Kirby Star Allies Review: Making Friends Has Never Been Easier

 

Presentation and Story

As a game on the Switch, one thing that’s immediately noticeable is its visuals. This is definitely the best looking Kirby game to date. The game looks great on both your TV and in Handheld Mode with a satisfying use of colors, beautiful lighting and shading effects, high-quality textures, and solid character models and animations (although some were re-used from the previous games). Even the menus are visually pleasing, using a neat comic book style dotted shading effect over the various colorful 2D art. There are the world maps which, for the first time, you can freely roam around in a 3D space and find extra goodies lying about before picking the stage you want to go to. It gives each world a bit more life and a sense of just how big it is in scale compared to the last. As you’d expect from Kirby, the soundtrack is top-notch and appropriately matched for each area, featuring brand new tracks along with remixes of classic Kirby tones. Past games had more upbeat and digital sounding tracks while Star Allies go for a more orchestrated sound. Star Allies didn’t have a particular song that blew me away like past games, but it’s all still enjoyable and cohesive.

Although the game looks great, it doesn’t exactly perform optimally. Rather than the 60fps that the past three Kirby games of this style had, Star Allies runs at 30fps. It never drops below that and doesn’t look second-rate by any means, but when the menus and certain smaller sections suddenly go back to 60fps, you can see the difference. It leaves you wishing it always behaved this way. The game certainly is a step up graphically, but I still have trouble believing it couldn’t handle 60fps with what it offers. On top of that, whenever you enter a door to a new area, you’re met with a loading screen. The load times aren’t very long but still makes the experience less seamless as the past three games didn’t have this. They definitely aren’t deal breakers, but it’s still worth noting.

As for the story, it’s pretty simple stuff…for the most part. A mysterious cloaked figure scatters dark hearts across the galaxy that corrupt those that touch it. Several inhabitants of Popstar are affected, with the exception of Kirby because he slept through it all, as usual. But when he catches wind of what’s going on, the adventure begins. Now, longtime Kirby fans should expect more to the story than just that, as Kirby games tend to get unexpectedly dark, epic, or both near the end compared to the rest of the game’s super cute and laid-back atmosphere. As for Star Allies, let’s just say it holds true to its roots

 

Gameplay, Structure, and Modes

When it comes to gameplay for the main Story Mode, if you’ve played Kirby’s Return to Dreamland, Kirby Triple Deluxe, or Kirby Planet Robobot, you should feel right at home. All the basic moves and level structure are there. You’ll progress through each stage, copying enemy abilities to wreak havoc, doing a few simple puzzles, finding collectibles, and fighting bosses. However, the biggest “new” feature for Star Allies is the ability to befriend enemies and have them join you on your adventure by throwing hearts at them. A human player can control these friends and play along with you or the CPU can control them. It is an idea that’s already been seen in Kirby Super Star, but expanded upon. You can now have a squad of four and levels are designed around this feature rather than it being a simple addition for multiplayer purposes.

The other “new” feature is combining abilities. You could have a physical based ability like Sword, Hammer, Cutter, etc and apply an elemental property to it like Fire, Ice, Water, etc to power-up the physical one. However, you could also combine abilities to create a new move you couldn’t use normally, such as Stone and Ice creating a giant curling stone or Water and Plasma creating a barrage of lightning bolts. Some abilities have team-based moves by holding up like Fighter throwing a friend at enemies or Parasol protecting friends with a giant umbrella. This is also an idea seen in games like Kirby 64 and Kirby Squeak Squad, and while you can’t combine everything with everything like in Kirby 64, it’s still fun to experiment with different combinations and it expands upon Kirby Squeak Squad‘s take on physical and elemental combinations significantly.

 

The moments where your team combine to create a special formation such as a Friend Circle, Friend Train, or Friend Star are another highlight of this entry. These are somewhat brief moments in the levels that change up the gameplay a bit and, despite the name and overall concept of teaming up, are actually best played with one person in control.

There are many different copy abilities in the game including some of the standard returns I’ve already mentioned, some brand new ones like Spider, Artist, and Staff (the best one), and some abilities returning after a long absence like Yo-yo, Suplex, and Cleaning (which was updated so much it’s practically new). This also means that there are many characters to befriend and play as, but it’s not limited to regular enemies with abilities. You can enter Dream Palaces and recruit iconic Kirby characters like King Dedede, Meta Knight, and Bandana Dee. If you wish, you could recreate the OG squad from Return to Dreamland (which is what I did for most of the game). More recently, they added more characters to the Dream Palaces, being Rick&Kine&Coo, Gooey, and even Marx of all people.

