For all the talk about Mario, Zelda and Samus over the years, it’s easy to forget the little pink puffball that could. Though Kirby certainly doesn’t have the pulling power of a new Legend of Zelda title, nor the clout to have a full E3 expo presentation or orchestra tour, there’s no doubting his unique appeal both in design and function. There’s a number of other reasons why he’s my personal favourite Nintendo character but I’ll get to them in a moment, as right now I want to talk about his most recent adventure released last week on 3DS.
Kirby: Planet Robobot sees our little hero awoken to the sounds of explosions and strange starships in the sky. With little dialogue or explanation outside of the opening cut scene, you’re thrown straight into it in familiar Kirby fashion, sucking up bad guys and jumping/floating through side-scrolling levels. It doesn’t take long, however, for the unique twists of this new adventure to appear, and they really do change things up for the better.
If you’re un-familiar with the series, here’s the basics. Kirby has the ability to suck up or eat his enemies, some of which provide him new abilities based on their form. There’s a myriad of different enemies across the series, fire breathers or sword wielders, and Kirby can make use of all of them in some way or form. It’s fairly easy to switch between forms at any time, just as long as there’s an enemy nearby with what you need.
And that’s where the twist comes in. In the past, you’ve just been the little guy, attacking with whatever you’ve got. Your first mini boss battle has you going up against a giant mech, and no before you ask it’s definitely nothing like Titanfall. Once you beat it, you’ll notice the now empty shell of the robot free for your own use. There in lies the key to Planet Robobot, as you now use the very weapons of the enemy against them. In a way, it follows tradition, but the abilities of the mech really change things up.
For starters, most of the levels are a mixture of traditional platforming and the new mech based combat. Kirby himself isn’t a fast character even when ‘sprinting’, but as soon as you find an available mech suit you’ll find yourself dashing along at high speed. Most of the levels are clever enough in design that they clearly set out areas that only a mech can get to, or hint at what’s to come. As introduced in Kriby’s last 3DS adventure, Triple Trouble, you can shift between two different planes, adding some clever puzzle solving to the mix (and some much needed use of the 3D depth slider of the console).
Whilst the general story is fairly simple (alien/robot race bent on taking over the world, hero jumps in to save the day. The usual.), it’s the charm of the world and its inhabitants that makes the ride more than worthwhile. Kirby doesn’t say anything at all really, but his mannerisms more than make up for any shortfalls in his character development. I mean come on, just look at that face. How can you not like that face!
Most Kirby games have a low level of difficulty. In the case of Planet Robobot, most of the experience can be completed rather easily by even the youngest of age groups. But for the older generation such as myself, there’s some meat to the bones thanks to said puzzle solving and hidden collectibles. The bosses, whilst nicely designed, are in the tried and true ‘find the pattern’ tradition that you’ll quickly figure out. Then again, Kirby’s abilities are the notion of choice, allowing you to attack in any way you see fit, which in turn can change a difficult fight with one type to much easier one with another.
There’s a few extras thrown into the package outside of the main game. Team Kirby Clash is a mini RPG for up to four players, a half decent diversion but it doesn’t really last as long as it could. Likewise the puzzle/arcade game Kirby 3D Battle which puts Kirby into a sort of isometric arena where the aim is to beat all of the enemies as quickly as possible. It’s always nice to have something else to do outside of the main quest, but these feel more like demos for much bigger adventures. I would have loved more of 3D Battle specifically, which reminded me a little of a sort of Captain Toad’s Treasure Tracker if someone, had pushed the turbo button and removed the puzzle element.
So why is Kirby my favourite character? For one, his ability to copy or mimic multiple powers makes him one of the strongest characters out there despite his diminutive stature. Those of you who play Smash Bros. will be more than familiar with his move set, most of which translate straight from the series, and the fact that he isn’t easy to beat. In fact, Kirby can take a decent amount of damage compared to Mario or Sonic, especially when you introduce the mech suit. In other words, he’s well suited to running into the fray without fear.
He’s also, and let’s be honest here, really fucking cute. Pink is my least favourite colour and yet here I am harping on about how cool a piece of cotton candy is! The little dance routines he does at the end of every level, his ability to smile through the pain, that outcry of happiness with each wave … you can’t help but fall in love with him, which in hindsight is a little weird, but there you go. It’s a shame that Kirby has never hit the same kind of heights as is fellow Nintendo mascots, but as a fan I’m happy to see that the publisher and long time developers Hal Laboratories continue to pump out quality titles with is name on it.
I go on about the importance of Indie games here on PN2, that sense of the unique and the willingness to try new things. Nintendo are a proud follower of that very same ideal, albeit at a much higher and broader budget, and Kirby: Planet Robobot is a perfect example of that desire to create something new within an often used space. More importantly, it proves that even an older franchise can still breath creative life within an industry now teeming with 2D platformers on almost every kind of hardware imaginable.
Kirby always seems to go unnoticed and it’s a damn shame, because Planet Robobot is easily one of the best releases on the Nintendo 3DS, if not one of the best action adventures of 2016 so far.
Mark Isaacson is a freelance journalist and editor of PN2 who has a giant plush Kirby and is damn proud of it!