign to indicate where you can find it, attached only to roving booth attendants offering it to Wii U line-standers who seemed to be just as happy to play Face Raiders instead—that embodies that very joy. It’s got a familiar pink star headlining it, but it’s a brand new adventure that I think has the potential to really surprise players who seek it out.

kirby mass attack 1That title is Kirby Mass Attack, and the reason Nintendo likely didn’t dedicate space to it was less that they weren’t proud of it and more that it’s for the DS—the very notion that there are still noteworthy DS titles coming yet from Nintendo is surprising.

Kirby Mass Attack, a HAL Laboratories production near as we can tell (as was the classic Canvas Curse), is played exclusively with the stylus on the DS’ touch screen, and has some surface similarities to a side-scrolling Pikmin. The demo was not only hidden away, but entirely in Japanese, so you’ll have to forgive me if I get some details wrong—but that said, even without textual guidance, the concepts are fairly easy to comprehend.

You start off the game with a single Kirby who will follow your stylus across side-scrolling levels. In the first level you’ll find fruit scattered on the ground, which you’ll quickly learn is your best friend. Tapping or walking up to a piece of fruit will make Kirby eat it, and eating fruit fills the bar on the top screen, with various fruits giving you various scores. Fill the bar to 100 and it’ll roll over to zero and add another Kirby to the fray—Maxim Tomatoes are great for this, as they’re an instant 100-point boost. You can repeat this process until you have ten Kirbies on the screen.

So now that you’ve built up an army of Kirbies, what can you do with them? You can make them attack enemies by tapping the enemies repeatedly—much like in Pikmin, the bigger the swarm, the harder they fall. You can toss them up to platforms, onto enemies, onto stage features, or smash them through breakable blocks with swipes of the stylus. You can also do a really cool move where you hold the stylus to gather them all together and draw a line they can ride anywhere else they can reach on the stage—it reaches quite far, though eventually it’ll start turning red and you’ll need to stop.

I mentioned you can toss (and also move with the aforementioned gather line) them onto stage features; there are actually quite a number of these. Vines hanging down from the ceiling need to be pulled by a Kirby to pull them out—some need a certain number of Kirbies—in order for you to reap the rewards behind them. Plants sticking up out of the ground can be pulled down and out of the way by Kirbies hanging on them. Turnips operate similarly, but require you to tap repeatedly on a Kirby-face icon to pull harder and fill a meter, lest all your Kirbies go rolling away.

These levels are tied together by a world map that’s marked with the number of Kirbies you need to enter any given stage. If you’re lucky enough to end the first stage with a full army of ten, you can jump right into the boss battle—in this case against a two-screen-tall Whispy Woods, in a unique variation on his typical schtick. To defeat him, you’ll need to toss Kirbies at one of two sections of his trunk at the bottom screen, preferably the one without spikes, while using the gather move to avoid bouncing spiked fruit he’ll periodically try to drop on your collective heads.

There was some slight danger in that fight, but losing Kirbies from your army turns out be kind of a difficult prospect. Typically Kirbies are pink (duh), but if they take a hit they turn blue. If they take a hit again, they’ll start floating away as Kirby-angels, but it seems that tapping them in this state, possibly a few times, returns them to blue state again. I did not actually lose a single Kirby in the five stages I played, though I did turn many blue and had to rescue a few.

It looks like there may be a good amount of replay value hidden away in the game; many things are worth points, including 10,000-point bonuses for filling your Kirby-generation meter after you’ve already got a full 10 Kirbies in tow. In the second stage I played, I discovered a Kirby-face medal that I could only get by manipulating a plant a certain way; after that point, I found a few others, though some were inexplicably shiny and rainbow-tinted on the world map while others were just gold. There must be a reason to this, but I simply don’t know it at this time—all I know is that it looks like multiple level playthroughs are going to be necessary to get them all.

Kirby Mass Attack is currently listed as a DS retail release for September 19, and I am really looking forward to playing the full thing. It may be on the easy side, but—like other Kirby titles with the same “problem”—it looks like it’ll still be a lot of fun.

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