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"Kirby Star Allies" Review

Joey Nasser has been playing and discussing video games for about as long as he's existed. Recently enamored with Animal Crossing and Doom.

"Kirby Star Allies" Cover Art

"Kirby Star Allies" Cover Art

Kirby Star Allies is the latest traditional platformer starring the pink puffball to hit home consoles, and it follows in the footsteps of the excellent Kirby's Return to Dreamland, Kirby Triple Deluxe, and the best of the bunch, Kirby Planet Robobot. They each follow an extremely similar formula, with only minor tweaks between incarnations to spice things up. The added ingredient to Kirby’s latest outing are the titular Star Allies—foes who can be swayed to your side with the push of a button. Is it enough to stave off franchise fatigue, or does Star Allies end up feeling like just another Kirby game?

Game Information

Developed By: HAL Laboratory

Published By: Nintendo

Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch

Available on: Nintendo Switch

Rating: E10+

Release Date: March 16th 2018 in NA

Concept/Story

When a Dark Crystal heart explodes in the far reaches of space, fragments are sent shooting in all directions, including to Kirby’s home planet of Popstar. They imbue any who touch them with a sinister energy, including Meta knight and King Dedede. When one of these dark hearts hits Kirby, he gains the ability to throw pink, bouncy friend hearts at his foes, immediately turning them into stalwart companions. With his new ability in tow, and alongside an endless supply of friends, Kirby sets out to undo the damage already done, and naturally, to save the universe.

I won’t go into too much more detail, but in general, the story follows the typical Kirby beats, right down to the expectedly dark, climactic ending. There’s deeper lore to dig into if you’re so inclined, but the predictable characters and situations didn’t give me much reason to do so.

Graphics

Star Allies gets a lot right here, to its credit. The visuals are lively and detailed, and Kirby and his various foes are bouncy and expressive. Adorable touches like the playable characters all getting little inner tubes while floating on the water’s surface are charming and plentiful. The resolution isn’t quite 1920x1080 while docked, but instead seems to have a variable resolution that maxes out at around 900p. Texture work, in particular, is pretty good, imbuing everything with a satisfying sense of . . . well, texture.

"Star Allies" can look downright lovely . . .

"Star Allies" can look downright lovely . . .

Unfortunately, there’s an issue that slightly sours the saccharine surroundings. The game runs at 30 frames per second, and especially for a platformer, that isn’t ideal. This is an issue that will affect different people to varying degrees—indeed, some people won’t even notice it at all. Speaking personally, though, it leads Kirby to feel a bit sluggish and choppy. The three mainline Kirby games that preceded Star Allies all ran at double the frame rate on significantly lesser hardware, and while none of them boast the minute detail of Star Allies, I’d have much preferred the fluidity of the higher frame rate. It’s particularly noticeable since menus, the end level mini-game, and even occasionally the start screen all run at 60 fps, and look and feel noticeably smoother. It’s not the end of the world by any means, but it never stopped being an annoyance throughout my play through.

. . . but it comes at the cost of fluidity.

. . . but it comes at the cost of fluidity.

Audio

Kirby’s upbeat, catchy music has long been one of its strengths, and Star Allies continues the tradition. It likely won’t leave you humming any of the tunes once you’ve shut the console off, but it’s a pleasant, bouncy backdrop to the action that knows when to be fun, and when to get down to business. It’s a nice collection of satisfying remixes and a healthy smattering of entirely new songs. The final boss music and some of the latter puzzle room music, in particular, are real standouts.

Listen for Yourself!

The sound design is lovely as well. Nicely updated versions of classic Kirby sounds mean that you can get that warm rush of nostalgia without sacrificing modern audio fidelity. There’s no real voice acting to speak of, but Kirby’s grunts and yells are fittingly precious.

Gameplay

Star Allies utilizes the formula introduced in Kirby’s Return to Dreamland, and plays like it and its 3DS sequels almost to a tee. In short, it’s a light, breezy 2D action/platformer that’s a perfect entry point into the genre, or even gaming in general. With the rare exception, Kirby games are known for their extremely low difficulty, but Star Allies is the easiest I’ve played, and it isn’t close. Whether that’s a point for or against Star Allies depends entirely on what you’re looking for out of it, but I was personally a bit disappointed.

The central gimmick of recruiting Star Allies reduces the difficulty even further. You can have a team of four in mere minutes, and whether they’re controlled by A.I. or up to three buddies, they sap what little resistance Star Allies puts up. With four of you going at it, nothing really stands a chance.

