When you think of the top Nintendo game characters over the years, names such as Mario, Zelda or maybe even Splatoon might be the first to leap to mind. But a little pink huff-and-puffball named Kirby—riding on a 30-year-old franchise and selling some 38 million games—is bouncing along quite well, too.
For the uninitiated, Kirby is a pink, balloon-like critter who’s long used his super-vacuum abilities to suck up objects and enemies and keep his planet of Popstar safe from any manner of bad-guy attacks. And with the new Kirby and the Forgotten Land, he’s back once more, inhaling and exhaling his way to platforming victory.
The game begins with a dark vortex opening over Kirby’s friendly home of Dream Land and sucking up everything around, including our pink spherical hero. He finds himself on an Earth-like “New World” that actually looks a bit past its prime. The place is full of empty, overgrown cities, broken-down factories and creepy, disheveled parks. But Kirby is far from alone. It turns out that a cadre of animal-like monsters, called the Beast Pack, is in charge of this world now. And the pack has been capturing Kirby’s friends, the Waddle Dees, to use for forced labor.
The Beast Pack is trying to tap into the space-time rift-creating power of a captive extradimensional being named Fecto Forgo. And they need some cute, hard-working, well, slaves to get that done. And, for some reason, Kirby’s longtime frenemy King Dedede is also helping the Beast Pack in their quest. It’s up to you and Kirby to find a way through the New World’s various areas, fulfill the given objectives, best the big bosses and find a way to not only free those captive Waddle Dees but foil Fecto Fargo himself.
As you would expect, Kirby still uses his vacuuming ability to suck things up and spit them out at enemies and obstacles. He can puff his way up into the air for short drifting moments. He also can use his “copy” ability, when consuming certain power-up orbs, and take on special abilities. For instance, the Kirbster can gain the ability to wield a sword, toss bombs and swing a big hammer, and he gains some new abilities this go-round such as the Ranger power that lets him sport a gun that shoots out little stars.
One other new addition in this game is something called the Mouthful Mode. Kirby can go so far as to inhale and transform into larger objects like cars, sail boats, vending machines and big rigs to make his way along. This new copying ability is more than just a casual gimmick, too, but rather an integral part of play.
Even though Kirby and the Waddle Dees are being held prisoner in something of a post-apocalyptic world, things are always very, well, Kirby-like. Color and cuteness abound.
The game is very approachable by beginners to the franchise, while still holding challenges for older fans. (That does mean, however, that there may be some moments when young players might ask for a bit of help.)
Kirby always displays a childlike, positive spirit and dives into help his friends (and even some foes) without question.
Much of Kirby’s time is spent battling baddies (massive turtles, a sharp-clawed circus cat, mushroom monsters, a huge lion, etc.) when he’s not platforming around or figuring out how to get from here to there. The baddies he faces chomp in his direction with sharp teeth and slashing claws. They throw knives, zap lasers and slam with huge hammers. But in spite of that onslaught—and even though Kirby himself can gain the ability to blast foes with ice or fireballs or turn his mitts into a big drill—there’s no messiness here to worry over.
When Kirby is boinked out of his hit points, he simply goes back to try again. And beaten foes simply get a shocked look when finally bested and fall over in a puff of smoke and stars. In fact, some of Kirby’s foes are actually revived from being hypnotized/possessed by a powerful being, and they are happy to have been bested by the pink hero.
That powerful minded, psychically controlling entity is the other potentially problematic element for younger players here, though. Some characters are “possessed” and forced to do negative things in the game. (Nothing too dark, though.) And as mentioned, the Waddle Dees are all held captive. That controlling creature also turns into a gelatinous beast at one point that absorbs other animals into its form to become a multi-headed monster.
And there’s an odd, not fully described, spiritual aspect to the strange world Kirby is visiting. One character is said to be a broken-away piece of another character’s soul, for instance. And there’s a Valkyrie-like warrior who’s said to deliver souls to the afterlife.
The fact is, Kirby games are always uber-cute. And their puzzles and battle challenges always seem far more fun than frenetic. Kirby and the Forgotten Land follows suit with lots of 3-D sparkle and a few new gaming tweaks. It just comes down to whether or not parents and their young charges can, uh, blow past the game’s light-but-odd spiritual quirkiness and just inhale the fun stuff.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.