Maybe it’s me, but I always felt like the last few entries in the long-running Kirby franchise have flown under the radar. It was only after a quick Google search that I discovered that, believe it or not, there’s been a new Kirby game released every year, going all the way back to 2014. Sure, some of those newer titles have placed more of an emphasis on packed-in mini games, but the series’ core gameplay has received a fresh coat of paint for the last few years, even if it’s gone largely unnoticed by the gaming population as a whole. While it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, I’m hoping Kirby Star Allies will buck that trend, and with the Switch’s massive success over the past few years, it has a fighting chance if there ever was one.
Like most of Kirby games from the past decade or so, Star Allies sticks to the tried-and-true 2.5D perspective that you’ve come to know and love. The same, easygoing style of platforming is on full display as well, and there are enough powerups and abilities to keep you happy for hours on end. Similar to other titles, Kirby has some friends (or foes) that he can recruit for his journey, which means you won’t be travelling alone that long. That’s right, foes are fair game this time around, which means you can hang out with a bunch of Waddle Dee or Waddle Doo if you’d like.
As you might have guessed by now, these friends can be either player or computer controlled, making it a good showcase for the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers. Even if you can’t rustle up a group of four, it’s still fun to play with a friend or two, and the computer-controller characters do a decent job of sticking close by and taking out enemies. If anything, having a few companions along for the ride makes the game’s story mode a little too easy, though the franchise has never been known for its difficulty to begin with.
Still, its hard to complain when the core gameplay loop is just so darn fun to begin with. Sure, it’s not terribly challenging, but Star Allies shines when played as an easygoing affair, once that’s best suited for a rainy Sunday afternoon, or enjoyed in bite-sized chunks from the comfort of your favorite beanbag chair. With a trusty crew to accompany Kirby, you can take advantage of new special attacks by combining Kirby’s abilities with those of his allies (as a former native of Canada, my favorite was, of course, the Curling Stone combo). Stages run the usual gamut of themes, including ice, water, and forests, and they are filled with puzzles that usually require some specific combination of abilities in order to progress. Don’t worry if you’re playing solo though; it’s easy enough to work with the AI to get the job done.
It will only take a few hours before the credits begin to roll, but there’s plenty to do outside of the game’s main story. Star Allies doesn’t stray too far from the pack in this regard, though I imagine that your mileage may vary when it comes to the extra modes and side games. For better or worse, there’s only two “Sub-games” this time around. Chop Champs can best be described as a rejected Mario Party minigame that was given new life, tasking players to chop down as much of a tree as they can within a time limit, all while avoiding bugs and critters on the sides of said tree. It’s simple in nature, but fun if you have a few competitive friends in tow. The other, Star Slam Heroes, is very reminiscent of Megaton Punch or Crackity Hack, where the goal is to bat a meteor as far out into space as possible.
If you prefer speed running, “Guest Star ???? Star Allies Go!” (yep, it’s a mouthful) might be up your alley. Here, your job is to blaze through five sets of stages as quickly as you can, playing as a character of your choosing. As you complete each stage, you’ll get (harder, better) faster and stronger, and the ramp-up in excitement adds to the mode’s appeal. The boss rush mode, aptly named “The Ultimate Choice”, allows you to pick your own difficulty level, with higher difficulty levels unlocking more Picture Pieces, which are (you guessed it), used to complete collectible artwork. While the five default difficulties are far from punishing, there are three unlockable difficulties, with the hardest of the bunch, Soul Melter, packing quite the punch.
While Super Mario Odyssey may stand as the crown jewel of platforming games on the Switch, Kirby Star Allies is, in many ways, its perfect companion piece. While Mario’s newest adventure is centered around wide-open worlds and a high skill ceiling, Kirby’s latest outing is content with keeping things simple and easygoing. Colorful visuals, a catchy soundtrack, drop-in-drop-out co-op; Kirby Star Allies checks all the boxes, making it a must-have for your next lazy Sunday gaming session.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A copy was provided by Nintendo.