Kirby: Destroyer of Worlds

Kirby: Destroyer of Worlds

While the Star Allies take center stage, Kirby’s signature copy abilities are here in full force, and they’re just as fun as ever. New additions like spider and artist join longtime favorites like yo-yo and fighter. The depth they offer is impressive, too. Each of them has a list of inputs not unlike that of a fighting game, and delving into the menu to see what each ability is capable of is one of Kirby’s greatest strengths.

Virtually every copy ability has a wide range of associated moves.

Virtually every copy ability has a wide range of associated moves.

There are three major facets of gameplay in Star Allies—combat, platforming, and puzzle-solving. Unfortunately, the titular Star Allies don’t do any of them any favors.

  • Combat—either against waves of enemies or a beefy boss—is made completely trivial by the inclusion of three other damage dealers.
  • The platforming is mostly rendered moot by the fact that Kirby and his friends can fly. Instead of jumping gauntlets, it’s mostly a matter of dodging timing-based obstacles. These are mostly fine, but for whatever reason, the Star Allies in your group seem infatuated with the giant meteors and spinning blades, and take every opportunity they can to show their affection. Their A.I. is surprisingly competent in other areas, but when it comes to navigating hazards, expect them to . . . not.
  • And finally, we come to the puzzles, and they’re arguably the weakest link. These are mostly solved via a rudimentary power-combining feature that lets you imbue swords and the like with different elemental powers. It’s nothing like the fan-favorite feature in Kirby 64, but it’s a fun, harmless inclusion. The issue is twofold—one, puzzles are usually in isolated rooms that house nothing but the copy abilities you need to solve the problem, and the problem itself. Two—and this is a big one—your A.I. companions will automatically solve the puzzle if they have the right abilities.

I recognize that Kirby’s target audience is not 29-year-old men who feel the need to plunk out reviews. But the problem here, and it persists throughout the entirety of Star Allies, is that the game virtually plays itself. Sometimes literally. Past entries like Kirby Super Star struck a much better balance between accessibility and challenge.

They're helpful, but a bit overeager.

They're helpful, but a bit overeager.

All being told, the Star Allies don’t add much of anything to the game besides co-op. I’m a big fan of co-op, but its implementation here comes at the cost of way too many other facets of the title. Combat is a joke. The level design is mind-numbing. It focuses on making enough room for four players to each run and jump through, and while it does that, it does almost nothing else. The levels in Star Allies are some of the most vapid, empty affairs I’ve ever played through. Looking through the credits, it’s easy to see why. The UI was afforded six designers. The level design was afforded one.

Value

There is not a lot of game here. Five hours is more than enough to tear through the story mode, dabble with the secondary modes, and call it quits. That being said, some of Star Allies’ best content opens up after the credits roll. The Ultimate Choice is a robust boss-rush that offers up some of the game’s most devious challenges. Guest Star ???? Star Allies Go is a slightly truncated version of the campaign built for speedrunning. You can play as any of the game’s myriad of friends, including wonderful fan-service heavy inclusions that were added as free DLC. The added limitations imposed by playing as someone other than Kirby combined with the drive to move forward as fast as possible make this mode a lot more compelling than the vanilla campaign. And finally, there’s Heroes in Another Dimension, a surprisingly beefy two or three-hour mini-campaign that ups the difficulty and forces you to play as a specific character in certain situations. That last one, in particular, does a lot to help the game’s overall value proposition, but in the end, it’s just not enough. For as much as free post-release DLC added to the package, it’s still unacceptably slight for a full-priced release.

Fan favorites like Marx are finally playable! Though I'm not sure I'd call him a 'friend'...

Fan favorites like Marx are finally playable! Though I'm not sure I'd call him a 'friend'...

A Halfhearted Recommendation

I liked Kirby Star Allies, but I wanted to love it. The co-op can be fun with friends, the overall presentation is darling, and Kirby himself is just impossible not to love. All that being said, the game’s shortcomings are too numerous and too severe to justify giving the title anything above a halfhearted recommendation. Kirby’s Return to Dreamland, Kirby Triple Deluxe, and Kirby Planet Robobot have done this all before, and markedly better. The level design in particular really holds this entry back.

As it stands, I can only recommend the game to extremely inexperienced players, especially very young children, and absolute Kirby die-hards. If you can find it for half of its MSRP, its shortcomings might be a bit easier to swallow, but at a full 60 dollars, there are simply too many better options on the Switch.

The GoodThe Bad

Wonderful Music

Empty Level Design

Fun Extra Modes

Not Enough Content

Unreasonably Cute

Puzzles That Solve Themselves

6.75 out of 10

Kirby Star Allies is charming, polished, and well presented, but its lack of content, bad level design, and weak central gimmick ensure that it never reaches its full potential.

© 2020 Joey Nasser