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Kirby’s Dream Buffet is a birthday treat, but online play spoils the party

Kirby is having quite the year. The pink puffball’s 30th anniversary has been one to remember thanks to the exceptional Kirby and the Forgotten Land. That would have been enough of a gift for fans, but Nintendo threw one last birthday bash in the form of Kirby’s Dream Buffet, which is available now on the Nintendo Switch eShop for $15.

Kirby’s Dream Buffet – Overview Trailer – Nintendo Switch

The surprise multiplayer game takes elements from classic Kirby spinoffs like Kirby’s Dream Course and fuses them into a Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout-like party game. Four players compete in four rounds of minigames, gobbling up as many strawberries as possible as their Kirby balloons in size. If nothing else, its food-themed courses are sure to make you very, very hungry.

It’s a modest release, one on par with Kirby’s storied history of small-scale spinoffs, but it’s a fun one that’s full of celebratory throwbacks to the series’ past. The party is hampered by some frustrating elements though, as the game finds Nintendo’s shaky online system at its worst here.

Happy birthday, Kirby!

Kirby’s Dream Buffet is a mini-gauntlet, with multiplayer rounds taking no more than 10 minutes. Players begin on a food-filled racetrack, where they’ll need to navigate an obstacle course and roll to the finish. There are some surprisingly smart dynamics at play here. Getting the most strawberries is the name of the game, so courses tempt players to take trickier routes that contain extra fruits to collect. However, it’s still a race and the prize for getting to the end first is being able to eat a stack of 50 strawberries. The other three players will have to fight over stacks of 20 and 10, so the tension comes from getting to the end as fast as possible while still collecting plenty of fruit along the way.

Kirby rolls through an icea cream course in Kirby's Dream Buffet.

In between those races, players will do one quicker round where they’ll have to grab falling strawberries. The grand finale is a frantic timed battle where all four players are dropped onto a platform and can knock each other off it using copy abilities to steal fruit from one another. Matches go by in a flash, but they’re always energetic as lead changes are frequent. For those who love screaming at their friends during a heated Mario Party game, Kirby’s Dream Buffet brings similar chaos.

In Nintendo fashion, the stakes are still kept low enough to make it a fun party game that a kid could win. At the end of the final stage, the game awards three random bonuses, which grant players 40 extra strawberries each. I often find myself winning matches I did terribly in just because I happened to hover the most during a round. That aspect might frustrate those who want to get competitive, but it’s a Kirby game about eating strawberries. What do you expect, a thriving esports scene?

Kirbys battle on the final stage of a Kirby's Dream Buffet match.

Rather than creating a cutthroat multiplayer game, Dream Buffet is more a celebration of the franchise with a sweet premise. Ranking up lets players unlock art from the series’ past and vintage music that can play during races. The most fun I’ve had with the game so far hasn’t been from winning a round, but from loading in and having the original Kirby theme soundtrack my race in all its blipping glory.

Combine that with some wonderfully creative food levels, which are rich with detail, and you’ve got a multiplayer game that just feels like a dessert. It’s not going to fill you up like a meal, but a little sugar now and then is a treat.

Online woes

I’d be willing to sink a lot more time into Kirby’s Dream Buffet if it wasn’t for some frustrations that spoil the party. Movement generally feels a touch unwieldy, as I often find myself careening off an edge. When Kirby goes off course, he can inflate to jump back up, though he tends to just awkwardly hang in the air until he runs out of breath, as it’s hard to actually move him back onto a stage.

Those gripes are minor, but the bigger issue is Nintendo’s online infrastructure. If you’ve played a lot of Switch games online, you’re probably used to things freezing up every now and again. In my experience so far, slowdown is constant. Having the game halt to a slideshow-like stutter is a real momentum killer, especially in a racing game. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting ready to make a tricky turn only to be frozen like a popsicle for a few seconds.

I’m not sure if it’s a broader issue with the Nintendo Switch or an issue with how the developers have integrated online play here. What I do know is that it’s the same problem that’s kept me from enjoying first-party games like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Mario Tennis Aces, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and others online with friends. Kirby is the latest casualty of that trend, though it’s even more notable here since the online play is the entire game. There’s a local option and a free-roll mode, but if you’re buying it, it’s to play online.

Whatever the reason for the online problems may be, it’s adding a sour taste to my otherwise sweet time with Kirby’s Dream Buffet. I’m enjoying the quick matches, the low-stakes play, and the delicious visual design. It just feels like Nintendo made a delightful ice cream sundae and forgot to put it in a bowl.

Kirby’s Dream Buffet is available now on the Nintendo Switch eShop.

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