Kirby has had a rough transition to 3D—wait, that’s not right. Kirby has somehow never had a 3D game in its 30 years of existing. Sure, past games might be made up of 3D models but the gameplay has always remained as a 2D side scroller, until now. Kirby and The Forgotten Land marks a turning point in the series as it becomes a 3D platformer. While I was excited about this new endeavor for the franchise, I was also hesitant to be optimistic. I’ve only played two Kirby games before, Triple Deluxe and Star Allies, which I thought were pretty good…and pretty bad. It’s safe to say that I didn’t want to get my hopes up that this entry would be a slam dunk.
New Dimension, Same Gameplay
My first major concern was that the developers would have a hard time making the gameplay well in 3D, seeing as they’ve spent so long working with 2D. Thankfully, I had no reason to worry as this game plays fantastically. The controls are extremely tight and responsive, controlling Kirby in a 3D space comes naturally—as if he’s always been like this. One smaller touch I really appreciated is that, unlike older titles where Kirby could fly above the stage and never interact with anything, this game caps Kirby’s jump to a short distance above the ground. This forces players to actually deal with obstacles head-on rather than just go over them. The only slight annoyance with the controls I found was the new dodge ability. If you press one of the triggers to block, make sure the control stick isn’t pressed, and then move the control stick in any direction—Kirby will do a dodge roll. This is a great addition to Kirby’s set of moves; however, it always felt a little clunky to pull off. If the dodge were paired to a button press or didn’t require the stick to be neutral I would find it much more intuitive.
Kirby’s signature copy abilities, where he eats enemies to steal their powers, make their way to this title and they also feel incredibly natural. Every power I tried felt great and there weren’t any I disliked using. Copy abilities also get a fresh coat of paint in the form of upgrades. Within the game’s town, you are able to purchase upgrades to each ability that can completely change how the ability behaves. This offers a great way to constantly change up your play style and avoid the game feeling repetitive.
In addition to copy abilities, Kirby has new mouthful abilities. These are where Kirby will eat a large object and, instead of stealing powers, he will stretch his body around the object and become that shape. It is as terrifying and hilarious as you might expect. I was worried these would feel like a gimmick—that they’d rarely show up in levels to act as a spectacle. To my surprise, the mouthful objects appear frequently, several per level, and are actually baked into the level design in intuitive ways. I was also surprised that these all controlled as well as Kirby’s normal gameplay. Of course, Cone-Kirby is going to play very differently than normal, but in every instance, the abilities feel exactly how I expected them to.
Speaking of this game’s level design, this game opts to maintain its existing linear, level-based structure rather than an open exploration-based structure. While I am certainly curious to see what a Kirby sandbox would look like, I have no complaints with this game’s system. Levels are the perfect length, where the ideas present have enough space to be fully realized without the level itself becoming daunting to replay. Levels are also incredibly varied and—while there is certainly overlap in ideas—each level does something completely unique from the last. I was always looking forward to starting each level just to see what would come next.
Unfortunately, hitting the last level came a bit too quickly for my liking. While levels each have a good length and pacing, the game itself is rather short. One key factor that leads to this length is the difficulty. This game does feature two difficulty options, which is good. However, the harder of the two isn’t particularly hard; I only ever died once on the last level of the game. A first play-through of the game without focusing on any side content would probably run you around five to seven hours.
A Mouthful of Modes/Content
Thankfully there is a mountain of side content to dig into. When the credits rolled, my save file was only listed as being 59% complete. Within each level are several hidden “Waddle Dees” locked in cages for you to rescue. In addition to finding them within levels, you can rescue them by completing missions within each level, as well as rescuing three at the end of each level. The Waddle Dees help fill out each level, with some being pretty obvious and others hiding quite sneakily.
Waddle Dees act as the keys to progression. The boss of each world is locked behind a wall and the player needs to save a certain amount of Waddle Dees to pass. Although, I always had way more than necessary for any boss so you’re unlikely to get stuck. More importantly, the Waddle Dees also rebuild the game’s central town as you rescue them, which is where most of the extra modes are found. Among several mini-games, the town features a colosseum where players can challenge various gauntlets. I found the colosseum to be a fun, rewarding experience, and rebuilding the town helped incentivize me to be thorough when looking for Waddle Dees.
The last of the game’s extra modes worth mentioning are the Treasure Roads. These are short obstacle courses focused around a single copy or mouthful ability. You earn rare stones—the currency needed to upgrade copy abilities—which is already a worthwhile reward, but you also gain extra coins by completing Treasure Roads under a certain time limit. I really enjoy when games have content that lets you focus on moving efficiently so I’ll certainly be revisiting all of these to beat the time limits.
A Beautiful Land
All of the content in Kirby and The Forgotten Land is packaged up in a beautiful presentation. The game is extremely vibrant, and the environments are very detailed. Every character is animated in such an expressive way. I particularly like how the Waddle Dees in town will fall over and play dead in the most dramatic fashion if you accidentally bump them with an attack.
The game does appear to lack anti-aliasing, so while it looks incredible in portable mode, you will see some rough edges when blowing it up onto a TV screen. Performance is mostly good throughout—I only had one instance toward the end of the game where the frame rate kept having stutters. Fortunately, this was only on the one level and hasn’t happened since.
In addition to looking great, this game also sounds fantastic. There isn’t a single track in the game that I dislike listening to—every song is excellent. They aren’t just good songs individually, but they also manage to elevate each other collectively. I often find soundtracks to sound great but oftentimes, each song sounds incredibly different which causes unpleasant tonal shifts. With Kirby, even going from happy green plains to a foggy, suspenseful bridge, it manages to have songs that respect their environment while also feeling consistently Kirby, especially through the use of a recurring leitmotif.
Another quick aspect of this game’s audio that I really enjoy is that the kidnapped Waddle Dees all have a distinct cry for help. This allows for the levels to hide them in extremely subtle ways while also having a way for the players to be clued into their presence.
This is a fantastic game, full stop. It might not be doing anything groundbreaking or revolutionary, but it’s still crafted with a level of polish I don’t often see in games. I didn’t ever want to put this game down while playing it, which is pretty rare for me. If you’re even remotely interested in 3D platformers, this game is worth looking into.
Contact Ryan Minter with comments at email@example.com.