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Kirby and the Forgotten Land Review -- The end of the world never looked so cute

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At this point, we can all recognize the post-apocalyptic setting. It is frequently featured in dystopian narratives where civilization has collapsed, cities are abandoned and retaken by nature, resources are scarce, and order is replaced with lawlessness. These are the familiar staples of a genre that has, especially in recent years, been heavily used across various forms of media. Kirby and the Forgotten Land takes that well-traversed foundation and puts its own spin on the genre by asking, what if it was also shockingly adorable?

Like so many of Kirby’s other adventures, Kirby and the Forgotten Land opens with an interruption to the idyllic life of Dreamland. Dark storm clouds appear in the skies above Dreamland and Kirby watches as numerous Waddle Dees vanish into a mysterious rift before being sucked into it himself. None of that is particularly important. What is important is that Kirby wakes up alone on an unknown beach and, after a brief introduction to some of the game’s core gameplay mechanics, attempts to ingest a car, fails, and becomes that car (all without losing his headwear). Kirby’s anomalous transformation raises a wellspring of questions (Kirby can eat rocks and seashells, why not a car? Is there an upper limit on the size of objects Kirby can consume? How does Kirby drive the car??), but none of those questions truly matter. Taking it all in stride, Kirby cruises through an overgrown and largely abandoned city with an upbeat tune playing as Nintendo clearly draws its line in the sand -- in the clash between post-apocalyptic setting and adorable character, the almost sickeningly cute Kirby will not be deterred or dragged down.

Of course, that is not to say this game is just about Kirby attempting to eat non-digestible objects and becoming those objects in a ridiculous manner (although, don’t get me wrong, this definitely happens -- more on this in a little). Before long, Kirby stumbles across a group of the recently displaced Waddle Dees and a strange blue creature being hounded by unfamiliar critters. And although the Waddle Dees are ensnared and swept away, Kirby frees and befriends this seemingly helpless native, Elfilin. Elfilin informs him that all the Waddle Dees have been captured, and the two set out to free the captured Waddle Dees and help them create a new safe haven in this unknown world. As the story progresses, Kirby and Elfilin visit various abandoned and disrepaired locales and eventually learn what drove this world to its fate.

If you have played a core Kirby game before, the central gameplay of Kirby and the Forgotten Land will feel like another entry in the franchise with some minor evolutions. Ever since Kirby’s Adventure, Kirby’s copy ability, the ability to steal the powers of several of the enemies encountered across his journeys, has been a central element of Kirby’s identity and core to many of the franchise’s gameplay experiences. While there are many abilities that do not appear in this game (Beam/Spark, Stone, Wheel, Feather, etc.), most of the staples have successfully made the jump to 3D. Kirby’s arsenal is also supplemented by two new additions, the drill and gun abilities. Although he has fewer abilities in his toolkit than some of his other adventures, similar to some other recent Kirby games, Kirby can upgrade his abilities to increase their power and gain additional capabilities. Sometimes this is simply increasing the size and power, like upgrading the standard Sword ability to the towering Gigant Sword, but other times, it translates to more significant changes. For instance, upgrading the Fire ability provides it with a pair of flaming wings that can singe foes as Kirby glides across the map. Upgrading abilities requires collecting materials from bonus stages that generally require players to show mastery over a specific ability or play-style in a limited amount of time.

The other significant new gameplay element introduced in Kirby and the Forgotten Land is the Mouthful Mode. Similar to the peculiar Kirby-car situation, there are a handful of items that Kirby will encounter throughout the game that Kirby can attempt to gobble (fail to gobble..?) to take on their appearance. If Kirby eats a safety cone, he takes on the appearance of that cone and can use its conical shape to spearhead enemies and cracks on the map. If he eats attempts to eat a vending machine, Kirby can instead waddle around the map pelting enemies with coke cans.

Mouthful Mode is an interesting concept, and it is executed in a way that opens up some new gameplay options, but it also feels largely superfluous when considered against the larger franchise. While there is an undeniable charm to seeing Kirby adorably wrapped around a metal ring or illuminating the world with a light bulb stuffed in his mouth, these forms feel like they were already possible with established abilities. The car segments could be replaced by wheel sections, the hammer or stone abilities could largely serve the same function as the cone, and a warp star would have provided the same gameplay as the arch segments. Mouthful Mode does not take away from the game, but it is likely a one-off and not an especially meaningful contribution to the franchise.

