Developer: HAL Laboratory, Inc
Rating: E for Everyone 10+
Kirby’s adventure seems to never end—a good thing for us Kirby fans everywhere. The pink fluffy hero is one of Nintendo’s biggest IPs, and they always make sure to give him his time in the spotlight. The biggest recent release to the franchise is Kirby: Star Allies, the first Kirby game on the Switch and the first main Kirby game since Kirby and the Rainbow Curse in 2016 for the Wii U. Star Allies is a return to the classic platforming style that we have not seen on consoles since Kirby’s Return to Dreamland in 2011 for the Wii.
Star Allies broke records in the US when it first released, becoming the fastest selling Kirby title, beating the previous record-holder, Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland. It quickly reached number four in the list of most popular games for the month of March. As of March 31, Star Allies has sold more than 1.2 million units worldwide. Nintendo does not show signs of ending support for it, since DLC continues to be available — the next package being set to release for free on July 27.
Violence: Kirby games have always been violent, but non-graphic in nature. While you attack enemies with spikes, fire, or bombs, the enemies themselves simply flinch and disappear in a white flash of stars. When attacking, Kirby will have an angry pair of eyes, but that is the extent of his face. Kirby’s copy ability normally requires him to suck in foes and swallow them. But in this game, he is able to throw hearts onto foes and turn them into his allies, thus eliminating any need for his sucking ability.
Spiritual Themes: Interestingly enough, these games tend to suddenly have a dark theme or a villain that desires for darkness and chaos. While Kirby stands for good and light, the game will turn the spotlight off of Kirby for a short while and onto the villain, presenting lengthy monologue of the villain’s true intentions. In this game, we take a dive into this villain’s ideas and fantasies, revealing that they truly wish for all things to come to an end and for chaos to reign supreme. This is unexpectedly dark and the only conclusion is to put a stop to their schemes. No deity nor any supreme force or power is ever spoken about in Kirby games. The only idea of this we get is from the villains. I wonder if one day, we will get a peek into the deeper lore of Kirby’s universe.
Positive themes: Star Allies focuses on friendship and turning would-be enemies into allies—hence the title. Even rivals and old villains from past games can be called upon to aid Kirby in his quest. Time and time again, Kirby is brought down by villains, but he finds a way to rise up and defeat his foes. Endurance, love, strength, hope, friendship, and joy are all themes that emanate from these games. The topics focused on in Star Allies are friendship and hope in the face of ultimate despair.
It’s your favorite, steadfast, courageous and cute pink fluff, back for another adventure. The story opens up on a mysterious dark heart exploding into hundreds of pieces across the galaxy. One falls on Kirby, and suddenly, he finds he is able to convert his enemies into friends. Not much is revealed about the story until you reach the end of Popstar, Kirby’s home planet. There, we find out that these members of a cult are in the process of collecting the dark heart shards to put the heart back together. The reason for this being to awaken an ominous chaos beast.
As you progress through levels and worlds, more and more of the story is revealed. I won’t spoil it too much, but the story’s conclusion becomes obvious less than halfway through. That is not to say that the story is bad, since it still provides some background as to why Kirby is platforming through the universe again. Story has always been told by short character interactions or short cutscenes that have little to no dialogue. Despite the way the story is presented, it is remarkably easy to understand what is happening.
Platforming is the lifeblood of Kirby games. Like Kirby 64 and Super Star before it, Star Allies has some of the best platforming in Kirby history. Each level has its own design, different enemies to dodge, and puzzles to solve. Beside his ability to swallow foes, Kirby can float and fly. But there are many abilities that allow Kirby to jump and fly in more fun ways than his own. For example, Kirby can obtain the bird ability, giving him wings and allowing for faster flight and maneuverability through the course.
Speaking of abilities, Star Allies will not leave you wanting in new abilities to use and different variations of old ones. In an attempt to make old things new, HAL seems to have added different power-ups the player can add to old moves such as the sword, cutter, and hammer abilities. Make an ally out of an electrical enemy and press up on the D-pad. Instantly, your ally will zap your weapon and behold! Your hammer is now electrified! The attack goes up on your ability and you can also use it to solve puzzles.
Many of the puzzles in Star Allies require a meshing of certain abilities in order to solve them. Frequently, there will be a puzzle within a puzzle and it will require several different abilities to solve it. Bringing different kinds of allies along is necessary and allows for easy access to these needed abilities. If Kirby does not have the needed ability, usually the corresponding enemy will be right outside the puzzle’s door and can be quickly retrieved and used. Puzzles have unlimited attempts without having to play the entire course again, giving the player plenty of time to solve it.
This brings up the biggest grievance I have with the game. Unlimited attempts are given, obvious hints are posted at the beginning of each puzzle, and abilities are readily accessible and conveniently placed within the puzzle room. Not only that, but Kirby can have up to three allies fighting with him. When platforming, the player will not even have to push a single button; the AIs will attack and punish any foes standing in Kirby’s way. The general story mode difficulty is set way too low and unfortunately, it takes a toll on the game.
This is not at all surprising as it seems to be a growing trend among modern Kirby games. They’re just way too easy, simply put. Super Star and Kirby 64 were quite challenging and still are. If you return to those games today, the puzzles can still stump you and the bosses are still pretty tough to beat. But more and more I see that—beginning with Kirby’s Return to Dreamland in 2011—the games have lost their challenge and as a result have lost some of their charm. With the exception of Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, only due to a completely different gameplay mechanism, the beloved Kirby games are becoming effortless. If I can walk through an entire level without pushing a single button, then there’s a problem.
Aside from that, one thing that I welcome among the modern Kirby games is the nostalgia. Star Allies is not shy in its callbacks to several old Kirby games, welcoming back old allies and even bringing back some old enemies being made available for use as an ally. Marx, the main villain at the end of Kirby Super Star, has suddenly had a change of heart and now fights for Kirby; his freakish and form-defying attacks now directed to your enemies. There is also an entire level devoted to the original Kirby’s Dream Land which was released on the Gameboy in 1992. It’s great to see HAL pay homage to its roots and also think of new abilities and fresh adventures for Kirby to go on. For that I am thankful and I applaud them for their devotion to the franchise.
Even though the story mode might be too easy, there are different game modes to try out in Star Allies including a few mini games to play with friends, a boss attack mode, and a story mode time attack played by ally characters only. The boss attack mode, aptly named “The Ultimate Choice,” is quite challenging and will require strategy and wisely choosing which abilities will be most effective against a certain boss.
Last, but not least, the music in Kirby games has always been magnificent and high-quality. From the composer himself, in an interview done with Forbes, Hirokazu Ando describes Kirby’s music as having a “fast tempo with frenetic transitions, as if the music notes themselves are dancing around. Music like that naturally ends up having a richness that people don’t get tired of hearing.” I agree. One of my favorite tracks from Star Allies is “Planet Earthfall” and you can check it out here.
Kirby: Star Allies is a fantastic game filled with both old and new content alike. Transform into a Kirby spider, power-up your weapon with fire, ice, water and more, and fight alongside old friends and foes. There is a lot to do in this game, not to mention collectibles. And although the game might be too easy and produces little challenge, the content and adventure alone that it contains is enough for fans and newcomers alike to enjoy it. Nintendo continues to release DLC for it as well, retaining its relevance. A lot of time and effort was put into this game and it shows. It’s good to know that Kirby remains treasured among developers and fans; this game is proof.
The Bottom Line