A standby point in the world of games commentary is the idea that innovation is inherently good. Doing something new seemingly trumps doing something well in the mind of some critics. I’m not really on that boat myself – I think that a solid formula executed well with new content can yield more impressive results than innovating for the sake of innovation. Case in point: Kirby: Star Allies, the latest in the long-running platformer/vacuum-simulator series, which doesn’t do much that we wouldn’t expect from Kirby – but does it exceptionally well.
Villainy is afoot in Dream Land once again! Evil dark energy is corrupting hearts and turning classic Kirby characters into somewhat more edgy versions of their usual selves. The pink puff is going to have to take them out and get everything back to normal, but this might be too big of a job for the Kirbster to handle by himself…
…so he’ll have to sign up some friends! Converting enemies into playable partners is a classic Kirby feature from the days of Super Star on the SNES and that’s what Star Allies is all about. Along with the typical eat-swallow-copy loop that enables Kirby to obtain and use new powers, our hero’s now able to throw friendship hearts at enemies, converting them into partners. It’s possible to have up to three partners at once and the majority of the enemies in the game can be converted; once you’ve got some partners, you can let the surprisingly-decent AI control them or recruit some real friends to help you out.
Along with the chaos that naturally ensues from having four characters running around, Star Allies’ partner system also introduces some unique gameplay elements that utilize the friendship concept. Perhaps most notably, characters can now combine powers, resulting in more impressive abilities and allowing you to solve certain puzzles that aren’t doable alone. The standby Sword can be set on fire, electrified, or enhanced with water or ice to result in an elemental blade that deals more damage, attacks a larger area and carries various effects.
Other combinations are one-use or situational, such as the Water and Ice abilities interacting for large-scale attacks. By finding secrets, it’s even possible to have classic Kirby characters like Bandanna Waddle Dee join up and add their powers into the mix.
Naturally, the combination of gentle level design, fairly weak opponents and the immense power available to Kirby and Friends work together and ensure that this isn’t exactly the most difficult game. That’s nothing new by Kirby standards, so if you’re looking for a challenge you might want to look elsewhere. If you’re interested in exploration, discovery and some light puzzle-solving with plenty of rewards for your effort, though, Star Allies delivers. In particular, if you can get some pals together, this is one of the best Kirby titles yet.
Star Allies looks pretty nice too, particularly when running on the Switch’s handheld mode. The action can be somewhat chaotic and it can be difficult to make out what’s going on between four characters flinging bombastic attacks all over the screen, but the experience rarely becomes unplayable or punishing. Kirby’s usual fantastic sound design remains present and accounted for as well, and there’s plenty of new remixes of classic tracks as well as some new goodness for one’s ears.
Kirby: Star Allies is a classic Kirby experience on the Switch. That means you shouldn’t expect a huge amount of innovation or a hardcore challenge; on the other hand, the series has a formula that works (innovation might lead to questionable results like Kirby Battle Royale!) and challenge isn’t really what Kirby’s all about. As a title that’s more about wonder, discovery and having fun with friends, Star Allies nails the essence of Kirby and as such it’s a must-have for fans.