Kirby Star Allies Nintendo Switch Review by SwitchWatch

Developer: HAL Laboratory

Publisher: Nintendo

Release Date: March 16th 2018

Price as of Article: $59.99 USD, £49.99 GBP

Introduction

*Review copy provided by Nintendo UK

Kirby Star Allies is a very important title for Nintendo in many respects. For a start it’s not only the Big N’s second major title of 2018, but it’s also the first brand new game since the first game of 2018 was the port of Bayonetta 2. After a stellar first year line up for the Switch filled with tonnes of top tier games including Mario Kart, Zelda, Splatoon and Super Mario Odyssey, the second year of the Switch’s lifespan could give a chance to the well-loved but often secondary characters that Nintendo fans crave. In that regard, Kirby is the one leading the way and honestly, there’s no better pink fluff ball to do that.

kirby makes a friend
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Story

The story of Kirby Star Allies is a simple one, as is often the case in the series. The Kirby universe has been tainted with dark hearts during an attempt to summon a great evil by an unknown sorcerer. Kirby’s old foes and allies have all been struck by these hearts including King Dedede and Meta Knight; Kirby was lucky however and missed it during his snooze. After waking up and curious as to what has gone on, Kirby sets out to put the galaxy right again and stop a catastrophe from happening.

Audio

Kirby games are well known for their often sublime soundtracks. Indeed I would happily argue that Raindow Curse on the Wii U has the best soundtrack of any game on that console full stop. Kirby Star Allies is in true keeping with the series in possession of some fantastic tunes to help take your adventure to the next level. Nobody does upbeat happy-go-lucky adventure quite like the early stages of a Kirby game do, only to then explore the depths of different styles later on to match themes of the worlds. It’s not afraid to experiment with different moods and feelings and I can really appreciate that.

You can argue that the Kirby series often relies too heavily on remixes of classic songs rather than daring to go original but in my opinion they do so well to update and change them that they always seem fresh yet incredibly relatable. Kirby Star Allies has a top-tier soundtrack for me. I especially love the integration of retro tunes in some of the bonus stages as it really brings back some nostalgic feelings for me.

Visuals & Performance

kirby star allies tropical
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Visually the game is sublime as you’d expect from HAL Laboratory, who seemed to have made so many Kirby games that they’ve absolutely perfected the art style. With the power of the Switch they’ve really had the chance add a lot of colour to proceedings which is just pop off the screen. It’s got a very distinct style to it especially with the hazy backgrounds. The amount of depth and scale in them is fantastic. Sometimes I stopped playing properly for a few seconds just admire and fully take in what it had to offer. 

Sure, it has the classic Kirby simplicity to it where there’s not a whole lot of complexity to models or assets like platforms and such but that goes with Kirby’s art style. Geometry is very simple and models and effects up close, can end up not looking the best.

While it does look gorgeous there is the issue of how the game is presented. This is the kind of game that really should be 60 frames per second to really make the wonderful art style come alive to its fullness. Sadly the gameplay in Kirby Star Allies is locked at 30 frames which, while it doesn’t hinder anything and is perfectly fine in the end, it does stop it reaching its full wonderful potential. I can see how having four players at once throughout the game can take a strain on the performance and, in certain circumstances, even the 30 frames per second can falter slightly. It’s still a small shame we couldn’t have had it in glorious 60fps clarity though.

Gameplay

The gameplay is just distilled adorable platforming in a 2.5D environment. Kirby’s usual antics and abilities are present, he’s still able to puff up his cheeks and keep himself airborne for long periods and, while the series is prone to a new gimmick or two in his games, there’s aways been one constant mechanic that meshes the series together and that is the Copy Abilities. Kirby’s famous skill to suck up poor enemies, press down to swallow them and then gain an ability from them is legendary. It’s still here of course and more deep than it’s ever been thanks to the Allies System.

