Right now, it seems like everyone is playing, or at least talking about, Elden Ring. FromSoftware’s open-world behemoth released to the kind of rave reviews that demand attention. Players all over the world are currently experiencing its dreary world and absolutely brutal fights. It’s a demanding experience, and one that might drain players of their energy by the end of the month.
Fortunately, there’s a natural follow-up game on the horizon. Kirby and the Forgotten Land drops on March 25 and it’s kind of the perfect Elden Ring chaser. It’s a colorful, simple platformer designed to make players smile. If the reaction to Kirby’s new Mouthful Mode is any indication, it’ll be the lighthearted comedic fare many players need in a few weeks.
I went hands-on with the game, playing through its first world, and I can confirm that it’s exactly what I want right now. Nintendo’s tried-and-true design philosophies shine through, presenting a pure fun adventure that just wants you to have a good time. Get ready to relax.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land doesn’t waste a second of joy. After waking up washed up on a beach and practicing the basic controls, I got an immediate dopamine hit. Kirby finds a rusty, old car and proceeds to swallow it whole in an uproariously funny (and delightfully grotesque) cutscene. Suddenly, I was driving around as a pink Kirbymobile, barreling through enemies, launching off of jumps, and blasting through walls. That sequence culminates in a sunny introductory title sequence backed by the game’s own peppy pop theme song.
I have never been totally smitten with a game so fast.
Despite taking the series to 3D, the Switch game isn’t actually all that different from its 2D counterparts. Levels still play out the same way, with strategically placed copy abilities scattered through mostly linear paths. If you see a special enemy suspiciously hanging out, there’s probably a good reason. In one level, for instance, Kirby can light lanterns that give hidden coins if he has the flame ability active.
Each level contains a list of objectives, from freeing captured Waddle Dees to finding secret routes. It’ll likely take a replay or two to find everything in a level, like any vintage Nintendo collectathon. Outside of that, there are Treasure Road stages that test players ability to use certain copy powers in short, timed gauntlets. In one, I need to roll bombs down slopes to hit switches before time ran out.
The first world culminates in a boss stage that’s surprisingly thrilling. Armed with a sword ability, I came face-to-face with a towering gorilla trying to smack me. I avoided its attacks by slipping between its legs and slashing it (honestly, not too different from an Elden Ring fight). It’s an easy fight, even on the game’s “harder” wild difficulty, but if there’s one thing I don’t need right now, it’s another grueling boss encounter.
Don’t come in expecting a Super Mario Odyssey-esque transformation of the entire Kirby franchise. This is the same puzzle platformer you’re used to, just with more space to run around. Everything is straightforward, with no obtuse secrets or challenges standing between you and your little hit of gaming joy.
That’s a mouthful
The main difference is Mouthful Mode, the delightful mechanic that allowed me to chow down on a jalopy. Each level introduces one or two new abilities and each one made me laugh without fail. In one level, I swallow an entire staircase, which bounces back into my body before snapping into place. When it settles, Kirby waddles around like a misshapen T-Rex. The only button prompt I get says “fall over.” Sure enough, I press B and Kirby splats face first on some unsuspecting enemies. I squealed.
In the first world’s standout level, an abandoned shopping mall, Kirby can swallow a row of lockers bolted to a wall. By turning the joystick, he wiggles around until it comes loose, revealing a map of the mall that tells him where to go next. The level culminates in the puffball swallowing an even bigger locker, and as he wriggles, the camera comedically zooms out as the entire wall collapses.
You get the sense that developer Hal Laboratory had a blast creating these. Every transformation is hysterical, with weird and wonderful animations making each one a joy to discover. Kirby’s inhale power has always been an underutilized comedic tool. It’s been used as a fairly normal puzzle-platformer mechanic in previous games, but this one finally acknowledges how absurd the concept is. It asks “What else could Kirby eat?” and then tries to make you laugh with each answer.
I’m curious to see how many transformations are available in the full game. So far, the most fun comes from discovering new Mouthful Mode powers. Considering that I’ve already seen a good chunk of the standard copy abilities, I imagine that’ll remain true in the full game. Jokes generally get less funny the more times you tell them, so I’m hoping the final adventure pushes that momentum and gives me a new reason to laugh in every world instead of repeating punch lines.
What I’m loving most of all so far is just how laid-back the experience is. The world is vibrant, the puzzles are satisfyingly straightforward, and it’s just downright cute at every turn. Sometimes you want to bash your head against a hard game to feel a sense of accomplishment. Sometimes you just want to see Kirby turn the dial on a big gashapon machine and say “aw.”
To that end, Waddle Dee Town acts as a simple hub world where the vibes are immaculate. Players build new structures as they save more Waddle Dees, like a café that serves healing items. There are even a few minigames that pop-up, like a simple food service game where Kirby has to quickly feed hungry Waddle Dees by picking the right meal.
The most important shop in town is owned by a blacksmith who can upgrade Kirby’s copy abilities in exchange for stars. While there’s only a handful of abilities in the game, this mechanic essentially doubles the number, which seems to be how it’ll keep pulling new tricks out of its hat in the long-term. When I upgraded Kirby’s standard fire breath ability, I could instead shoot out fireballs at rapid fire. It doesn’t necessarily change how I’ll solve puzzles, but it does make me feel like there’s some progress to be found if I explore levels thoroughly.
After playing the first world, my main hope is that everything keeps expanding. I want to see Waddle Dee Town grow more. I want more hilarious Mouthful Mode powers. I want to see my copy abilities evolve through the end of my adventure. As long as the game can keep delighting me level after level, I’ll be a happy camper. I’ve already played two gigantic, demanding open-world games in the past month. I’m ready to curl up on the couch, purring cat in my lap, and watch Kirby trot around like a hungry Charlie Chaplin.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land will be available for Nintendo Switch on March 25. A demo for the game is available in the eShop starting today.
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