It can’t be stated enough that Kirby has always been the unsung hero of Nintendo. The pink, spherical star warrior has often been in the shadows of Mario, Zelda and Metroid, while quietly providing consistently entertaining and innovative experiences. So while Kirby may be relatively under the radar, he still deserves recognition for being one of Nintendo’s brightest stars. Kirby’s debut on the Nintendo Switch, Kirby Star Allies, continues the pink hero’s impressive resume. By combining elements from various titles from Kirby’s past, Star Allies provides a consistently fun experience that should rank as one of the highlights of the long-standing series.
Kirby Star Allies brings a traditional sidescrolling Kirby platformer to a home console for the first time since 2011’s Kirby’s Return to Dreamland on the Nintendo Wii. Like Return to Dreamland, Star Allies turns the Kirby experience into a multiplayer romp for up to four players. But while Return to Dreamland saw three additional players take control of Waddle Dee, Meta Knight and King Dedede, Star Allies takes a page out of fan-favorite Kirby Super Star’s playbook and allows Kirby to turn his standard enemies into partners (in addition to being able to copy their abilities). Waddle Dee, Meta Knight and Dedede are still available after certain points of the game, should players want to play as one of the series’ mainstays. But combining Return to Dreamland’s multiplayer setup with Super Star’s enemy-to-allies mechanic is Star Allies best hook.
Continuing in resurrecting elements from Kirby’s past, Star Allies also finds a means to bring in a sort of successor to Kirby 64’s ability-combining mechanic. Kirby can throw hearts at enemies to bring them to his side, and if Kirby’s team boasts the right combinations, they can work in tandem to create new powers.
Elemental abilities like fire, ice, water, spark and wind (available via the broom and bird abilities) can be added to weapon-based powers such as the sword, hammer, yo-yo, whip and ninja. Other powers can be combined for one-time special attacks (such as spark and water, which send electrified splashes at enemies for extra damage). And other powers still have unique combinations with each other, such as the ESP ability (returning from Planet Robobot) being able to join with the rock ability to perform geokinesis. It may be a little disappointing to know that not all of Kirby’s abilities can combine with each other in the same way they could in Kirby 64, but finding which abilities go together and what they produce still makes for a constantly surprising and fun experience in Star Allies.
Of course, there are a few new copy abilities thrown into the mix as well: Artist allows Kirby to attack with a paintbrush, as well as send sentient paintings and sculptures at foes. The spider abilities sees Kirby trapping enemies in webs, as well as providing trampoline-like webs for his friends to jump on. And the staff ability has Kirby walloping baddies with a bo staff. These new abilities join a host of recently returning and long-standing favorites, making for one of the most robust libraries of copy abilities Kirby has ever seen (as well as giving players two through four plenty of character options).
That’s really the core of Kirby Star Allies: working together as Kirby and his friends (who can be controlled by surprisingly competent AI when playing solo) to work as a team to gain new powers and to complete the game’s stages and solve its puzzles. There are even sections in which Kirby and company will join forces to create bridges, form a wall-climbing train, form a wall-breaking wheel, and piloting a star (for some shoot-em-up action).
The experience is consistently fun and enjoyable, and will surely leave a big smile on your face. The level design and gimmicks are varied, and though the adventure may sound short on paper at only four worlds, these worlds differ greatly in the number of levels they house, with myriads of secret stages being tucked away in each, should you be able to find their switches hidden in the standard stages. Star Allies even breaks tradition by not saving a singular boss fight at the end of each world. Instead, a number of levels end with a boss fight, and although they aren’t particular difficult (the penultimate boss was the only one that killed me in the adventure mode), the game is pretty generous with how many of them it provides. The final boss, in particular, provides one of the grander set pieces in the series’ (and Nintendo’s) history.
The easy difficulty extends past the boss fights, and indeed the entire adventure mode is a bit of a breeze. That should be expected from Kirby games by this point, and isn’t really a bad thing on its own. However, while past Kirby games have offered a host of hidden collectibles to add an extra challenge for completionists, the only hidden trinkets of Star Allies are puzzle pieces, which only unlock pieces of art work that celebrate Kirby games of the past (a fine unlockable for anyone who appreciates such things like myself, but I’m not sure they’d be incentive enough for most players to go through the trouble of seeking them out). A few extra collectibles – such as the strangely absent music tracks of past titles – could have made for an additional challenge in exploration.
If it is a challenge you want though, Star Allies follows suit with the more recent Kirby titles in providing a host of post-game modes which add some extra difficulty. But perhaps in the future it might be a nice option to have a more difficult mode available from the get-go.
Still, it’s always hard to complain too much about Kirby. Not just because the adorable characters and colorful worlds make it all too easy to smile, but because they have always provided such strong, straightforward fun. And Star Allies is certainly no exception. The charming and creative gameplay of Star Allies is joined by some truly impressive visuals (my goodness, the water effects!) and, like most Kirby games, a beautiful musical score that will, sadly, probably become underappreciated (the game playfully uses orchestral pieces for most stages, whether original or remixed tunes, while the aforementioned secret stages pull a classic track right out of Kirby’s past).
Kirby Star Allies is perhaps not the most original Kirby title: utilizing elements from Return to Dreamland, Kirby 64 and Super Star (as well as the cancelled GameCube Kirby title). But it uses these bits and pieces to create something of a Frankenstein’s monster that provides one of Kirby’s most fun adventures, while also celebrating the series’ storied history. And frankly, Kirby’s is a history that doesn’t get celebrated nearly as much as it deserves.