Game Title: Kirby Star Allies
Developer: HAL Laboratory, Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Availability: Retail | Digital Download
Battery Life: 3 – 3.75 hours
Download: 3.0 GB
One of my favorite Nintendo franchises, if not my most favorite, has always been the pink puff ball vacuum cleaner of Dreamland, Kirby. Although I haven’t played a new Kirby game since the era of the GBA over not liking Triple Deluxe, I was pretty thrilled at the idea of a Nintendo Switch Kirby game coming.
Now that it’s here, we see a classic case of Fanbase Controversy. Ever since the demo dropped on the eShop, people have been up in arms with a million nitpicks, including referring to Star Allies as “Return to Dreamland 2”. That took some research to figure out and know for today.
But, let’s not talk about internet debates. Let’s talk about Kirby’s newest adventure. Here is my review of Kirby: Star Allies for the Nintendo Switch!
On a seemingly-normal day in Dreamland, strange purple Hearts rain down from the sky, corrupting anyone and anything it touches. At the same time, Kirby is hit by one of these Hearts and gains the strange ability to instantly transform enemies into his own Friends and Allies.
While I can’t say much of this to avoid giving out spoilers, I will say that towards the end of the game, and the end of one of the post-game campaign modes, Star Allies does a lot to expand upon the Kirby lore. A lot more than I’ve seen in any other Kirby game, and really made me want to research the lore even more on what they expanded in this entry.
Like many games before it, Kirby: Star Allies is a 2D side-scroller with combat elements. Although its new mechanics have strong emphasis on co-op multiplayer, you will be navigating 2D areas and fighting off enemies and bosses, like in virtually all Kirby platformers.
For the most part, this game feels much like many Kirby games before it. The level design, optional areas and collectibles in each stage, method boss battles happen, sound effects, and even the way you unlock Extra Stages in each World are huge love letters to past titles, even going as far as making characters like King Dedede and Meta Knight playable characters.
But Star Allies isn’t just nostalgia. It brings one main aspect to the table: A Party System. Any enemy or mid-boss that can be eaten to gain a Copy Ability can alternatively be recruited into a 3-character party that follows Kirby and helps him fight off enemies and solve puzzles. These are CPU-controlled, but anyone can tap L+R on a separate controller to open a 2-4 player co-op game in the middle of gameplay.
The other addition is Ally Combination Abilities. Any elemental-themed ally can charge up a physical weapon like a Sword, Pole, or Whip with that element, letting you bypass special puzzles by figuring out not only which power is needed to solve the puzzle, but which element is needed. There are also several 4-member sections where the allies come together into different forms, like wheels and trains (similar to the transformations in the Yoshi’s Island games).
All of this pushes the idea that Star Allies is a Couch Co-op game. Although multiplayer is local-only, up to 3 extra players with spare controllers can just tap the shoulder buttons and seamlessly gain control of the CPU allies. This is similar to being able to use Co-Op in Return to Dreamland, except that all allies are CPU controlled and stay with Kirby if only one player is playing the game.
That ties into the biggest topic of debate about this game: Difficulty. You can’t go anywhere on the Internet in regards to this game without someone talking about how this game lacks difficulty unless you completely disregard the main function of the game and refuse to recruit any allies into your party unless a puzzle requires it.
Now, I’m not going to tell you the game isn’t easy, because it is. But I’m going to tell you why it’s easy. The big thing that severely destroys the game’s balancing is the CPU Allies. Whenever you encounter a puzzle, any allies you have that can solve the puzzle will immediately run ahead of you and clear it in less time than you have to even begin to think about what powers you need to clear it (not to mention that 99% of the puzzles have the exact powers you need right there in the room with the puzzle, leaving no difficulty in thinking of where you need to get the powers needed).
Combat is also where the CPUs heavily unbalance the game. From what I’ve experienced, and maybe it’s the enemies I liked to keep in my party, your allies can easily do more damage to bosses than you can. Over the course of the game, I would say I got a chance to deal the finishing blow to maybe 2 or 3 bosses out of at least 9 or 10. It’s not to the point where the game can play itself, but you can easily go into a boss fight with King Dedede and watch as your Legion of Killer Waddle Doos lay waste to the first stage of the fight in the time it takes you to walk over to where they are.
Now, let’s get into content and length. Games like Kirby are all about gameplay and platforming over following a deep story, so what all does it have? Counting Extra Stages, the Story Mode has 40 levels available to play through, which took me a little over 7 hours to clear, with only missing a couple unlocks and having to replay stages to find them.
Once you clear Story Mode, you gain access to two new game modes, one as a Boss Rush type of mode with various difficulties, and Guest Star? Star Allies Go!, which is like a mini-story-campaign where you play through a mashup of levels from Story Mode along with a few new sections as not Kirby, but any of the recruitable allies, from the common enemies to the legendary Meta Knight. This mode should take you 1.5-2 hours to clear per character and sheds more light on the lore expansion Star Allies brings to the series.
So, assuming you’re not a total completionist, running through Story Mode and doing a single run of the two new modes should set your total somewhere around 9-10 hours. That’s not bad for a platformer, but it’s not great for a fully-priced game, either. I’d call it passable if the price were around $30, but for $60, you’d probably want to be a series fan to justify the content vs price for this one.
Controlling this game isn’t too tough, though it’s worth noting that at the Main Menu, you can go into Settings to alter the control scheme (for those who don’t like Jump being set to A instead of B).
Moving around is done with the Left Analog Stick and/or Directional Buttons. You jump with A, attack with B, throw hearts with X, and Drop Abilities with Y. But, like I said above, you can alter the settings from the Main Menu and it shifts the A, B, and Y inputs so B is Jump, Y is attack, and A is Drop Ability.
I throw emphasis on this because jumping with B feels more comfortable to me, and I’ve had some folks on YouTube asking about it ever since I dropped a video of the demo awhile back.
Graphics are one of the best parts of this game. Kirby’s world has always been very colorful and vibrant, and Star Allies looks beautiful on the Switch. The character renderless look near-flawless both in TV Mode and in Handheld Mode. Whether you’re exploring Dreamland or fighting off a boss, it is always a visual spectacle when you’re playing.
Performance I have no issues with, either. I will note that this game runs at 30 fps. I’ve seen small frame drops when entering stages, but it has never dropped on me inside stages, themselves. For the most part, it is optimized quite well.
Being such a visual spectacle, you could guess that Kirby would eat Battery Life like crazy. But, let’s just take a look at the numbers and find out. Here are my Battery Times, from 100% to 0%
Max Brightness + Wi-Fi – 2 hours, 54 minutes
Max Brightness + No Wi-Fi – 3 hours, 06 minutes
Low Brightness + Wi-Fi – 3 hours, 33 minutes
Low Brightness + No Wi-Fi – 3 hours, 45 minutes
It is certainly on the lower end of the spectrum, but above what I was expecting. Almost 4 hours of Battery Life out of this game isn’t too bad, considering the visual level of the graphics engine.
In conclusion, Kirby: Star Allies is a charming and colorful new entry for the pink puffball's platforming adventures. Although the CPU allies heavily unbalance the game's difficulty and the amount of content hardly justifies a full $59.99 price tag, fans of the series will definitely enjoy seeing the way this game handles nostalgia and lore-expansion.