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Game Review

So, is the new Kirby Battle Royale some kind of bloody-knuckled free-for-all like the game's cover suggests? Is it a contest in which the Kirby-world characters beat each other down, one by one, 'til we see who's the last Magolor standing? Nah. What are you thinking? Our little pink puffball pal is the same sweet guy he's always been. And his Dream Land home is still just as colorful and kid-welcoming. That's just the way it should be.

There is a very different feel to the latest Kirby game, though. And that deserves a bit more examination.

That Takes the Cake

This sequel's Story Mode gets things started here, and it's a very simple affair. It seems that the swaggering and royally attired King Deedee has decided to throw a special competition for Dream Land's scrappy residents. It's a tournament of sorts, filled with 10 different competitive activities that sort participants through five graduated leagues until, at the end of it all, a champion takes the cake. Quite literally.

The winner receives the cake of his or her dreams—the most scrumptious confectionery creation that has ever graced a mouthful of taste buds.

Of course, that dodgy and duplicitous Deedee isn't about to let our balloonish pal, Kirby, win in a fair fight. The king's not exactly evil, but he's no jolly old Saint Nick either. So he creates a Kirby cloning device of sorts that cranks out Kirbys of another color who'll use their special abilities to knock our pink hero down a peg or two. You know, just enough to make the road to the competition's sweet reward that much more of an uphill bounce.

Outscore, Outbattle, OutKirby

If you're expecting a lot of traditional side-scrolling platform bump-and-thumps, though, you won't find them this time. Gameplay-wise, Battle Royale is all about those 10 minigame activities and, well, nothing much else. You start out with a certain set of abilities—with one button for standard moves and one for special moves—and you can switch those out for others as you unlock new abilities, accessories and Kirby forms.

The minigames themselves are different variations on the same central theme of slashing at your opponents with umbrellas, swords, bombs and the like, while also outscoring them in one way or another. Apple Scramble, for instance, features a time limit and the goal of picking up more apples and tossing them into an apple chute than your foe. Of course, if you want to chuck an apple at your opponent to get him to drop his collected bounty, or just run up and kick him in the shins to do so, you can do that, too.

Coin Clash is another familiar-looking Nintendo mini. You collect coins scattered around an obstacle strewn area, while at the same time beating the golden-treasure bits out of your opponents' mitts. There are also vaguely ghost-like critters that roam around the field, looking to latch onto others and drain away their gold.

Rocket Rumble, meanwhile, is quite similar. Only instead of gathering coins, you're competing to grab cubes of fuel to stash within your trusty lil' rocket ship—while smacking other fuel-gatherers or their ships. As the clock ticks away, you jump aboard your shuttle and hope you've deposited the most fuel in order to rocket up to the highest cloud.

Crazy Theater even adds a bit of an educational element for the youngest players. In this game, contestants have to solve a simple equation, then battle other characters to stand on a square that represents the correct answer. Other competitors, of course, try to bash you aside or shove you into harm's way.

The Ol' One-Two and Five More

No matter how you're tossing hockey pucks or throwing balls into goal posts to rack up your point tallies, however, there's always that rival-ramming side of the effort. It never gets messy, of course. But the characters do cry out and have stars of pain circling them as they get hit and their life meters decrease. And there's no way to avoid these constant skirmishes, whether you're playing in the solo Story mode campaign or joining in on an online Battle mode.

Oh, and speaking of that online competition, I should also note that the gamemakers sorta blew it with that interaction. The biggest flaw for most will be the fact that you can't choose to connect with a specific friend for team minigame battles online. You can team up and play, but it's always with some random stranger. And the same, brief, repetitive contests just get pretty old pretty quickly.

That said, you can't pooh-pooh the Kirbster and his new game altogether. For fans of lighthearted fighting games, platform-ish minigames and Kirby lovers in general, this nice little handheld diversion is pretty content-free. And, hey, when you're playing a series of short two minute-long minigames it's pretty easy to make everybody happy when, as bedtime looms, mom says, "Just five more minutes!"

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January 19, 2018

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Bob Hoose

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