Nintendo may be best known for Mario and Pokemon, but the Kirby series is certainly up there in terms of franchises they never keep dormant for long. The cute pink blob with the trademark ability to copy his enemies’ powers has starred in over 20 games since debuting on the Game Boy almost 25 years ago. The franchise has offered creative spinoffs like Kirby Air Ride and Kirby Mass Attack, but has also continued to offer platformers that deviate less from the established formula.
The Wii title Kirby’s Return to Dream Land gave the sidescrolling Kirby games a 3D facelift unseen since the Nintendo 64 days, and the last traditional entry, 2014’s Kirby: Triple Deluxe, expanded on its predecessor’s template. The newest title, Kirby: Planet Robobot, certainly falls along the same lines, but in a way that feels a lot more creative and unique than Triple Deluxe. While the series creators at HAL Laboratory have done little to sway players who weren’t interested in Kirby already, they’ve still delivered an engaging and inspired adventure.
The plot sees Kirby’s homeworld of Popstar invaded by a robotic alien force, intent on stealing resources and changing its peaceful green lands to a more mechanical environment. Being the hero he is, Kirby naturally starts to fight back, and soon finds himself commandeering various mech suits used by the enemy during his journey. As with most Kirby games, substantial plot after the opening cutscene is generally minimal, though the last stage has a lot more material in that regard when compared to the likes of Triple Deluxe.
At its core, gameplay remains the same as most platformers. Kirby is initially limited to sucking enemies into his mouth for attacks, but swallowing certain types of characters will allow him to utilize their moves, allowing for a variety of playstyles based on what ability you stick with. This trait also extends to the mechs, though you can expect its own abilities to differ even when it comes to established powers like Stone and Sword. Some levels are specifically designed around a certain mech ability, most notably when it gets the Jet power, and the game turns into a sidescrolling spaceship shooter a la R-Type.
Planet Robobot‘s five-hour campaign may not deviate much from the last few Kirby games overall, but its execution still manages to feel fresh. As much as I enjoyed Return to Dream Land and Triple Deluxe, they gave off a vibe of retreading old ground both mechanically and aesthetically. Their biggest additions came in the form of strong but short-lasting powerups, which felt overly scripted and gimmicky in their execution.
Admittedly, Robobot doesn’t go so far as to let you pilot the mechs whenever you want (much like the animal buddies in the original Donkey Kong Country games, you can find them at preset points in most levels), but they feel more meticulously integrated. Their abilities are flashy but still functional, and there’s a real feeling of weight behind each one, making you genuinely feel the boost of strength the suits provide.
Planet Robobot also offers some of the more distinct aesthetics in the Kirby series, which have typically relied on platforming cliches like grassy starting areas, beaches, and deserts. The mechanical takeover results in an overall look that’s more sci-fi and technologically driven, and even when it deviates from that, we get fun and lively levels like a giant casino and a city street, complete with Waddle Dees driving cars into the foreground until the walk signal lets Kirby safely pass.
Even when you’re on foot, which makes up at least half the game, the level design feels inspired from beginning to end. Rather than attempting to throw some radical new concept at you frequently, the game makes clever use of the rules it establishes within the first dozen or so levels. Stars that warp you between the foreground and background planes, remote-controlled robots that copy your movements, and certain goodies requiring specific abilities are all used multiple times, but it never feels repetitive.
A good selection of abilities for Kirby also helps. Old favorites like Fire, Ice and Wheel can be found, along with some fun additions like Doctor, which lets you throw projectile pills or build up a powerful chemical reaction. In one of the more useful implementations of Amiibos so far, scanning a figure will reward you with some health recovery and a specific ability. I’d highly recommend players with a Smash Bros. figure of Kirby scan that, as it unlocks a moveset almost identical to his fighting game counterpart.
Much like Triple Deluxe, each level has three main collectables to find in the form of energy cubes, with a certain amount being required to unlock each boss and progress further. While they’re generally not hard to spot (I didn’t start frequently missing them until the last two worlds), you’ll have to think outside of the box and not rush through a level if you want to snag all of them.
Indeed, the only true complaint I can lodge against Planet Robobot as a whole is that it quite easy for almost all of its run, with the only exceptions being some of the later bosses. Thankfully, it’s not a cakewalk to the point where it turned me off, and even the easier bosses feel more clever and engaging than in earlier Kirby games. The last few levels in general, comprised of several multi-tiered boss fights, are a blast, culminating in a rail shooter fight that’s impressively epic for such a traditionally cutesy series (And ironically, more enjoyable than Star Fox Zero).
Outside of the story, two interesting mini-games are accessible from the start. Kirby 3D Rumble represents perhaps the first true attempt to bring a Kirby platformer into full 3D movement, while Team Kirby Clash lets a team of four Kirbys with specific classes take on bosses in an RPG-like setup. They’re quite fun, but far too short, with 3D Rumble in particular taking less than 10 minutes to beat all three levels. Maybe Nintendo will pull a Captain Toad and make something more substantial from these later on, which I honestly wouldn’t be against.
Beating the game also unlocks a boss rush mode, as well as Meta Knightmare Returns, which offers the opportunity to replay the campaign as Kirby’s longtime ally Meta Knight. To make up for his lack of copying skills (Meta Knight is limited to the Sword power, though with more moves), you can find floating Ms in the environment to build up a meter and activate special moves and buffs with the 3DS’s touch screen. Completionists will want to check this mode out for sure, especially since it offers some boss fights you won’t get in Kirby’s story.
While I certainly expected a decent time from Kirby: Planet Robobot, I wasn’t expecting to walk away quite as impressed as I did. The addition of the mech suits is integrated well, the presentation is more impressive than before, and the level design never stops feeling fresh, despite rarely throwing new things at the player. This is honestly up there with classics like Kirby Super Star as one of the best core entries in the series, and both platformer lovers and longtime fans who worried about it just feeling like a rehash should give it a go.
This review is based on the 3DS exclusive.
With refreshing aesthetics, engaging gameplay and varied level design, Kirby: Planet Robobot is the pink puffball's best platformer in years.