Review: Kirby Star Allies (Nintendo Switch)
- Release Date (NA): March 16, 2018
- Release Date (EU): March 16, 2018
- Release Date (JP): March 16, 2018
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Developer: HAL Laboratory
- Genres: Platforming
- ESRB Rating: Everyone 10 and up
- PEGI Rating: Seven years and older
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
Nintendo's pink puffball hero of Dream Land requires no introduction - Kirby has been a staple of their IP line-up for as long as I can remember, and for good reason. There's something innately cute about him and his insatiable appetite, as well as his ability to turn his sworn enemies into devoted friends, which happens to be the main gimmick of Star Allies. Normally you'd expect Kirby to set out on an adventure in order to defeat King Dedede, his hammer-wielding arch nemesis, and restore order to Dream Land, as he usually does, but this time around Dream Land faces a wholly different crisis. A mysterious "Dark Heart" meteor shower rains across the land, turning otherwise peaceful creatures into vicious enemies. Kirby is also struck during the meteor shower, but he's affected in a wholly different manner - he gains the ability of "Friend Hearts" which allows him to change the baddies into buddies. Can this new power enable him to reverse this intergalactic crisis? Well, that's up to you, isn't it?
When I picked the game up and started playing, I immediately felt that Star Allies is a return to the roots of the series. Each new Kirby focuses around some kind of gimmick, but on the spectrum of gameplay, Star Allies falls pretty close to the original. It's a classic platforming game that simultaneously takes advantage of the legacy of Kirby mechanics while introducing something new - you can not only imbue Kirby with the abilities of the enemies he devours, you can actually recruit them as allies and traverse the levels as a team of up to four characters. The allies on your team interact with each other, for instance elemental allies can bestow their abilities to allies who use weapons, as well as Kirby himself. These kinds of interactions are not only important because they increase the power of your attacks, they also play a role in environmental puzzles. The level design reflects the abilities of the teams you can assemble and often times proceeding down the optimal path requires finding specific allies. But wait, there's more! Unlocking secrets within the levels unlocks Dream Palaces which allow you to recruit iconic heroes from the Kirby universe, including some truly unlikely allies - I'm not going to spoil the fun, but the teams you can build are definitely diverse. The mechanics work, they're great fun, but the game's obviously not without flaws.
As I continued playing, I can't help but feel that, to a certain extent, a meteor shower of disappointment washed over me. The single player gameplay is where the game hits its first hurdle, trips over it and falls flat. As I've already said, there's nothing inherently wrong with how the game plays - it's well-crafted and all of the abilities work exactly as intended. However, I can't help but feel that the game that surrounds the mechanics is simply lacking. Once you recruit three strong allies who are well-matched to their environment the game turns from an enjoyable platformer into a "hold right to win" simulator. The allies are smart, they're aware of their environment and before long you'll find yourself sitting in the backseat as your team solves most of the puzzles and kills most of the enemies without breaking a sweat. Your involvement becomes minimal, the level of difficulty is just too low to be challenging, and without challenge all of the enjoyment is drained since you're not actually overcoming adversity, you're watching a colourful display on an increasingly busy screen - often times too busy to react appropriately or take all the action in.
In terms of level design, the old school Kirby games I know and love had a level of verticality to them. The levels weren't just going from left to right, they were full of platforms, vertical sections and doors teleporting you all around the place, allowing for a healthy amount of exploration. Kirby's ability to fly was actually useful in gameplay, exploration is the whole reason why he needed the ability in the first place. This, for the most part, isn't the case in Star Allies, which is a shame. While I understand that games aimed at children are meant to be easy, I wish Nintendo had more faith in the young players. Perhaps I'm wearing pink sunglasses, but as far as I remember, I had no problem with difficult games as a child - quite the opposite, I think I'm more lazy now than I was back then. As a child I had hours upon hours to play games after school, now I don't have that luxury.
What makes the game limping in single player makes it shine in multiplayer, which is perhaps the proper way to approach it. Kirby Star Allies supports local multiplayer with up to four players, one taking the role of Kirby and the remaining three playing as his frenemies - with the AI mostly out of the picture, the players can actually get engaged with the puzzles designers prepared for them, making Kirby an excellent family or even a party game. If you have someone to play the game with, do it - it's better that way. The Switch is a portable and it has two Joycons for a reason, so make use of them for the best possible experience.
