Nintendo’s cute pink marshmallow mascot has finally arrived on the Nintendo Switch, after spending his last few games on the 3DS. Kirby Star Allies is his debut on the new system, and the first game to show off Kirby in HD graphics as himself, without any yarn or clay stylization. This $59.99 platformer sticks close to the standard Kirby formula, but with a gentle twist: You can recruit up to three other characters at a time to mix and match different powers. Star Allies is fun, even if it doesn’t offer many new ideas.
Swallow Your Enemies and Make New Friends
Kirby Star Allies follows the classic Kirby’s Adventure-style swallow-and-copy gameplay seen in titles such as Kirby Triple Deluxe and Kirby: Planet Robobot. As Nintendo’s endlessly hungry eldritch horror of a little pink puffball, you can swallow enemies and copy their powers. Swallowing a knight gives you a sword. Swallowing a snowman gives you ice powers. Swallowing a rock lets you become a rock (if that rock is an enemy and not an actual rock). It’s the standard Kirby action that’s been around since the NES. On its own, that would make for a pretty good game, as it has in the past. Then you add the Star Allies part to the mix.
Almost every Kirby game has some kind of gimmick, like the yarn world in Kirby’s Epic Yarn or drawing paths in Kirby’s Canvas Curse. The gimmick here is Kirby’s allies, up to three simultaneous enemies you can recruit to fight alongside you as AI companions. They can also be controlled by other players with Joy-Cons connected to the Nintendo Switch. You can bring any enemy to your side who uses weapons or is attached to an element by throwing a heart at them. Once they’re on your team, they help you fight enemies and solve puzzles, working fairly autonomously unless they’re directly controlled by your friends. If you already have a full party of four and you want to make another friend, you must swap out one of them (or swallow them and take their power for yourself).
With three allies on your side (as well as your own powers as Kirby), you can start mixing and matching all of your stolen and diplomatically gained abilities for some fun. Certain pairs of abilities can be combined to make them more powerful or solve specific problems. Almost any weapon, such as a sword or yo-yo, can be enhanced with almost any element, like water or electricity. Simply hold the up button on the directional pad when you have an ally that can complement your power, or when there are any compatible pairs of allies with you. This sounds like a major new feature for a Kirby game, but Kirby could combine two enemy powers into a new, more powerful one in Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards on the Nintendo 64. In Kirby: Planet Robobot, Kirby could also get enhanced powers by consuming enemies while controlling a robot.
These power combinations are helpful for solving puzzles and finding secrets in the game. A sword on its own can cut a rope and flame can light blocks of wood on fire, but a fire sword can cut a dangling bomb and light its fuse at the same time to clear a path. A hammer can smash a switch and electricity can charge wires, but you need an electric hammer to overcome a switch with wires connected to it. Besides elements and weapons, certain powers like Throw and Rock can be used together to destroy otherwise unbreakable obstacles and collect hard-to-find items.
Fortunately, you don’t usually need to plan far ahead to solve these puzzles with your allies. The necessary enemies to recruit or swallow can usually be found near places they are useful, so you won’t feel any need to drag a rare ally or power all the way through a level just to find a secret. Many powers work similarly enough to solve the same puzzle, so there’s rarely only one solution; sword and cutter can both slash through ropes, and ice and water can both put out burning blocks.
High Definition Kirby
This is one of the best-looking Kirby games yet and it sticks with 3D versions of classic Kirby designs rather than using yarn or clay like in Kirby’s Epic Yarn or Kirby and the Rainbow Curse (though it does make us wonder just how good an HD version of Kirby’s Epic Yarn could look). The aesthetics are similar to Kirby Triple Deluxe and Kirby: Planet Robobot, but it looks excellent in 720p resolution on the Switch, especially when compared with the Nintendo 3DS’ 240p screens. The game is bright, sharp, and colorful, running smoothly in 1080p when docked.
With allies, enemies, and obstacles all set against vivid (and distracting) backgrounds, the game can look pretty busy. Occasionally, you can lose track of the action when a big fight breaks out and you have a full party working with you. This isn’t usually a problem if you’re playing on a TV, but the Switch’s screen can make frantic action look momentarily confusing with all of the lights and colors clashing with each other.
Fairly Easy, Lots to Do
Like most Kirby games, Kirby Star Allies isn’t particularly difficult. You can run through the main single-player mode in a few hours and enjoy modest challenge as you progress, but there aren’t any incredibly hard tasks that require you to hone your platforming skills like some of the moons in Super Mario Odyssey. It’s a fun, relaxing experience that doesn’t fetishize challenge, and is very forgiving in doling out lives and tracking your progress through each level with checkpoints.
You can collect hidden puzzle pieces scattered around the game by solving puzzles or taking more difficult paths. These present the game’s optional sources of challenge, and some can be tricky to find, though again they don’t quite hit the difficulty of Super Mario Odyssey’s harder power moons. Once you collect enough puzzle pieces, you unlock a victory panel, which is just a nice piece of art you can look at in the game’s gallery.
As has become standard for Kirby games, you can play a handful of additional minigames and extra game modes in addition to the main quest. Chop Champs and Star Slam Heroes are simple minigames that respectively have you chopping down a tree with Joy-Con motion controls and hitting a meteor with a baseball bat using timed button presses. They’re fun, light diversions that support up to four players each.
Guest Star ???? Star Allies Go! is a second playthrough of the main game that takes Kirby out of the equation. Instead of playing as Kirby and using his copy abilities, you commit to controlling a single, recruitable character and their power set, like Poppy Bros. Jr. with his bombs or Bio Spark with his ninja moves. You can still recruit other allies by throwing hearts, but you can’t actually change your own powers. It’s an interesting twist once you’ve already played through as Kirby.
The Ultimate Choice is a boss rush mode that puts you against waves of enemies and different versions of the game’s bosses. You can put together your own team with Kirby or with any of the recruitable characters. For example, you can choose to equip Kirby with a power at the start or leave Kirby out of the picture altogether, and instead just control an ally. Once you’ve put your team together, you can control the rush’s difficulty by setting the number of battles. More battles means a harder time, but this does help you win more puzzle pieces. Like every other mode, up to four friends can play at the same time.
Conventional, Quality Kirby
Kirby Star Allies is a fun, satisfying platformer that doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises. It’s bright, colorful, cheerful, and fairly easy; for this type of game, this is a good thing. While Super Mario Odyssey was a dense masterpiece of gameplay and design, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was an ambitiously open adventure, Kirby Star Allies is simply a fun video game. It’s more Kirby goodness in the vein of his previous games. The ally and power combination gimmick is fun to play around with, but it doesn’t deviate much from the traditional formula.