August 24, 2018 at 12:43 AM #1140
Kirby Star Allies
Rating: 4.5 – Outstanding
You’re a shining star…no matter who you are…
In the mainline department, Kirby has always wowed me on each Nintendo system he’s starred in since the amazing Kirby’s Return to Dream Land on Wii due to building off of the formula of Kirby Super Star on SNES: Copy abilities with different move sets and a few mini games and modes, as well as ideas on its own such as collectible stars for extra lives and ultra powerful abilities that often allow the player to rid on-screen enemies in unique ways. Kirby has come quite a long way, even having his own 20th Anniversary game on the Wii, and with a rather fun gameplay formula that continues to build on one great idea after another, the star will only get brighter from there on.
The latest and Switch debut Kirby Star Allies is no different. What seemed to be another "safe" entry in the franchise excels again with its familiarity that does quite enough to stay fresh. Hearing it announced at Nintendo’s E3 in 2017 made my Switch purchase well-invested and the charming presentation and the return of the multiplayer co-op made my wait for this game hurtful as I couldn’t wait to play it. The return of the helpers system, an ability-mixing system that actually looks good, and friend-required contraptions that force Kirby and his comrades on a ride of destruction…what more could be said? Well, even with all of these exciting features packed in and my love for the franchise being cemented within, Star Allies is no 10/10 game in my book…but does Kirby’s latest adventure shine enough to be a star or a little spark off of a dead electric sign?
As with many games in the franchise, Star Allies focuses purely on gameplay while laying back on the story. Regardless, the story begins as far from the pink hero’s planet a mysterious cloaked being shatters the crystal Jamba Heart into pieces, each scattering throughout the entire universe and corrupting the victims to go against peace upon contact. Kirby, on the other hand, is unaffected by this and gains the power to bring any enemy he finds to his side. Embarking on an adventure ahead of him, the pink hero befriends enemies and kicks butt to save the day once more, embroiling him in many battles against his foes of old and new.
The gameplay of Star Allies is simplistic but deep and even first-timers can get into this game without a worry. Similarly to the previous mainline Kirby games like Return to Dream Land, Triple Deluxe, and Planet Robobot, Kirby can jump, float, slide, and inhale most enemies, some of which grant him powers such as Fire, Ice, Spark, Sword, Cutter, Whip, and many plenty more, on top of the majority of those powers being equipped with a variety of move sets that requires more than just a simple press of a button. For the most part, these copy abilities were always fun to use and experiment with certain parts in the game at hand. While the list of copy abilities have remained mostly the same throughout the return of my favorite abilities from Super Star on SNES, namely the Yo-Yo and Suplex, made me replay the entire game more times than I could count.
In addition to an already-great gameplay, the feature presentation of Star Allies is the ability to "Friend" enemies by simply throwing a Friend Heart at one, controllable by either a live player or the CPU. An improved feature of Super Star on SNES and a returning feature from the cancelled Kirby game on the Game Cube that is not named Kirby Air Ride, up to three enemies or players can be befriended to help the pink hero on his quest and should one face defeat on solid ground, the player can revive it to give it another shot at the challenge. Concerning the AI for the friends, they are rather helpful in that they knew what to do when a puzzle needed to be solved and how to take on enemies. Whereas the CPU Ally in Super Star got itself into a plethora of blunders that resulted in it being near useless due to rather poor programming, each CPU ally acted well enough to be helpful from the beginning to the end. Though this results in rendering an easy game even easier, Star Allies still proved to be quite fun for me and I would gladly take its smarter ally AI over an ally constantly bumping into dangers to its own death like Steve Urkel trying to take down an All Star WWE wrestler.
Another returning feature from Kirby 64 and Kirby Squeak Squad is the ability to mix elemental abilities with a compatible copy ability known as Friend Abilities, this time in a more improved fashion, making it fun to use while also not being as restrictive at the same time. Utilizing this feature will result in a plethora of fun combinations, such as a fire-wielding sword, a thunder-imbued cutter, a water-filled yo-yo, and plenty more. Additionally, this feature isn’t fixed to mixing abilities as other abilities have their own "Friend Abilities", with the Parasol being enlarged for bigger protection from above for the party, the Stone being used as a curling stone to bowl over enemies, and the Fighter and Suplex abilities encompassing on using a friend to toss around the area to take out groups of enemies faster. Though this is mainly used for puzzles, Friend Abilities helped refresh the already-familiar formula and made combat less of the same, creating some interesting strategies when taking on enemies and bosses.
