Kirby doesn’t talk much, but when he does say something, it’s typically something cheerful. He is a very cheerful character, but gets serious when his planet is being attacked. He’s willing to lend a hand to any stranger that comes asking for help, never giving it a second thought. It’s all these reasons and more why Kirby is a lovable character. The pink puffball first appeared on the Game Boy in Kirby’s Dreamland. He then made the jump to color in the NES’s Kirby’s Adventure. Since then, he has appeared in numerous games, becoming a flagship Nintendo title. He makes the jump to Nintendo’s latest console, the Switch, in Kirby Star Allies.
The story in Star Allies follows a mysterious being unleashing dark energy objects called “Jamba Hearts” onto Planet Popstar. These hearts affect many of the inhabitants of the planet, including King Dedede and Meta Knight. Kirby awakens to the horror, and runs off, gathering friends along the way, to rid Popstar of the Jamba Hearts and stop the mysterious menace. The story isn’t too different than previous games in the franchise. But, one can always expect a great climax in Kirby games, and it’s no different in Star Allies. Is everything else about the game great? Star Allies is a fun platformer, bringing the Kirby elements that puts the series above the standard side-scroller. However, much like contemporary Kirby games, there are not enough innovations in Star Allies to call it an amazing game.
The Switch is Nintendo’s best system graphically speaking, meaning Kirby gets to shine in HD glory. The levels are beautiful with outstanding detail. Highlights include Castle Dedede and Reef Resort. Accompanied by a fantastic soundtrack, I was reminded of Kirby’s Epic Yarn, which featured lovely levels complemented by a wonderful soundtrack. The level design in Star Allies is often simple, but at this point, one does not expect much challenge from this series. Kirby then has to deliver in the “simply fun to play” category, and Star Allies succeeds in this regard.
Pretty levels would not be able to make up for substandard gameplay. Star Allies has the same level of high quality gameplay as previous Kirby games. If you’ve played Kirby’s Return to Dreamland or the more recent Planet Robobot, you know what to expect. The biggest feature of this game is the ability to turn foes into friends with the push of a button. When this happens, up to three characters (controlled either by the AI or human players) can follow Kirby. It’s similar to summoning a Helper in Kirby Super Star, but in this case, the allies bring with them a power first introduced in Kirby 64: the power to combine abilities.
It is a shock that this ability has been so rarely used in the games. Then again, it might lose its uniqueness if it appeared in every game. So, these “Friend Abilities” as they are called allow Kirby to mix his copy ability with the ability of an ally. A yo-yo on fire? The sword with an icy touch? Experimenting is always fun, and the Friend Abilities are nicely integrated into finding the Picture Pieces and Big Switches. As for the individual abilities, the usual ones return, along with a few new ones, such as the fun “artist” and “spider.”
Star Allies make good use of Kirby’s friends in three scenarios. One of them is making a bridge to help a Key Dee get to a door, another turning the characters into an unstoppable wheel, and the final one is the best: the friends riding together on a “Friend Star.” These Friend Star sequences are a blast, adding a high-octane feel to the game. The Friend Star is put to especially good use in the climatic boss battle. Since we’re on the subject, Star Allies continues the tradition of having an epic climax. In the final showdown scene, the player really gets a feel of Kirby’s determination to beat the opposing force.
For a couple of more positives, the game’s implementation of extra stages is a nice feature. The final extra stage has a nice tribute to Kirby’s Dreamland. (It’s a shame it wasn’t longer.) As already touched upon, the soundtrack is strong. You’ll hear the familiar themes, but also plenty of great new ones. The final few levels have some fast-paced themes to contrast the more softer sounds. One of the greatest examples of quality music is the beautiful Reef Resort theme, which once again evokes memories of Epic Yarn. This is the strongest soundtrack in a Kirby game since Epic Yarn.
As it’s been made evident, Star Allies follows the Kirby formula closely, but often too closely. The game does not often feel that different from its predecessors. If this was the first ever Kirby game, it would be fantastic, revolutionary even. But the fact is that it’s not the first. Kirby has been the star of numerous platformers, so it’s near baffling that Star Allies doesn’t introduce more innovations. It is possible to keep the same formula while revolutionizing it. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey did that for their respective franchises. Super Mario Odyssey was the same fundamentally as previous Mario platformers, but Odyssey took risks and delivered things that separated it from past games. Breath of the Wild kept the core aspects that have made the Zelda series appealing, while also reinventing them. These games did not stray from their fundamental concepts. Rather, these games built upon the concepts and gave us something familiar, but also brand new.
There is something I like to call the New Super Mario Bros. 2 effect. While New Super Mario Bros. 2 was a fun game and competently made, it made no progress in gameplay design from the previous two New Super Mario Bros. installments. It was essentially almost the same game. Hal Laboratory seems content on playing it safe with Kirby. There’s no reason why Star Allies couldn’t have been the revolutionary game for Kirby. The pieces are there – the epic climax, the Friend Abilities, the Friend Star- but these things are often sandwiched with an often too familiar atmosphere of normalcy. To give credit, Star Allies is not the New Super Mario Bros. 2 of Kirby. (That would be Triple Deluxe.) But, Hal seems to be in the NSMB2 mindset, which is delivering more of the same without reinvention. There are enough unique aspects of Star Allies to keep it from being called a copy of previous games, but more innovations would have been welcome.
While the friends are fun (and adorable) to have around, there are a couple of drawbacks. For one thing, you might find sometimes that they destroy an enemy you were planning to absorb. They also make already easy boss fights easier. Since we’re on the subject, the game reuses bosses too often. (You’ll be seeing Mr. Frosty more than once.) One more negative is the length. Kirby games are not typically that long, but one expects more from a $60 game. The story mode in Star Allies is about five hours, which is not terrible, but still on the shorter side. You can go back and collect the Picture Pieces and find the Big Switches, but since these are incredibly easy to find (players hoping for a challenging scavenger hunt will be disappointed), chances are you’ll find most of them on your first playthrough without losing much time. The game does feature some bonus sub-game modes, with perhaps the most notable being a boss rush called ‘The Ultimate Choice.’ So, there is some after-game content, but the main story mode needed to be a little longer.
Kirby Star Allies is not the revolutionary Kirby game as Mario Odyssey was to the Mario series. But, Star Allies is still a lot of fun. The levels are nicely designed, and accompanied by a stellar soundtrack. The power to combine abilities makes a triumphant return, which enhances the already solid gameplay experience. While the main story mode is almost always not that difficult (you’ll probably never see the game over screen, and have collected over 100 lives by the end), there is some challenge to be found in the climax. Plus, game difficulty is not the sole indicator of quality. Epic Yarn was even easier, and that game is a masterpiece. What Star Allies unfortunately lacks is innovation. There are some great, innovative aspects, but the game needed more. Also, one can beat the story relatively quickly, making the $60 price questionable. (Breath of the Wild and Odyssey are at least double the length.) But overall, I had a good time playing Star Allies. It goes down as one of the more memorable Kirby experiences in recent years.