In addition to the main campaign the game also offers two minigames - Star Slam Heroes and Chop Champs, each with four-player multiplayer. The first is a twist on baseball - Kirby and his friends are tasked with batting meteors away from the planet, whoever bats their meteor away further wins. The second involves chopping down trees while avoiding enemies on the trunks, the more lumber you chop away the better, may the best lumberjack win. They're nothing to write home about, but it's nice to have a minigame or two to break the monotony of the normal campaign - thumbs up!
In the Pink
From the moment you first lay your eyes upon it, Star Allies looks absolutely gorgeous. The game is colourful, crisp and smooth, something about it puts you in a good mood. As far as the presentation goes, Star Allies ticks all the right boxes - it looks precisely like a Kirby game should look like, and it sounds like one too. You can expect to hear all of the familiar tunes from the franchise, and hearing them arranged once more adds a feeling of nostalgia to the experience. Everything you encounter as you traverse the galaxy is extremely cute, so cute that it comes across like a rainbow oozing out of the screen. It's not just the artistic direction that's spot-on - the graphics are quite impressive as well, which isn't something I'd normally say about a highly cartoonish title. The game never hits any hiccups in terms of framerate and the detailed panoramas alone show just how much care went into making Star Allies "feel" just right.
The way the game looks and sounds reinforces my idea that it's primarily aimed at kids, not necessarily long-term fans of the series, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's bright and inviting while retaining the classic look, a return to form and a good entry point to the series for the younger generation for whom a Switch might be their very first console. The game's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it has the trademark Nintendo polish that's sure to draw in new fans.
Long Story Short
Star Allies is pleasant, and it's pleasant for a variety of reasons. It looks pretty, it's very colourful and lively, it's easy to pick up and play and it's clearly aimed at a younger audience. Unfortunately, the low level of difficulty is a problem when the game is also relatively short. If you put your mind to it and valiantly hold that stick right, you can complete the game in a grand total of six to eight hours. Normally I wouldn't have an issue with that - as I've already mentioned, I'm not a kid anymore. I don't have an infinite amount of spare time to play games and I prefer to be challenged for a few hours rather than breeze through hundreds of hours of gameplay. Star Allies doesn't offer a challenge though, which makes me reiterate my recommendation - play the game with friends, it's perfect for short pick-up-and-play sittings. It's that kind of a platformer you break out on the go or when your friends are over, not one that you continuously replay by yourself. Of course it's not all doom and gloom, I don't want it to sound that way. Nintendo shows continued support for the title by releasing additional free DLC, and adding content to the game over time is more than welcome - it'll surely extend the longevity of the title. Besides, there's one thing a game must do, and that's to be fun to play. Kirby Star Allies is fun, and it's fun in that old school Kirby kind of way. If that sounds interesting to give the title a chance. The game feels rushed, it's short and it's flawed, but it has that gem of classic Dream Land that we all know and love,
+ Colourful and crisp graphics
+ Game runs smoothly and without any hiccups
+ The gorgeous visuals and nostalgic sound design tickle the nostalgia bone
+ Great implementation of pick-up-and-play local multiplayer
+ Large roster of recruitable classic enemies
- Level of difficulty is too low to offer a meaningful challenge
- Allies have a tendency to take the reins of the adventure, leaving the player behind
- Relatively short total play time
There's nothing I would change about how the game is presented - Star Allies is exactly like a classic Kirby game should look and sound like. There's nothing I could pick at, really - the game looks great, both on the TV screen and on the go, and it manages to be really impressive despite being cartoonish.
Scoring the gameplay is problematic with Star Allies. It almost feels like the game wasn't really designed as a single player game with the option to play with your friends, but as a multiplayer game with the option to use AI's, which would actually make sense given the fact that a Switch comes with two Joycons out of the box. With the AI's blasting away at all obstacles the player is left in the dust, only having to occasionally intervene in the puzzle sections. Upping the difficulty level or allowing players to tune it themselves would go a long way in offering a meaningful challenge to the more seasoned gamers.
I can't imagine Star Allies having the longevity of other typically multiplayer games - once you finish the campaign by yourself and then with a group of friends, that's that. Nintendo's adding new content to it via DLC, but there's only so much they can add to an already short game. Short and sweet, but short nonetheless.
out of 10
(not an average)
Kirby Star Allies is the first installment of the series on a brand-new console and it bears all the signs of a somewhat rushed game that's testing the waters on new hardware. That being said, it has a gem of classic Kirby gameplay, it's nostalgic and immediately enjoyable from the moment you pick it up to the moment you put it down. If you enjoy Kirby, pick Star Allies up, but keep your expectations moderate - it's not a perfect game, it's just a good one, and that's fine.