Kirby Star Allies
Developer: HAL Laboratory, Inc
Release Date: 16 March 2018
Price: $59.99 / £49.99
Reviewed by Clay Howard
While most Kirby games are released near the tail end of their consoles’ life cycle, Nintendo decided to kick off the Switch’s second year with a new action-platformer featuring the puffy pink protagonist. Kirby Star Allies is cute and colorful, bright and bombastic, and while not very challenging and best enjoyed with friends, solo players will still find lots to love.
To infinity and beyond
An evil power is at work causing shards of the Demon Heart to corrupt Kirby’s friends. You must chase it down and save the galaxy. The game’s story is simple but it works as an excuse to wreak havoc across planet Pop Star and beyond.
As the title suggests, Kirby Star Allies is all about teamwork. As you fight your way from planet to planet you can team-up with up to three computer controlled or real world companions. That’s right! Let the couch co-op renaissance begin!
In typical fashion, Kirby has the option to suck-up and absorb enemy powers. Classics like Beam, Sword and Cutter return, along with new abilities, like Artist, Staff and Spider. But now, in addition to taking on copy abilities, you can also throw a heart at enemies to befriend them and have them join your crew.
This is similar to the ‘Helpers’ mechanic first introduced in Kirby Super Star. When your companions are player controlled, teammates can throw Friend Hearts at new enemies in order to change to a new ability.
While playing solo you’ll have to decide which abilities to take on as you manage your team’s roster, swapping companions in and out as you wish for maximum effect. Although your companion AI is well designed and intelligent enough to rely on when needed, there’s nothing like experiencing the game with with real world friends.
Developer HAL Laboratories adds plenty of impressive and clever ways to maximize multiplayer mischief. At times all human controlled players are forced to team up to control a wheel, bridge, train, or flying shooting machine in tandem. Players sharing control of these contraptions can make for some really hilarious moments, and forces you to communicate with your pals.
Fighting alongside companions with constantly rotating powers is incredibly fun. Nearly every ability Kirby and friends wield has a surprisingly deep moveset on its own. But, the game takes the variety to another level as you’re also allowed to mix friend abilities, a skill first seen in Kirby: Squeak Squad.
At any time Kirby and friends can hold up on the thumbstick to request that allies add their ability elements to their own. Slashing at enemies with a whip is good, having an ally add fire to grant you the sizzle whip for more attack power is even better.
As you can imagine, there’s a significant degree of mayhem on screen when a full squad is unleashing and combining attacks against a swarm of enemies. At times like these it can be hard to make everything out amongst the fireworks, but it's a small price to pay for such a visual spectacle.
Speaking of spectacle, there’s a decent variety of interesting levels here. Although relatively simple in their layout, each one has been lovingly crafted. Every 3D backdrop is bright and beautiful, featuring some of the best water and light effects seen on the Switch to date. No Kirby game thus far has looked as polished and detailed.
The Kirby franchise is known for its peppy, upbeat, and incredible music and this entry lives up to the pedigree. On top of new tunes, hidden levels feature some nostalgia inducing throwbacks. Listening to these chiptune remasters was one of my favourite parts of the game.
With so many over the top abilities and ally choices at my disposal I couldn’t help but feel overpowered. Most enemies go down after only a few hits and they definitely don’t stand a chance against a squad of powerful allies.
Aside from typical health replenishing items, Kirby can give teammates a little kiss to help them restore some health. If an ally is actually knocked down, you can simply walk over to them to fill a short meter and revive them.
Late game bosses provide a bit more of a challenge and I did expend a life or two falling to their more powerful attacks, but most of the time I had 50 plus lives with no real concern of running low.
While some may consider this lack of challenge to be a negative, Kirby games aren’t really about tackling scores of enemies or getting beat down by super difficult bosses. They’re about enjoying the experience, from its superb music and dazzling visuals, to its almost calming platforming rhythm.
New Game +?
Along the journey you’ll come across collectibles that seem largely throwaway. 100 stars grants you an extra life and picture pieces come together to complete celebration photos. Finding hidden Dream Palaces grant you access to a roulette wheel that will add a Dream Friend to your squad. These special allies include characters from past Kirby entries like King Dedede and Meta Knight.
If potential post-release Dream Ally DLC additions don’t keep you coming back, the games' other modes just might. As you complete Story Mode you’ll unlock extra challenges including ‘Guest Star ???? Star Allies Go!’ where you can play the campaign as one of Kirby’s many friends, attempting to clear the game as fast as you can while collecting strength, speed and health stats . ‘The Ultimate Choice’ is a boss rush mode where you select a team composition and try to beat more bosses at increasingly intense difficulty levels.
Disappointingly there are only two multiplayer-centric mini-games included as extra content. One tasks you to cut down trees as quickly as possible and the other is a home-run contest. Both allow you to choose a difficulty level, but they are so simple and shallow I wonder if they could keep players attention for more than a few rounds, never to be touched again.
Wait A Minute
If there was one more strong point of criticism it would be that Kirby Start Allies' bite sized levels are broken up into even smaller areas separated by significantly long loading screens. Each time your team moves through a classic star door you’re greeted with a patterned color splash and game tip. This is archaic design that happens far too often and breaks up the flow of the game enough to be a significant nuisance.
Kirby Star Allies is a great action platforming experience that shines during couch co-op. It’s literally bursting at the seams with outstanding abilities, music, and animations. Although it’s definitely a casual platformer with a few rough design choices I thoroughly enjoyed the experience from start to finish. The multiplayer-centric gameplay makes it a sure-fire win if you’re planning to play with friends. Despite being mechanically rooted in the past, the game delivers plenty of new and clever ideas to keep players interested and please returning fans.
Pros & Cons
+ Tons of fun power ups
+ More fun with friends
+ Great music and visuals
- Very little challenge
- Linear levels
- Loading screens galore