Like a good gelato or ice cream, the best thing about Kirby – our favourite pink gelatinous guy – is that he’s just so easily moldable. With that buoyant round figure and sparkling eyes that shine with friendship and innocence, putting a little hat on Kirby’s head and giving him a sword all feel equally cute and natural. So, is there anything Kirby can’t do?
Hot off the heels of the stellar main course Kirby and the Forgotten Land, Hal Laboratories and Nintendo follow things up with a sweet little treat for the already stuffed Kirby fans on Nintendo Switch. Kirby’s Dream Buffet is a multiplayer title where you roll Kirby down dessert-themed levels, eat strawberries to make Kirby as big as possible, and use food-based powers to beat your opponents to the punch.
Looking like Sugar Rush from Wreck-It Ralph but with that incredible sheen on the food items that only Nintendo can achieve (the food in Pikmin 3 looks more realistic and delicious than real food), Kirby’s Dream Buffet is a dazzling dessert treat and an entertaining tangent for the series after an already stellar year.
To break down the basics, Kirby’s Dream Buffet is all about gobbling as much food as possible. The aforementioned strawberries are your main goal, but sneaky blueberries and cherries are also hiding in certain paths on each level. They’re not all just based on ice cream and puddings either, as some feature burgers, eggs, and delicious-looking sandwiches for the pink puffball to roll over in what I can only assume would technically be a health code violation.
The tricky part is that these levels are pretty treacherous, and Kirby isn’t doing his typical platforming here, instead rolling around and feeling more like a Katamari than anything else. Strawberries, other fruits, and the essential power-ups are placed tactically throughout each level, so managing to steer Kirby towards them, dodge enemies, and avoid being bumped off the track by your opponents is a recipe for some sweet, sweet mayhem.
There are also new Copy Food abilities, where eating a specific dessert gives you powers. These do not count towards your strawberry total, but instead, imbue Kirby with abilities like in many of his previous games, only this time, it’s based around food. For example, the doughnut works as the wheel and lets Kirby tear down the track at speed, the cupcake works as a tornado and attacks the opponent while sucking up nearby strawberries with wind power, while a chilli pepper fires Kirby forwards with great momentum and singes anyone left in his wake.
They’re all a little unwieldy but offer a great chance to get one over on opponents, so much like the rest of the game, these are a great balance of risk and reward, helping you to snatch victory in those decisive moments. While you can smack into foes to knock them off the level (Kirby simply has to hover to land back on the platform but at the cost of precious seconds), there’s something particularly satisfying about absolutely smacking someone aside while careening down the track in the form of a possessed demon tyre.
Levels are broken up into a single race or a four-level Grand Prix, with the Kirby who eats the most strawberries claiming victory. The end of each main level also has three huge piles of strawberries, with a possible 50, 30, or ten there to claim for the first three Kirby’s to the finish line. It means that while slow and steady could win you the race if you diligently ate every spare strawberry on the map while your opponents raced ahead, though ideally, you need to grab those fifty strawberries.
The main issue here is that it’s quite a huge boost in the numbers, so routinely, it can put one player far into the lead. When playing Grand Prix, the player with the most strawberries starts a considerable distance behind the lower ranked ones, but there are so many obstacles and enemies that the game does a good job of keeping everyone roughly at the same pace. I’d prefer a slight tweak to maybe bring the 50 strawberries down to 30, but there’s still a lot of room to grab strawberries in the later levels.
Finally, at the end of each level, when the final tally is revealed, players get an extra 40 strawberries for certain random triggers. Four gifts of 40 strawberries are awarded, and these can be based on who defeats the most enemies, the player that uses the most copy abilities, Who eats the most blueberries, or a few more. It’s a Mario Party-esque way to balance the scales, and it does keep some suspense up until the very last minute. But much like Mario Party, it means if you want a fair fight, you’re out of luck. This is a very silly game, so it doesn’t bother me, but some might find these random modifiers in the final moments to be annoying.
Alongside the main platforming levels – each Grand Prix includes two – are two mini-games. Based on Kirby cakes or similar confectionary locations, these strip away the obstacles and instead place all four players in a small arena where the focus is on battling with the Copy Food abilities and your joyously bouncy bodies. The difficult rolling mechanic is so consistently silly and just good enough to control that it doesn’t feel unfair. So actually managing to smack into an opponent like a sumo-wrestler is just delightful.