While in Star Allies, it may not exactly be dangerous to go alone, you’ll definitely want to take advantage of the Allies System by which you can convert up to three enemies to join forces with you in the level. This is done in the most Kirby way possible, you press the X button to launch a heart at your foe and turn them to your side. From there, they will follow you every step of the way, crushing those who oppose you and helping out with environmental puzzles, especially if it’s something to do with their specialty, like fire users lighting the fuse to bombs and canons.

kirby shooting out of canons
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Once part of your marauding team of cuteness they can either be controlled by the computer or by friends sat on the sofa next to you. This is where your eyes will either light up or slump. Kirby Star Allies is primarily aimed at co-operative play with your friends beside you in chaotic 4-player action. I went into Kirby Star Allies with the prejudice that it would be a good co-operative game but a hollow single player one. That is categorically wrong. I played through the whole game first by myself and loved it. Only after I finished it did I invite a few friends over to play with me, and sure it’s a lot of fun, fantastic in fact, but I enjoyed playing by myself just as much. They are two really different experiences and both are definitely worth having. Play it alone or by yourself, you’ll have a good, adorable time either way.

The AI of the computer controlled allies is mostly top notch, almost too good at times, especially in the combat department. They can easily take care of themselves and do plenty of the graft work. There were a couple of times where I was stuck without an attack and yet they bravely fought off the boss alone. There are times where it can be difficult to get them doing what you want them to do when it comes to ability mixing (which I’ll talk about soon), but it’s still remarkably smart. I think I’d have more trouble organising children to do what the AI is capable of doing here.

Abilities seems to include a lot of service for fans, they’ve really reached down the back of the sofa to bring back some forgotten abilities to Star Allies. For example the Cook copy ability is back after only 2 previous appearances, the last being in Kirby & The Amazing Mirror on the Game Boy Advance. After only one mainline appearance in Super Star Saga way back when, the Yo-Yo copy ability is back in the fold too. Even things like the Refrigerator from Kirby 64 are referenced with Kirby’s new Artist ability. I’m sure everything present in this game will make long time fans of the series very happy.

There are a lot of different abilities and allies in the game. And to top things off there’s a mixing system in place, something which has very rarely occurred in the series and fans have been crying out for more of since the concept was first introduced in Kirby 64. Not every ability is mixable, but a large amount of them are. For example, if Kirby has the Sword ability equipped, if he holds his weapon up many of the supporting cast can add elements to them, maybe fire, ice, wind or water. These are the basics but there are other quirky combinations like combining Ice with the Stone ability and shooting a curling stone across the screen. There’s a lot of fun using and discovering all of these combinations and it often gives you a smile when you discover something adorable.

kirby copy mixing sizzle bomb
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I’ve talked a little about gimmicks in Kirby games before that help differentiate one entry from another and, while the Allies and ability mixing systems do that, there’s always usually one big super gimmick that’s added to the gameplay. In Triple Deluxe you had the Hypernova, in Planet Robobot you had the mech suit, in Star Allies you have the Friend Abilities which is a title so sickeningly sweet I don’t think I can handle it. This is where everyone on the team joins up to form tool or weapon. There’s the Friend Train which charges full steam ahead, even up walls, Friend Bridge which is used to solve puzzles by guiding a key barer to a locked door, the gloriously named Friend Circle in which you pelt down a hill and destroy walls. There’s not a lot and I think there could have been a few more added in just to give extra variation in this department.

Saying that though; the varied abilities, new and old, the Friends Abilities, the Allies System as well as the combination potential means that Kirby Star Allies could be one of the more deep and diverse games in the series yet, at least in the mainline games. Sure, it’s following a standard gameplay formula set out by Triple Deluxe, Planet Robobot and especially Return to Dreamland but I feel there’s more variety than ever and it’s a real celebration of the Kirby series.

kirby friend bridge
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The level design is important in any platforming game, especially in a full priced Nintendo one. As you’d expect it follows pretty much previous Kirby games. Levels are divided into smaller sections that Kirby has to traverse through to, there’s often a lot of verticality to levels thanks to Kirby’s ability to traverse upwards.

