Kirby Star Allies review – playing the bad guy
Nintendo’s overpowered hero returns in a four-player co-op adventure where the enemies never stand a chance.
When we review Kirby games we often make the observation that Nintendo’s pink puffball is considerably more powerful than any of his enemies. His games are not the story of a plucky underdog rising to the occasion but of a monstrously powerful interloper wiping out anyone that opposes them with the minimum of effort. In this latest game though things have been taken to even more absurd extremes, to the point where we’re convinced he’s the villain.
For reasons unknown to the rest of the world, Kirby is extremely popular in America and Japan and always manages to make several appearances on every Nintendo console. The spin-offs can often be quite fun and experimental but the mainline games are always both pointlessly easy and completely indistinguishable from each other. This one does have some unique gimmicks, on top of the usual 2D platform gameplay, but they only make the game even more irritating than usual.
What little story there is involves ‘Dark Hearts’ raining down upon Dream Land and turning otherwise innocent creatures evil. Kirby is hit by one and instead of being turned he gains the ability to recruit enemies to his side through the power of love. Or, as it seems to us, he’s already evil so it has no effect other than to give him the power to psychically possess other people…
The big gimmick with Star Allies is that as well as controlling Kirby himself you can also convert up to three other enemies to your side and have them follow around after you and fight on your behalf. By which we mean that for most of the game you can just sit around doing nothing while your loyal minions destroy everything in their path and all but complete the game for you. Since each of them has a different special ability this turns into an incomprehensible mess of on-screen action, made worse by the fact that the camera is zoomed in unusually close for a 2D platformer – so you can rarely see an enemy until they’re right on top of you.
You can, as you might imagine, give control of any of the ally characters to a human player at any time, but that only makes it even more confusing. And frustrating for whoever isn’t Kirby and gets automatically dragged along after him if he moves too far away.
Whoever is controlling Kirby has all of his usual abilities, which include being able to float (with almost no limits, allowing you to completely bypass some sections of a level) some basic moves of his own (including a useful sliding kick), and… the ability to swallow the souls of enemies and steal their powers. This has always been Kirby’s thing and here you get to become anything from a painter that can paint health power-ups, to a karate expert, a trampoline-making spider, and a little guy with a giant umbrella.
The frustrating thing about Kirby games is that all of these individual roles are wonderfully detailed, with multiple different moves and abilities associated with them. None of which you ever really need, especially not when you can just sit back and let your allies do all the work. Things get even more absurdly overpowered when you start imbuing your ally’s weapons with elemental powers like fire and water, at which point it just turns into a massacre. Or you can even join together in a ‘friend circle’ and transform into a giant wheel that flattens everything in its path.
The whole idea of turning a simplistic 2D platformer into a four-player co-op game just doesn’t work, but this also has all the same frustrations of ordinary Kirby games. As well as being so easy it’s almost impossible to die there’s the lack of flow and rhythm to the levels, which often end abruptly and for no obvious reason.
Enemies respawn the second you scroll forward, just like an old NES game, and for some reason the game is filled with lengthy load times – sometimes right in the middle of an action sequence. There’s plenty of simple puzzles, that seem quite clever and interesting the first time you see them, but they’re quickly repeated ad nauseam and the computer will often solve them before you even have a chance.
The greater frustration though is how much love and care has gone into making the game. The cartoonish graphics are gorgeous and there’s so much attention to detail in all the different enemies and powers you can tell the developers had a great time making it. Little touches like the fake ending at the end of the first world prove this is not some cynically-produced production line sequel, and yet the experience of playing it is only one of tedium and frustration.
Clearly the game is aimed at kids, but it’s not as if almost all Nintendo’s other games aren’t equally family-friendly… and considerably more entertaining. The recent Kirby: Planet Robobot on 3DS is also a much better game, while still being a mainline 2D entry, so we’re at a loss to imagine who Star Allies would really appeal to… other than undemanding children with a burgeoning interest in becoming the world’s next supervillain.
Kirby Star Allies
In Short: Kirby’s games never seem fair on the enemies but this tiresome and poorly balanced co-op platformer offers little chance of fun for them or you.
Pros: The game is extremely well put together, with excellent visuals and dozens of enemies with unique and relatively complex powers.
Cons: Even by the standards of the series the action is pointlessly easy, but also visually confusing and poorly suited to co-op play. Dull and repetitive level design, with irritating load times.
Formats: Nintendo Switch
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Release Date: 16th March 2018
Age Rating: 7
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