 

Kirby Star Allies is all about playing with friends. You’re always encouraged to go through levels with a team by your side. On one hand, this is Star Allies‘ biggest strength as it makes for a great multiplayer experience. Super Star and Return to Dreamland had multiplayer, but they felt more like afterthoughts. They were nice little additions to what were supposed to be single-player games. Star Allies differs in levels and puzzles being designed with multiplayer in mind. Almost every puzzle revolves around teamwork. It’s impossible to find every collectible and complete every puzzle with just Kirby; you need a team. And playing with a team is just fun, plain and simple. Even if you’re playing alone with CPU teammates, it’s still enjoyable running through stages with a squad by your side and causing all sorts of chaos with elementally powered weapons of destruction. Star Allies never feels like a lonely experience as a result.

On the other hand, this is also Star Allies‘ biggest weakness. Kirby games have always been pretty easy. They’ve always been games made for beginners or those unfamiliar with side-scrolling platformers. That being said, Star Allies is still extremely easy even by Kirby standards, and it all revolves around the game’s team aspect. Unlike the more intricate level design in single-player focused games like Triple Deluxe and Planet Robobot, Star Allies‘ levels have been greatly simplified to allow for a multiplayer experience where anyone can jump in and play at any time. Levels can come off as pretty bland and unimaginative as a result.

 

This also applies to the puzzles. Although almost all of them are team-based, they’re extremely simple, have little variety, and require almost no brain power. Most puzzles are just a matter of having the right combination of abilities and they never get any deeper than that. What’s worse is that the game will often just give you the abilities you need and blatantly tell you what you need to do at times. At first, I thought they would just do that for the beginning levels, but it permeates throughout the game. Even if you turn off tips in Options, they’re still extremely easy to figure out. The puzzles in recent games like Triple Deluxe and Planet Robobot weren’t exactly head scratchers either, but they were creative, varied, and far more engaging, utilizing more than just one mechanic. Star Allies‘ levels also have fewer collectibles to find in each stage, resulting in less exploration, stages that go by too quickly, and ultimately a very short game.

Don’t expect to die very much at all. Kirby games may be easy, but they do punish recklessness. In Star Allies, however, it doesn’t really matter because your squad has your back. You can easily complete entire levels without getting hit once because your squad will protect you and fight enemies for you. You may have already noticed through the screenshots, but you’ll be racking up a ridiculous amount of lives, not by grinding, not by some exploit, but by just playing the game. Oh, and the bosses? They literally go down in seconds because four people are mercilessly whaling on them non-stop. You’ll likely not experience most bosses’ attack patterns because they died too quickly.

 

With all of that, combined with this game’s main gimmicks just being expansions on ideas we’ve already seen before, Kirby Star Allies, in my opinion, is the weakest game in the “modern” Kirby series and may be a testament to what some feared of this formula getting stale. I sincerely hope that they do something far more ambitious with their next title.

That is, however, just going over the main Story Mode. As usual for Kirby, Star Allies also has a few side modes. Two of them, being Star Slam Heroes and Chop Champs, are simple but fun Mario Party-esque mini-games you can play with a friend or CPU. They’re short little distractions that probably won’t hold your attention for too long. Then there are the two extra modes you unlock after beating Story Mode that are a lot beefier. If you’re familiar with Kirby, you’ll have an idea of what one of those modes is at least, and that is usually where the true challenge of Kirby lies. And yes, it is the one mode that’s actually pretty difficult, even with a squad by your side.

 

Conclusion

Kirby Star Allies does end up feeling like a step down from what came before and possibly a sign that this formula is getting stale, but it is by no means a bad game or a waste of time. It’s still a solid entry in the series and there is a lot of mindless fun to be had, especially when playing with friends. Plus, the fact that it’s the only game in the series where you get to play as Marx earns it extra points in my book.

If you’ve never played Kirby before, I would recommend you start elsewhere. If you want a fun and polished co-op game on Switch, it’s a decent option. If you’re a hardcore Kirby fan, Kirby Star Allies is definitely worth your time, although the $60 price tag is a bit hard to swallow.

This review of Kirby Star Allies is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game.

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