Kirby has a very colorful history with Nintendo, beginning on the Game Boy and eventually appearing on every Nintendo console since, the lovable puff ball has had his fair share of experiences. Almost every time Nintendo has tried to experiment with Kirby, I’ve enjoyed it, though I’ve always thought games like Rainbow Curse and Epic Yarn did great jobs at giving Kirby something different to do besides basic platforming. Despite this, I constantly find myself wanting a Kirby experience that’s more back-to-basics.
Kirby Star Allies cuts away all the kooky gimmicks and experimental gameplay elements of previous games and goes (almost) back to basics. You’re playing as Kirby, you can copy abilities from your enemies, and you must make your way through levels, bosses and even some light puzzles to save the world once more from a cosmic threat. I appreciated where Kirby went with games like Mass Attack, Epic Yarn and the Curse games. They all did something different. Triple Deluxe and Robobot were both great too. Star Allies just feels like a distillation of what made the original Kirby games so great.True to the saccharine aesthetic, Star Allies is all about Kirby and his friends. Through new powers obtained in the opening moments, Kirby can befriend most enemies by throwing a heart at them, letting them tag along behind him. Of course, he can inhale them himself to copy their abilities too, giving Kirby a hefty repertoire of over twenty different abilities. The classics are all here – Beam Kirby can vanquish enemies with crackling energy whips, while Sword and Ninja Kirby make short work of foes with precise slices of their blades. Most move lists are surprisingly varied too – some abilities have over ten moves to use.
Newer abilities add to the chaos in some fantastic ways too – the Painter ability lets Kirby summon attacks by painting them on an easel or creating a sculpture and then beating the crap out of enemies with it. Spider Kirby can entangle enemies in sticky webs or create webby platforms to help friends across too. Other abilities like Festival are one use only, with this one giving Kirby an extravagant feather head dress and dancing all the enemies off screen. It’s ridiculous, and it’s chaotic, but it’s hard not to smile while Kirby dances with his friends.
What Star Allies does well is bringing a sense of synergy to your team. At any point in the game, Kirby can raise his weapon and one of his friends will either buff his weapon with their own element or combine their ability with devastating results. What impressed me the most about this system is the application to puzzles – sometimes a waterfall could be stopped with the Parasol ability, or it could be frozen solid with the Blizzard ability. The same carries across for combat too, with fire enemies being defeated quicker with water buffed attacks – though most normal attacks will still work.
But even more impressively, if Kirby doesn’t have any of the abilities needed to cross an obstacle or solve a certain puzzle, his allies will jump in to do something for him. Signified by an exclamation mark above their head, they’ll quickly rush to carry out the task they need to before letting Kirby progress. It sounds like it’s mollycoddling players a bit too much, but it’s done in such an unobtrusive way that it helps the pacing rather than forcing an unnecessary backtrack to grab a power you might have missed.
When you hear that Star Allies is a game where your AI friends must help you out from time to time, I’d understand if you rolled your eyes. Thankfully, when playing Solo, the AI for your allies is surprisingly quick to respond and efficient. It’s a bit corny to say something like this, but the way they react to and actively help Kirby as he comes across obstacles makes them feel much more alive than a weirdly behaving NPC in any other game. Obviously, they also participate in battles with Kirby too, and on more than one occasion dealt the killing blow on the game’s many bosses.
Every now and then you’ll call upon your allies to carry out a Friend Action. These lead to gameplay moments that break up the standard platforming gameplay. Friend Train and Friend Circle both play out like an endless runner, with Kirby and friends relentless pushing forward and destroying anything they crash through. Friend Bridge has a few more puzzle elements, requiring you to lead friends to safety and bridge the gaps to stop them from falling. Friend Star turns the game into a Gradius-esque shooter, letting you fly and shoot down enemies. There’s a few others too, but they’re a nice surprise and comprise of the most wholesome moments in gaming.All of this is great but there’s something underpinning it that will either make or break Kirby Star Allies for you – it’s very easy to cruise through. It seems asinine to mention the low difficulty of a Kirby game – as it’s as much of the design as high difficulty is to a series like Dark Souls – but Star Allies is a cruisy game that most older players will breeze through. Almost every level I played, I found everything on my first run through too. That’s not to say that Star Allies is a bad game because it lacks a challenge – it’s not. Instead, it’s a much more relaxing platforming experience that’s so charming that it’s hard to put down.
Things can get a little bit more heated when you hand the controller to a friend though. Whenever you befriend a new ally, another player can take control of them. It’s a neat little feature that supports up to three additional players, and the combination of powers and abilities means that the action gets hectic quickly. Thankfully, as the game is lenient, the chaotic nature of the game means any deaths or mishaps are quickly recovered from and don’t stop the fun in a group.Star Allies feels like a warm, cuddly love letter to Kirby games of old, and this is no different for the game’s runtime. For the average player, most will breeze through Star Allies in four to six hours. Compared to other games, I’d even wager it’s got less of a story mode than Planet Robobot or Triple Deluxe, but only slightly less. As mentioned previously, there’s things to find in each level – including big switches that unlock paths into secret levels – but they’re seldom hidden well.
Beyond the story, several other modes are unlocked once you’ve completed the game, which are basically fleshed out score and time attack modes. Higher difficulty modes are also unlocked though I’d love to have been able to run through these on my first try. The length is bound to be a deal breaker for some players, as this game feels about the same of the length of the 3DS titles but is slightly more expensive.
As you’d expect, from presentation perspective, Kirby Star Allies is absolutely on point. Everything is bright and colourful, the animations are simplistic and yet so great at giving all the characters personality. Just watching Kirby plod along so innocently after he whips, maims, slashes and pummels his enemies into oblivion is such a huge part of why Kirby is so charming. He’s easily Nintendo’s most violent mascot yet the cutest. The soundtrack is especially fantastic too, featuring some remixes of some classic tunes but in a way that’s never really been heard before in a Kirby game. It’s different, but familiar.
THE NINTENDO SWITCH VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
Kirby Star Allies is a cute and chaotic traditional Kirby game with fantastic buddy AI and strong potential as a co-op experience. It pays fantastic homage to its roots while adding in new mechanics that work well. Unfortunately, the length of the experience will have some doubting whether it’s truly worth it, but Kirby Star Allies is one of the most wholesome Switch games you can try right now.