Review: Kirby Star Allies
Kirby Star Allies is sweet on the surface, but might lack in depth and difficulty for some players.
6 April 2018 – by Taylor Ivings
Version reviewed: Nintendo Switch
Kirby has made his Nintendo Switch debut in Kirby Star Allies, coming a little more than a year after the system's launch. Developed by Nintendo and HAL Laboratory, the game features a plethora of enemies for you to inhale and take advantage of to complete each level in typical Kirby-style fashion, but there's a new gimmick this time around. Kirby Star Allies is all about teamwork; whether you team up with three of your friends or rely on computer-controlled characters, you need to work together to progress through the story. In some sections of the game, you and your allies can unleash powerful abilities by combining forces together. Once you complete the game, two new modes - including one in the style of a boss-rush mode - become available; in both of these, you can select your allies and try to complete both modes as fast as possible to get the high score. A single, Mario Party-esque mini-game is included as well, letting you hate your friends all over again.
The story has little narration - especially in the beginning - so I'll do my best to explain it here. Far off in space away from Dream Land, a cloaked being unleashes dark hearts across the universe; the hearts are shown to possess individuals they come into contact with, such as King Dedede. Kirby is hit by a dark heart as well, but instead of possessing him, it gives him the ability to convert some of his enemies into friends; these enemies conveniently have abilities which you can take advantage of in-game. After the opening sequence, Kirby takes off to find out the mystery of these dark hearts. It's a simple idea and Kirby games have never had the most engaging plots, so this wasn't a surprise, but the cutscenes look really good.
Kirby Star Allies looks and sounds incredible. Within the first level, you get hit with a wave of nostalgia as HAL and Nintendo did a fantastic job with the music. The older tracks keep the same feel but are invigorated with a fresh new sound. While the new music is decent, it's not memorable and doesn't live up the original, better-known tracks. The game's sound effects are also a little loud at times and can drown out other music, with no way of altering this in the settings.
Kirby and his allies look great; there are plenty of different enemies throughout the game and the developers didn't fall victim to just recolouring enemies the further you progress. Some parts of the game look like they've sprung right out of a children's picture book and are bright, animated, and full of colour. Something that doesn't always hit the mark is the backdrops, which I found somewhat disappointing. All this work was put into ensuring that everything on Kirby's level looked good but if you take a look at the background, it's on a loop that really has an empty feel to it. It's simplistic - and arguably a bit lazy - for something created by the likes of Nintendo and HAL.
If you're looking for a challenge, then this game may not be for you. It's easy to accumulate countless lives, and difficult to die; in fact, I died because I used an ability for the first time and sent myself soaring straight down to my demise. I oftentimes found myself not using allies until the game made me, just to make it a bit more of a challenge. The game overwhelms you with lives you don't need and health items that keep your health full most of the time, though this is less apparent during the final stages and bosses. Keep in mind this is only true of the main story mode, though, and that the more challenging post-game modes let you change the difficulty.
With all that being said, I think this game is perfect for kids and for people who may not be into video games. It's cute, forgiving, and offers a lot more gameplay for a second player than Super Mario Odyssey does. The story mode felt a little stale and boring for me near the end, but I started playing with my girlfriend - who plays games sparingly compared to myself - and it added a level of enjoyment that I didn't get playing on my own. We played at a slower pace, and I got to enjoy different aspects of the game, rather than blowing through each level like before.
The different enemies you inhale or take possession of are the bread and butter of the gameplay. There are over 20 for you and your allies to choose from; you can carry them from world to world, so if there's one you really like, hold on to it and try not to lose it. You can enhance some of the abilities, such as adding fire to your sword to deal more damage, which you can do by transforming into Sword Kirby and having a fire ally on your team. This is sometimes required to progress, solve puzzles, and even find secret areas. I like the direction they went in, but I was hoping that combining abilities would work similarly to Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, in which you could combine two completely different abilities to create something new, or combine two of the same ability to create a stronger version of it. Also included in the story mode is the Dream Palace, where you can unlock previous bosses or characters to help you on your journey - including the likes of King Dedede, Meta Knight, and others - though they only serve as allies.
My favourite part of the game, though, is the post-game boss run mode. Select your preferred ability, pick your three allies, and try to defeat boss after boss as fast as you can. I've come to expect this as a HAL classic, as I remember playing the exact same game in Super Smash Bros. Melee, which is perhaps why I enjoyed it so much. I beat the game rather quickly and have spent probably 70% of my time playing this mode. You can do whatever you like, so if you feel like messing around and having yourself and your allies be Chef Kawasaki, you can do that (and I have). This mode is so much fun that it arguably makes the game worth the price on its own.
Kirby Star Allies is a game full of great ideas, but some of them never quite hit home. The Dream Palace is a good idea, but I only found myself using it once to see what it was when I first unlocked it, and even though there are more than 20 abilities to choose from in the game, I found myself using only three or four abilities, as I found some were way more useful than others. Kirby games are usually easy, and Kirby Star Allies is no different; the surprises for me were the co-op, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and the boss run mode, which is the crown jewel of this game. If you plan on picking this up, keep an open mind and enjoy the game for what it is - don't focus too much on the difficulty.