Apart from a handful of side-games and spinoffs, the Kirby franchise has largely stuck with a familiar side-scrolling format from its inception on the Game Boy and early adventures on the Nintendo Entertainment System, through Nintendo’s transition to 3D on the Nintendo 64, to even the modern era of gaming on the 3DS, Wii, and Wii U. As I started writing this review, a bumped into a strange question: Is Kirby and the Forgotten Land the first true 3D platforming game in the Kirby franchise? That led me to the mistake of visiting WiKirby, and after spending far more time than I had initially intended on extensive research into the franchise, I emerged with a definitive answer: Yes.

While there are some reviews that teeter on suggesting otherwise, Kirby and the Forgotten Land is not an open-world game. It is a 3D platforming game more akin to Super Mario 3D World rather than Mario Odyssey or even Bowser’s Fury. Like many of the other platforming games in the franchise and genre, Kirby and the Forgotten Land is comprised of thematic levels separated into a number of distinct stages. These areas include cities that have become overrun with wildlife, an abandoned amusement park, a desolate desert, and a handful of others. As you would expect, the stages largely adhere to the theme of the area in which they are located, with each stage still feeling mostly unique and offering its own spin on that theme. Each stage can be completed by reaching the end and freeing the captured Waddle Dees, but there are additional Waddle Dees that can be freed by completing hidden objectives. Some Waddle Dees can be found by exploring secret rooms or following side paths, while others are freed after eating three servings of ice cream in a stage. Each stage is also filled with a plethora of enemies to swallow and abilities to acquire to try to uncover secrets. There might be a handful of exceptions, but unlike earlier entries in the franchise, I cannot remember needing to carry an ability from one level to another to reach a secret in this game.

The Waddle Dees rescued by Kirby congregate to form the aforementioned and appropriately named safe haven, Waddle Dee Town. In addition to housing the most adorable population of survivors in a post-apocalyptic world, Waddle Dee Town also serves as a hub which features additional structures as Kirby continues to progress through the game. These include a house for Kirby to relax between his adventure, a shop to upgrade his abilities, a Coliseum where Kirby can enter a gauntlet to challenge previous bosses and powerful foes, and a handful of the game’s mini-games. Waddle Dee Town also houses the game’s post-game content, a condensed and more challenging run through each of the game’s earlier levels, culminating in a clash against a familiar secret boss. It is not nearly as difficult as the final three levels of Super Mario 3D World, but it is a nice offering for players who might have found the campaign too easy.

For as much as I have enjoyed Kirby and the Forgotten Land, I also have to admit the game does not really do anything new or especially innovative. Yes, this game moves the Kirby franchise away from its 2D roots into the 3D platforming world; yes, this is a very well done game; and yes, it is a very fun. But if you are looking for an experience you have not had before, you will likely be disappointed. The game almost feels like it takes the format and formula of Super Mario 3D World and replaces the Mario franchise elements with elements and gameplay cues from the Kirby franchise. Coupled with the game's unique gameplay mechanic being a twist on something that has part of the franchise since 1993, it can feel like Kirby and the Forgotten Land does little to move the franchise or genre forward. Even the game’s post-apocalyptic setting is fairly ubiquitous across nearly every form of media. Having said all that, it is an enjoyable experience and a really good Kirby game, so I do not necessarily think the lack of innovation is a bad thing that dramatically takes away from the game, but it was still something that needs to be mentioned.

While it might not feel like the most innovative game, in many ways, the shift from traditional 2D platforming to 3D platforming for the Kirby franchise highlights an interesting evolution to the introduction of gaming to new players. Kirby was envisioned as an early introduction to gaming for children and has largely adhered to that original intent throughout the franchise’s history. As far as 3D platforming games go, Kirby and the Forgotten Land is not especially challenging and older or more skilled players are not likely to struggle with even the game’s secret challenge courses or post-game content. But even for someone like me, not every game needs to keep me on the edge of my seat, not every game needs to care about min-maxing, and not every game needs to task players with overcoming arduous mountains. I personally enjoyed playing and 100-percenting Kirby and the Forgotten Land because I was not looking for something overly complex or demanding. Sometimes it is enough for a game to be a well done entry in a long-running franchise that captures the charm of an adorable character while offering a simply fun gameplay experience. If that is something that sounds appealing, I fully recommend Kirby and the Forgotten Land.

Every ending is a new beginning ~ Marianne Williamson

All images owned by Nintendo.