Another purpose of bringing allies to your side lies in the fact that occasionally throughout Story Mode, Kirby will encounter parts that require you to have them for the challenges at hand. One of them encompasses on splitting Kirby’s team into two to take on an area in two different paths, requiring the entire team to work together to get to the end and as I’ve said, the ally AI is smart enough to know what to do most of the time. In addition to this, there are times in which Kirby and three of his friends must team up to create more destructive Friend Combos, such as a circular wheel to bowl over enemies, a bridge to help a key-carrying Key Dee to a locked door, a flying snake to fly high in the air across stages, and even a train to run across any surface in an Endless Runner-like fashion. These Friend Combos are friend-required equivalents of the Super Abilities, Hypernova, and Robobot Armor from Return to Dream Land, Triple Deluxe, and Planet Robobot respectively and while Star Allies’ Friend Combos aren’t as mind-blowing as those equivalents, they’re still fun on their own and help keeps progression fresh.
As for Story Mode, it works similarly as today’s Kirby games operate: Get thrown into a map, pick a stage and clear it, and move on to the next. Though there are only four worlds to explore in the game, each of them felt long enough to warrant enough enjoyment out of each world as not only are there bosses to face off in the middle of the way in addition to the end-of-world bosses, since some stages hide Switches behind puzzles that unlock more stages to explore within a world. Throughout each stage also hides Puzzle Pieces for the player to collect to complete the game’s Celebration Arts that are simply fan art that details the franchise’s history, with the neatly-hidden Pink Puzzle Pieces holding a more prominent incentive to help fill in the pink spots on the Celebration Arts that could otherwise not be filled. For the most part, Story Mode felt like a blast to play through and was a "short but sweet" moment that lasted with me even after the end.
Despite Story Mode not offering much on the table, the real meat of today’s mainline Kirby games is the post game content that becomes available upon clearing Story Mode, namely the Guest Star and The Ultimate Choice modes, with the latter replacing the traditional "The Arena" and "The True Arena" modes. Guest Star Mode encompasses on the player picking an ally or Dream Friend that isn’t Kirby and running through the mode as fast as possible while picking up the many Power Up Hearts along the way to power up the player for the world, after which all of the Power Up Hearts collected will be reset for the player to find again. Though Guest Star Mode is undeniably more fun than Story Mode in most cases, the fact that the Power Up Hearts are reset between worlds is more of an annoyance than a challenge to put the player on his/her toes. Despite that qualm, Guest Star Mode was fun to play through multiple times as the stages are shuffled between allies to help keep the mode fresh.
A replacement for the traditional Arena modes is The Ultimate Choice, where in the player must select a team of four allies to take on an onslaught of bosses to the end, with the number of bosses to fight and number of recovery options (as well as the number of puzzle pieces to earn) dependent on how high the player dials the difficulty level, with higher difficulty levels made available as the player completes tasks outside of the mode. Though The Ultimate Choice is fun to play through as many Arena modes were in the franchise, the fact that bosses are once again fought in a fixed order did underwhelm me quite a bit, similarly to Planet Robobot’s Arena Modes. Oh well, at least this boss rush mode gave you a full set of recovery items to use as opposed to only being given so between fights…
Wrapping things up with Star Allies’ content are the mini games Star Slam Heroes and Chop Champs. As opposed to each of the other modes wherein they had redeeming qualities within, these mini games ended up leaving me rather disappointed. Though buttons can be used in substitution and play differently, the majority of those mini games encompass on players swinging the Joy-Con, similarly to the disappointing launch title 1-2-Switch. Star Slam Heroes tasks in players charging up the Power Meter and hitting the approaching meteor with timing in hopes to reach the highest distance while Chop Champs forces players in chopping an extremely tall tree while avoiding obstacles coming down in hopes of chopping the most wood in the end. They’re simplistic enough mini games that proved their points, yet never found myself returning to them after clearing their highest levels since. On one hand the mini games deliver on that casual fun that makes Nintendo games accessible to ages and skill levels of any level, but coming off of the likes of Triple Deluxe and even Kirby 64, it left me wanting something better. I was honestly expecting a fun fast-paced VS Mode in the vein of Kirby Fighters or even something just as fun as the Checkerboard Chase mini game from Kirby 64, and seeing nothing like these in Star Allies left me very disappointed.
Like its recent mainline entries, Kirby Star Allies excels once more with its vastly charming presentation and the return of the helper system in an expanded form. Admittedly, the CPU-controlled allies rendered the game’s difficulty trivial and the sub games were huge disappointments, but at the end of the day, I couldn’t have asked for a better game in the franchise, even though it didn’t wow me as much as Super Star, Return to Dream Land, and Triple Deluxe did. Though enjoyable on its own, the game is much more enjoyable in the multiplayer department and with its oncoming waves of free content in the horizon offering new characters and such, Star Allies is a real star in this case and a reason to own a Nintendo Switch for.
Score: 9.4 out of 10
Rating: 4.5 – Outstanding
Product Release: Kirby Star Allies (US, 03/16/18)
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