The mini-games add other classic powers like the needle and stone abilities, which are much more combat focused than the previous ones. Trying to collect the strawberries littered throughout these games in the minute or so afforded is already tricky, but being blasted around by three other Kirby’s, all with giant bulging bodies and a maelstrom of dessert-based copy powers, is the perfect recipe of skill balanced with madness.
It feels like Mario Kart in the best ways, as when knocked off the level, you get either strawberries or powers, and if you’re lagging behind you, might even receive the invincible candy, only to come back and lay waste to your opponents, scooping up strawberries like a greedy Kirby at Wimbledon, and a huge upset to the tally is entirely possible. Succinctly, I think the gameplay for Kirby’s dream Buffet is an absolute joy to control and fairly well balanced, with every second presenting a new ridiculously colourful and ally scenario that I often found myself audibly laughing along with.
Now your actual options include playing against three other opponents online in random or team-based matches. It’s as simple as sharing a password to play with friends, and there are even commands mapped to the left analogue stick, though they are as basic as saying “hey!”, “huh?”, and very little beyond. I think they’re mainly there to annoy people, to be honest. Local is sadly limited to two players, with CPU characters filling the other two slots..
This feels like a huge missed opportunity honestly, as this could be a perfect party game to play in a crowded living room. Playing with two players is nice and competitive, but with this particular brand of technicolour chaos, I think a four-player local mode would have been a real treat. You can play four-player with local if you have four friends with a Switch each, and everyone owns a copy of the game. But considering this isn’t a free game, that’s asking a bit much. I’m glad the option is here, but I can’t imagine I’ll ever get a chance to use it.
The online experience has been pretty good in my experience, as I found it easy to find players, and my gameplay has been fairly smooth. There were some frame drops and freezes, but I was never booted out of a game, luckily. I tried playing in docked and handheld, and while the experience definitely is a bit rougher in handheld, the game still held things together and while the occasional stutter did happen, it was never enough to ruin the experience. This is not a game that demands 60fps gameplay anyway, but I’m glad that it’s been consistently fine in my time with it.
One thing I would like to see a little more of is variety in the gameplay modes. Both local and online multiplayer is broken up into a Grand Prix (two levels, a mini-game, and a battle royale), or you can just play one of the options on their own. Levels that were a strict race to the finish could be fun, or a mode where you try to take out the most enemies? I hope a few more options get added because the basic gameplay is a blast, but I feel like players might run out of things to enjoy fairly quickly.
An element that has kept me coming back so far is the unlockables. Each level awards you experience based on your amount of strawberries consumed, with a 180% bonus for playing online. You can level up this way, and each level awards a new costume, colourway, collectable snack stickers, or new remixes of classic Kirby tracks. So far, I’ve unlocked costumes based on King Dedede, Meta Knight, an adorable little burger hat, and a load of different colours. The inclusion of old tracks and some new remixes are fantastic, and it’s great to see such a wide variety of the Kirby library represented.
One last element I want to touch on is the presentation, which is stellar. If my language already hasn’t explained the exuberant, joyous look of the levels made of cakes, doughnuts, and giant cupcakes, then let me explain it further. The visuals are crisp and clear, with the food all looking weirdly edible and deliciously colourful. At the same time, Kirby himself looks adorable as he tumbles and stumbles through each ridiculous new area. There’s a real sheen to everything and the sort of production quality we can expect from Hal Laboratories at all times, but this is one of the best-looking Kirby games we’ve ever seen.
I sat down with Kirby’s Dream Buffet expecting to have a bit of fun, but ended up sinking hours into it. The gameplay feels finely tuned to both satisfy and infuriate while knocking your opponents off a gigantic fork only to snatch a strawberry out from under them is consistently hilarious. I would love to see some more options in the future, and a lack of four-player local multiplayer on one Switch is sorely missed, but this is a delicious treat for any Kirby fan and a party game I’d likely recommend to any Switch player in the mood for something sweet.
While a little lacking in content and options, Kirby’s Dream Buffet is a hilarious and satisfyingly silly game that balances its gameplay nicely between moments of skill and utter mayhem. With a gorgeous culinary theme and stellar presentation, alongside plenty of great rewards to unlock, Dream Buffet will keep players coming back for several helpings for the foreseeable.