Levels have their own distinct theme to them whether it be ice, caves, underwater and so on and they each have gimmicks that take advantage of the situation. For example the volcanic areas will have molten rocks flying down, the water levels will have currents you need to master and so on. I would say that it’s not exactly the most creative of games when it comes to level design. It’s a bit standard to be honest. Most of the ingenuity comes from mixing abilities and working together with your allies to solve puzzles and such.

Boss battles are a highlight of the game for me. There are a surprising amount present in this game which is great. You’ll fight a myriad of big baddies with plenty of them from games past and new. From the classic Whispy Woods to the trio of the big baddie’s cronies, there’s plenty of variety. They present the biggest challenge of the game, although that’s still not much for a seasoned gamer; young children may need a bit of help in the later ones for sure. What I thought was a great aspect of the bosses was the strengths and weaknesses they possess against different elements. Yes, Whispy Woods will be burned to a crisp if all of your allies are equipped with fire. On the other hand, you may take much longer to take him down if you all have water elements on your weapons.

kirby swole dedede
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That leads me nicely on to difficulty. Yes, Kirby Star Allies is an easy game. Probably too easy. I died a couple of times, once from my own idiocy of walking off a cliff and then one or two from a boss battle that I just wasn’t prepped for or (more than likely) was a little too cocky for my own good. Kirby is, and always will be, a series primarily aimed at a younger audience and that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that. I didn’t find it a challenge, but I still enjoyed playing through the game in a very relaxed way with a smile on my face, no sweat on my brow.

Guest Star mode is unlocked after completing the 6 hour story mode. This is almost a time trial mode where an eclectic mix of various stages are able to be completed while using characters other than the Kirbs himself. You can play as some old allies and enemies and, even though on paper it sounds a bit of a simple, lazy mode, I actually found it rather compelling being able to take on the stages with different beasts rather than Kirby. While the timing aspect provided a decent incentive, it was the variety of characters that I enjoyed more.

Another mode is the Ultimate Choice mode which is this game’s version of a boss rush. You have a difficulty slider akin to the one found in games like Kid Icarus Uprising which can be set to either really easy (as with the rest of the game) or you can whack it right up to the top which will give even the most skilled of gamers a tough challenge. From a personal perspective, I’m not usually a boss rush kind of guy, even if the bosses in the story mode were one of the highlights. I like my breaks between battles. I know some of you will love this mode though, especially testing yourself in the highest difficulties which need to be unlocked.

As with most Kirby games there are two mini games to distract you from the main event. They’re not exactly great, especially when compared to what HAL have produced in the past. Here we have two simple and not particularly compelling games called Star Slam Heroes and Chop Champs. The former comprises of a home run contest basically, hit the meteor as hard and as far as you can by timing your power bar and hit. The other game has a tree you need to cut down as much as you can in the time. You can switch which side of the tree you want to cut and you will need to in order to avoid enemies. Both games can be used with motion controls although I found Chop Champs to be very unresponsive with it. Star Slam Heroes faired much better, not that I will be playing either ever again after the review.

kirby star allies mini game
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Value

As a full priced retail game, Kirby Star Allies is going against huge competition with the likes of Super Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild and in that regard you must be wondering how it could possibly compete for your cash if you only have money to buy one? Kirby Star Allies comes with the highest of price points for a base game on the eShop. Is it worth $60 or £50 of your hard earned cash? That’s a tough one. Of course these are just digital prices which I do consider to be a bit high, but the retail copy should be about 20-25% less than that which is a much more reasonable price point in my opinion. The game isn’t the longest, about 5 or 6 hours for a first play through and collecting everything. The Guest Allies will add a couple more hours to that, as will Ultimate Choice. In all you’ll probably get about 10 hours for the price you pay. Replayability? Sure, why not. I wouldn’t say no to having few friends over and playing again.

Pros

P

Mixing abilities

P

Fun by yourself and with friends

P

Excellent music

Cons

P

Level design is standard

P

30 fps is disappointing