The Nintendo Switch has managed to successfully revitalise not just Nintendo as a brand, but also many of its franchises, with titles like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey pushing the boundaries of their respective series, and breaking new ground in both quality and sales numbers. Well, he might have been a little slow to catch up, but it just might be time for our favourite pink puffball to join his friends.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land is the latest entry in the franchise, releasing later this month on March 25, and it looks to give this long-standing series a vigorous and much-needed shake-up. It’s Kirby’s first full 3D platforming adventure. The adorable orb hasn’t explored a world of quite this size or scope before, but luckily he’s got interesting new powers to help him along the way. So what are our Kirby and the Forgotten Land demo impressions?
Well, this certainly feels like Kirby. His classic copy abilities are all present and accounted for, and given the wide reach of most powers, it gives Kirby a nice, easy transition into the third dimension. Even with difficulty options, Kirby should always be a children’s game, so it’s nice to see that his abilities feel refreshingly new, yet are still easy to control and master.
Just as most Kirby games start, our rotund hero gets sucked into another dimension through a portal, before falling into the Forgotten Land – a strange mixture of brightly coloured foliage and landmarks of civilisation battered by time. If The Last of Us was set on Sesame Street, it might look a bit like this.
Aside from the extra dimension and otherworldly setting, the biggest addition so far is the cheekily named Mouthful Mode. With this new ability, Kirby inhales inanimate objects such as actual cars, traffic cones, or even a vending machine, taking on their shape and powers à la Super Mario Odyssey. For example, ingesting a car (and creating a very strange Kirby/Car hybrid, Carby maybe?) allows the pink puffball to scoot around the level, careening at speeds and using his momentum to smash through blocks and obstacles.
The comparison to Super Mario Odyssey makes a lot of sense, but the abilities here are a touch less involved. Whereas Odyssey’s transformations came with a whole new sweet of moves and powers that could have spun off into their own games (I’m looking at you, pecky bird), whereas Kirby’s powers are much less transformative, and mostly work as a key to open a lock, in a puzzling sense.
For instance, inhaling a cone gives Kirby a pointy edge that lets you take advantage of cracks in the floor, and the vending machine enables you to lob soda cans at your enemies. However, this isn’t to diminish the fun of these, as both the abilities and ridiculous presentation had me cackling away with joy. Seeing a giant rectangular Kirby waddle around while lobbing cans at enemies was a real sight for sore eyes.
It’s really nice to see the level design open up as well, though some may need to temper expectations of a fully open-world game. I’d say this is a linear/guided 3D platformer much closer to Super Mario 3D World, which perfectly fits Kirby, in my opinion. Any advance in scope is lovely to see for the series, and there’s still a lot of challenge and exploration to be found in this style of level.
Speaking of challenge, one of the first things in the demo you see is the option to change the difficulty. Though we haven’t tested the difference between the two, just the prospect is very welcome, as Kirby games often only have additional difficulty options after completion or down the line with updates. An option out of the gate is a promising and very welcome move that hints towards the attention the developers are paying to fans’ expectations this time.
This isn’t the longest demo, with just three levels, including a boss fight, but the length of each level and the amount of replayability is fantastic. Levels come with micro-challenges, hidden coins, and hidden puzzles that involve both copy abilities and the Mouthful Mode powers. I took my time and attempted to find every hidden collectable, but even in these early levels, I wasn’t finding every secret on my first playthrough. The verticality of levels is used well here to encourage exploration (including one great turtle-based mini-boss), and like any Kirby game, the scope to replay with different abilities to experiment is huge.
There’s even a boss fight with a gorilla-kaiju, using huge sweeping attacks and stomps to threaten poor Kirbs. It feels great in full 3D, and bosses are always an area Nintendo seems to nail perfectly in its platformers. This one felt like a nice balance of attack patterns and actual challenge, though I hope later bosses really turn up the heat and force players to get creative with their powers.
So far, Kirby and the Forgotten Land shows a huge amount of promise. The expanded mobility and powers bring a lot to the table, as well as a frankly gorgeous presentation that impressed at every turn. The difficulty so far is very Kirby, so hopefully, that ramps up later, and we get a real test of the puffball’s many new powers. But already, we can confidently say that Kirby’s first foray into the third dimension seems to be a successful one, and this could be one giant leap for the series.