Kirby Star Allies has finally arrived on Nintendo Switch and, as a decades-long Kirby fan, I had very high hopes for this entry. As the first Kirby game to appear on Nintendo's celebrated new console, and the follow-up to the phenomenal Planet Robobot, expectations for Star Allies were perhaps unrealistically elevated. Star Allies is adorable, and competent, but there are a few issues that ultimately hold it back.
Before I address those issues, let me clear the air by saying that serious Kirby fans are going to find a lot to love here, and younger gamers who may be taking control of our favorite pink puff for the first time are going to enjoy a wonderful introduction to the series. The things that we all know and love about Kirby games -- the cute characters, the copy abilities, the boss fights, the music, and the extra game modes -- those things are all well-represented in Star Allies, and in abundance!
There are almost 30 copy abilities to experiment with, and experiment you will! At any given time, Kirby can enlist the aid of up to three CPU or human controlled allies. These friends will follow behind Kirby and offer their assistance when you encounter certain puzzles. You're also able to hold up on the analog stick to summon allies with elemental-based abilities, who can imbue your current copy ability with their own power.
When using a sword, for example, you can call on an allied Birdon to enhance your sword with the element of wind. A quick slash will now send out a blade of wind ahead of you. While wielding bombs, you can hold up to invite a snowman ally to charge your explosives with ice, creating frosty explosions after every toss. The animations that play out every time you discover a new combination are fantastic, and finding effective weapon and element combos to wield against specific enemies and bosses can be really satisfying.
There are also incredibly showy "friend abilities" in Star Allies, which offer significant deviations in gameplay for short periods of time. Scattered across certain stages are large pedestals which will indicate how many allies you need to trigger an ability. One such ability that you may have seen in trailers is the "friend train," which basically sees you and your pals form a conga line of destruction, charging forward and destroying anything in your path. Discovering these friend abilities for the first time is so much fun, and a lot of the early surprises come in the form of friend abilities, so I don't want to spoil them here.
The music and aesthetic in Star Allies are both top-notch, and I found myself at several points simply walking back and forth to admire beautiful stretches of environment, and even a few of the "stage select" hub worlds. This is a beautiful game.
I do wish that the team would have taken a few more creative risks, though. While the friend abilities and powers do shake things up from time to time, I do think that Star Allies is one of the most "vanilla" Kirby games I've played in recent years. Compared to the wildly imaginative Planet Robobot, Star Allies can come off as a little "by the numbers." It feels very predictable, and while the stage design was excellent aesthetically, it very rarely took me by surprise like Planet Robobot did.
Similarly, many of the more "exciting" gameplay sequences which are triggered by initiating friend abilities (like the friend train) are squandered by presenting the player with overly simplified platforming challenges. Most of the time the experience feels like it's on-rails (pun intended), or else you're tasked with navigating through some mindless sequence of obstacles.
In Planet Robobot, the set-piece sequences which were triggered by hopping into a robo-suit made you feel very powerful in comparison to the surrounding obstacles and enemies. Conversely, in Star Allies, the sequences triggered by certain friend abilities make the stages appear suddenly dull or overly simplified, and it doesn't succeed in communicating that same rush of power and playfulness.
Additionally, the game plays very slowly at times. I don't think that Kirby is actually moving any slower than in past entries, but the stages do seem like they're stretched out a bit. At several points I found myself making it from the beginning to the end of a certain section of a stage and thinking to myself, "Was that it? What was the point of that?" Expect at several points to emerge from a loading screen, only to waddle your way across a bunch of flat space, a few platforms, and a handful of predictably-placed enemies before disappearing into the next door.
I am happy to report that the boss fights in Star Allies, while very easy at first, will ultimately satisfy series veterans, and there is a lot of post-game content to dig into. I won't spoil anything here, but if you played Triple Deluxe and Planet Robobot you already have an idea of what you can expect after the credits roll. Star Allies also features a couple of new mini-games, which can easily be played with a single Joy-Con should you get the urge to play with your real-life allies!1comments
I'm really happy with Star Allies, and it's a game that I'll be returning to in the future. There is enough novelty here to justify the buying price, especially if you have someone to play through the game with you, but HAL definitely should have taken some bolder risks. The Nintendo Switch is a bold and exciting new console; it's innovative, and we live in the Breath of the Wild era when Nintendo fans expect bold new direction in staple franchises. Star Allies does not deliver that kind of innovation, but what it does offer is precious, and I loved my time with it very much.
WWG's Score: 3.5 / 5