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[Game Review] Kirby Star Allies

It’s a Kirby game, and you’d better believe I’m doing an in-depth review of this pink puffball’s latest murderous voyage into the far reaches of space. So, I’m a big fan of Kirby games, mostly because I played the hell out of Super Star Ultra when I was a kid, virtually 100%ing it. I’ve never gone back to play most of the older games, though I have been meaning to try Triple Deluxe and Planet Robobot. But we’re not here to talk about those. Star Allies… is it as good as Super Star Ultra?

Kirby games have a frequent habit of nailing their presentation, and Star Allies is no different. The game’s story is presented in a dialogue-light, yet informative manner, and the threat is immediately established from the word go. Kirby, as usual, has a new gimmick with him this time, but I actually quite like the way it’s integrated. Whilst you’re doing the usual running, flying, eating everything in sight like a possessed vacuum and battling that rascally King Dedede, you tend to eat enemies and press a button to spit them out as friends. Don’t think about how Kirby can rewrite an enemy’s personality whilst they’re in his mouth. In this game, though, you can skip all that awkward nonsense and just make the friend immediately by throwing Friend Hearts at your foes. Yes, they’re called Friend Hearts.

Many might lambaste the game for making the crucial mistake of cutting down on gameplay and calling it an improvement, especially whilst the old mechanic of swallowing enemies is still present, but I would have to correct many with a hammer to the face. It’s not taking away gameplay; it’s expanding it. In most games, Kirby can only swallow when he doesn’t have an ability, and he can only make one friend at a time. However, this game has a focus on multiplayer action, as everyone can join in on the fun with enough Joy-Cons to go around; as such, the Friend Hearts allow you to befriend enemies regardless of what ability Kirby currently has, streamlining the befriending process and allowing your friends to get in on the action much more quickly.

The multiplayer mechanics work pretty well, from what I’ve seen. Lots of the abilities can be paired in order to achieve more interesting aims, like imbuing your friend’s Sword ability with your Fire, making the next boss a lot easier. Admittedly, it’s not useful all that often, but it certainly livens up the experience, and lots of the new abilities and pairs are included pretty seamlessly into the level design. I also appreciate the Dream Friends that the game has – once per level, you can visit a temple on the world map and unlock a Dream Friend, chosen via a roulette, for one of your pals to play as, and they can be pretty fun – you unlock a few as you go through the game, and an update added a few more. I will say, though, I’ve not a fucking clue what they were thinking, adding Marx; he breaks the game like a glass being swept off a counter by a naughty cat, and with the Wind element, he can solo the first two worlds without even breaking a sweat. Me and my friend would know, because we did exactly this. He’s completely absurd, even more powerful than he was in his original iteration as the bona fide final boss of the entirety of Kirby Super Star, hopped up on cosmic superpowers.

However, if a Dream Friend dies, you can’t regain them easily. Kirby games have often had a habit of making players value the lives of their allies slightly less than a forgotten coin dropped down the back of the sofa, but knowing that you aren’t guaranteed to get that Dream Friend if you go back and the roulette decides it hates you makes you a lot more careful with them. I like this approach, because it means you can’t just spam Dream Friends over and over or throw them into danger, and you have to pay a little more attention than you usually do in a Kirby game (note: this does not apply to Marx. As previously mentioned, Marx is disgustingly overpowered.)

Of course, even not paying attention doesn’t make this game particularly hard. The only really difficult boss was the penultimate one, and only because they can do the Friend Wheel thing that you get to do in some levels, and it’s an absolute arse to avoid with Kirby’s awkwardly slow air mobility. That said, the bosses themselves were definitely the most fun parts of this game, and the music for each was godly. My favourite theme is probably either Meta Knight’s or Zan Partizanne’s.

I found it strange that the campaign was so short, because I felt like it ran out of steam and immediately stopped. There’s only four worlds, but they vary in size, so it’s hard to say exactly how that works. The first one is just a few levels, whereas the second and third (the name Jambastion is weirdly fun to say, as an aside) are roughly equal in length, and then the fourth is twice as long as those, but it’s the last world. I was left wanting more after the game was done, and the only really interesting post-game content is the typical Kirby arena mode, otherwise known as ‘the reason you can’t pass Kirby games off as easy’, which I find quite lacking. Fun, don’t get me wrong, but when I die on the last boss after spending half an hour perfect-running every other boss in the fucking game, I want to play something else to relax, and the game is lacking other ways to spend my time.

The final boss deserves special mention, I think. It does the thing I hate the most in final bosses: introduces a completely unique control scheme that only this boss uses and never recurs again, and because it’s the final boss, it ends up being pretty hard. Games that do this irk me, because the final boss doesn’t test my skill as a player; it tests my skill at very quickly learning and mastering that entirely unique control scheme. I also found it weirdly irritating, because it can get quite hard to avoid the boss’ attacks in later phases, and you end up taking damage, and that damage transfers to Kirby in the next phase which actually does use the normal side-scrolling mechanics. And that boss at Soul Melter difficulty? God. No. I refuse to do it. I’ll come back to that shit after my anger management course.

That said, the music and visuals are gorgeous, the game is fun, if a little short, and overall introduces a slew of new mechanics that I think make Kirby more fun to play than it ever has been. The Dream Friends are a welcome addition, as well as a really nice reward for beating bosses in the main game. I’m disappointed that Zan Partizanne, Flamberge and Francisca weren’t playable once you beat them in the endgame, but hey, maybe an update will fix that, too. Additional modes wouldn’t be a bad idea either, whilst I’m suggesting stuff to be added; hell, a new story campaign would be awesome. Super Star Ultra had, like, 7.

Overall, I think it’s a really solid Kirby game, and an enjoyable fun multiplayer game, with just enough ways to irritate the group’s ‘player 1’ that you can really enjoy the playthrough, but also just enough power afforded to the player 1 that everyone can still make actual forward progress. I mean, the player 1 does have the ability to kill their friends at the press of a button, so forward progress is a good way to not die… as I said to my friends when we played it.

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