There are two kinds of Kirby games: Those that follow the traditional platforming of the series, with Kirby able to copy the abilities of his enemies, and those that rip Kirby out of the platforming genre and do something more out of the box. 2004’s Kirby and the Amazing Mirror lies somewhere in between the two halves of the series.
Amazing Mirror has the same basic gameplay of the traditional Kirby games, with the spherical pink hero being able to steal the powers of the bad guys he eats. He can jump, slide and fly, as is the norm for Kirby. But unusual for the series is that Amazing Mirror falls into the Metroidvania genre, with the level-based progression of most Kirby titles being tossed aside in favor of one big, explorative world.
The game world is divided into nine themed “areas,” each one containing a major boss as well as mid-bosses, in addition to the usual sub-bosses from the Kirby series. Though you don’t have to complete one-hundred percent of the map to complete the game, you will have to defeat every area’s main boss in order to finish the game, as each of them holds a fragment of the titular Amazing Mirror, which works as a portal to another world where a kidnapped Meta-Knight has been taken.
The Metroidvania setup is a unique take for the series, and was previously only touched on in the “Great Cave Offensive” sub-game of Kirby Superstar. It’s a refreshing change, but on the downside, the layout of the game could have used a little more polish, since the world of Amazing Mirror can be a bit on the confusing side.
You’ll find yourself backtracking very frequently, as certain powers are needed to reach some areas. Unfortunately, this can prove to be more tedious than you might think, because the game world is so large and it’s often confusing where certain areas connect with others.
Each area contains a map that can be found in a large treasure chest, but the maps aren’t nearly as helpful as they are in other games of the genre. Whereas Metroid and Castlevania’s maps give a clear indication of where one area connects with another, Amazing Mirror instead displays different sections as squares with lines in between them. Though it shows how many sections connect with each other, it’s a little too vague to provide any more help than a basic idea of where to go next.
The game does provide a hub room which you can go back to at any time, but it doesn’t connect with each of the nine areas. Instead, you have to search through the areas themselves to find doors to some of the other areas, so if you need to backtrack for any reason it can become an arduous process.
A key feature to the game’s original Game Boy Advance version that’s no longer present in the Wii U Virtual Console version is the multiplayer. In Amazing Mirror, Kirby has been split into four different colored versions of himself (the original pink, as well as red, yellow and green). The game was originally built with multiplayer in mind, with all four players being able to venture together or go their separate ways throughout the game’s world. Some of the game’s hidden treasures (which include Music CDs and other collectibles) even require the aide of multiple Kirbys to reach them. Kirby still has his cell phone that allows him to call the other Kirbys for help, but their AI is so unreliable it turns claiming even the simplest treasure chest into a chore.
Amazing Mirror also houses a trio of mini-games to play, but again this is a feature intended for multiplayer. You may have some quick bursts of fun with them, but unless you’re playing the GBA original with friends, the mini-games don’t have much staying power.
The core gameplay remains fun, as is always the case with Kirby. Some new powers introduced here include Cupid, which allows Kirby to fly more freely and shoot arrows, Missile, which naturally transforms Kirby into a wildly-controlled missile, and Smash, a cool power that gives Kirby his moveset from the Super Smash Bros. series. These powers are nice, but don’t add a whole lot to the experience. It’s a shame that they’ve rarely shown up in the series since, however, as they could have been expanded on. One missed opportunity of a power comes in the form of Magic which, despite the promising name, ends up being little more than a random roulette wheel with varying effects (like giving Kirby a different power, of all things).
Another normality for the series are the quality visuals and sound. The game still looks impressive today, the character designs are simple and cute, and the game loses none of its visual charm when brought up to scale on a TV screen. The soundtrack is similarly lively, with a number of catchy tracks and memorable tunes.
Kirby and the Amazing Mirror remains a fun game in essence, and I long for the day that Nintendo decides to revisit the concept of a Metroidvania Kirby. But the map and layout of the game hinder the otherwise interesting change of pace for the series. And the game’s emphasis on multiplayer features means the original GBA release is still the preferred version. Not to mention this is the only Kirby game in history to not feature King Dedede in any capacity. Now that’s just shameful.