There’s no denying that Kirby, the pink puff ball with an insatiable appetite, is a Nintendo staple. For better and worse, the adorable creature-inhaling mascot has delivered a steady stream of familiar, yet charmingly cuddly romps fit for the whole family.
That predictability has kept Kirby in games for more than 25 years, but held him back from earning the same reverence as Nintendo’s most iconic characters. Even with a fresh mechanical wrinkle, each Kirby game winds up feeling not far removed from Dream Land circa 1993 in Kirby’s Adventure.
Kirby Star Allies, Kirby’s Switch debut, maintains that tradition with yet another playable, but predictable, experience. Throughout your journey from Dream Land to the cosmos, you turn enemies into friends and work together to solve puzzles and take on big baddies. On the surface, this twist, which creates a wide palette of new moves for Kirby, would appear to nudge the series forward in terms of strategy. Unfortunately, the friends you make along the way are a bit too perfect, making Star Allies the easiest of rides in a series known for its overabundant accessibility.
Kirby made some (too) wonderful friends
In the set-up for Star Allies, Kirby awakes from a peaceful slumber and senses a mysterious evil threatening the universe. Like of his past adventures, this leads Kirby through a series of self-contained 2.5D platforming levels to banish the maleficent force, fighting classic bosses like Whispy Woods along the way.
This time, however, Kirby doesn’t go at it alone. Kirby can recruit the help of just about every enemy he encounters to back him up and expand his arsenal of abilities. With the press of a button, Kirby can toss a pink heart at foes to turn them into friends. Kirby’s troupe of minions follow closely behind him, attacking enemies automatically on approach and collecting items.
You can play with up to three allies at one time, controlled by either friends or AI (or both) thanks to well implemented drop-in-drop-out co-op. Kirby picks the allies, so co-op players have limited options: They can only use the specific abilities of the ally they control and, while they don’t need to nip his heels, they must remain within half a screen of Kirby, give or take. It sounds limiting, the system works well, particularly when teaming up with less experienced players, as Kirby ultimately controls the game’s pace. If a friend lags behind, they get teleported right into the action.
Kirby can recruit the help of almost every enemy he encounters.
Kirby also has his tried and true copy ability, which lets him inhale and acquire most enemies’ weapons and powers: The two sets of mechanics come together in some fun ways. When Kirby’s wielding a sword, for example, Kirby can raise it up and prompt a fireball-spitting companion to imbue it with flames.
While the most obvious combos are meant for dealing with enemies, combining powers can also open up new paths. Combining moves from an electric ally and a rock smash ally sets off a chain reaction that can unlock power-ups and puzzle pieces — collectibles that, like the 3DS’ StreetPass Puzzle Swap, form jigsaw puzzle portraits of key franchise moments.
Despite offering large number of combinations of allies and copy abilities, Star Allies gives you little incentive to experiment with different combinations. When faced with a puzzle, you never have to think about those options to solve a puzzle. Star Allies presents the solution before you have time to consider the problem at hand. If you seem stumped for more than a moment, an on-screen prompt will tell you exactly what you need. Once you know what ability to use, the enemy that can grant it is always conveniently stashed nearby, often in a hidden room. The ally system opens the door for a robust array of cool animations and interesting maneuvers, so it’s a shame that the game never pushes you to use more than a core few.
That’s indicative of Star Allies approach to difficulty (or lack thereof). Even during the plethora of mini boss fights and late-stage showdowns, you’d have to be asleep at the controls to even remotely struggle. Bosses fall quickly with four allies in tow. During one boss fight, we won by floating around and letting our three AI teammates do the fighting. Kirby games have never been known for their challenge, but Star Allies seems especially conducive to just breezing through.
Pretty but shallow
The story mode’s breezy simplicity allowed us to sit back, relax, and enjoy the sights. Bubble gum visuals that pop off the screen whether in TV or handheld mode make the utter chaos of four person-team fights rather amusing to watch.
Comprised of four worlds, Star Allies has the well-trodden Dream Land and Planet Popstar — Kirby’s home planet — and two final worlds with some galactic themes and scenery. All of it blends together, though. You’ll find grassy levels where the sun shines down in both Dream Land and in the final world, Far-Flung Starlight Heroes. You’ll also find the same enemies, the same straightforward platforming with little obstacles standing in your way. While Kirby has never been a precision platformer like Mario, Star Allies virtually guarantees that your progress won’t be impeded whether you’re in Dream Land or knocking on the door of the final boss. Beyond the occasional slow-moving platform, it’s mostly a long walk or flutter to the next door.
Each level is lovingly rendered, but feels like a shell that could’ve been filled with more stuff — more action, more puzzles — especially considering how the ally system is setup perfectly for creative problem-solving.
Full of friends, light on things to do
Outside of the main campaign, there are four additional modes that come off more as time-wasters than meaningful gameplay alternatives.
Chop Champs, a precision tree-cutting game, may be the best part of Star Allies.
“Guest Star???? Star Allies Go!” lets you pick your character and three allies for a run through a roughly two-hour greatest hits compilation of the game. It’s a time attack mode featuring heath, attack, and speed power ups. While some may find the goal-oriented nature of this oddly-named mode fulfilling, you’re only really working towards finding new puzzle pieces since no online leaderboard exists to post times.
“The Ultimate Choice,” a boss rush-style gauntlet of the game’s toughest fights, ups the difficulty a touch. It can get tricky on hard, but you can still revive teammates, so it isn’t nearly as difficult as similar modes in other games.
Star Allies multiplayer offerings are rounded out with two minigames: “Chop Champs” and “Star Slam Heroes.” Chop Champs, a precision tree-cutting game, may be the best part of Star Allies. Switching from side to side to chop wood while trying to avoid chopping bugs is a surprisingly hectic delight that combines button mashing (or vigorous motion controls) with quick reaction times. It may not keep your attention for hours on end, but it’s definitely good for a few rounds. Star Slam Heroes, an intergalactic home run derby, loses its appeal much quicker.Our Take
Kirby Star Allies introduces a neat new system that gives Kirby more powers than ever before. While Kirby’s companions work well, the game never pushes players to tap its full potential. Every puzzle, every platforming sequence, and every boss fight is an absolute cakewalk — even by Kirby standards. Kirby looks good on the Switch, but this latest visit to Dream Land is too brief, too familiar, and too safe to provide more than forgettable fun.
Is there a better alternative?
Yes. If you own a Nintendo 3DS, Kirby: Triple Deluxe and Kirby: Planet Robobot both provide better Kirby experiences. If you have a Switch and need a playful platformer, you’re much better off scouring for power moons in Super Mario Odyssey.
How long will it last?
If you just complete the main missions, you’ll be done in a few hours. Unlocking and completing all the bonus missions took us just under eight hours. Boss run, the time attack, and mini games add on few more hours of fun before it gets stale.
Should you buy it?
No, not unless you plan on playing co-op with young children or really, really love Kirby.
Kirby Star Allies was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a retail code provided by the publisher.