Over the last 30 years, Kirby has starred in countless games across Nintendo platforms. More often than not, the character's outings have been enjoyable ones, even if they haven't offered much in the way of challenge. Kirby and the Forgotten Land on Nintendo Switch doesn't offer a challenge as steep as, for example, Metroid Dread, but it does move the series in a direction that will be embraced by longtime fans of the series while still being welcoming to younger players. The result is one of the best Kirby games in years, if not ever.
In Kirby and the Forgotten Land, the titular hero finds himself pulled into a strange new world alongside the other denizens of Dream Land. There, the villainous Beast Pack has kidnapped the Waddle Dees, and it's up to Kirby to save them. Naturally, Kirby is able to use his trademark copy abilities on his quest, but he's also able to use the new "Mouthful Mode," as well. Along his journey, Kirby comes across various items that he can ingest even when he already has a power-up. Rather than being transformed, these items basically stretch Kirby over the item, allowing him to use that item in interesting ways.
For the most part, the Mouthful Mode abilities make for a strong addition. The car is well-implemented, allowing Kirby to drive around various levels. The soda machine is also a blast, giving Kirby the power to fire cans of pop at his opponents. My personal favorite, however, is the arch that turns Kirby into a glider; that ability prompts on-rails flight sections that almost feel like something out of Star Fox 64. All in all, Mouthful Mode is a neat twist on the classic Kirby formula, and it's used well in the game's puzzles. It's less fun when it's something as simple as "ingest this storage locker and tip it over," or "swallow the staircase to reach a higher platform," but even then, the abilities encourage exploration throughout each level while expanding the concept of Kirby's powers in an interesting new way.
Exploration plays a big part in Forgotten Land. Completing each level will unlock three Waddle Dees, but there are several more hidden throughout, requiring players to search out every nook and cranny. Some Waddle Dees are relatively easy to find, but others are given as rewards for completing secret tasks. For example, one level might require that Kirby defeat a certain group of enemies without falling in water. Sometimes, players will stumble across these rewards by accident, while other times, they might not find out about the requirement until after the stage is beaten once or even twice. In a way, it's reminiscent of Super Mario 64, and completists will find a lot to keep them busy.
There's also a pretty strong incentive to revisit these levels: the more Waddle Dees players unlock, the more extras are made available. The rescued Waddle Dees set up shop in a little hub world called Waddle Dee Town. This is where players can take part in sub-games like Flash Fishing or Tilt-and-Roll Kirby. Players can also find the Weapons Shop, where Copy Abilities can be upgraded after Kirby finds specific Blueprints. Each world in the game houses multiple Treasure Road stages, where players will be given a challenge based on a Copy Ability. Completing these optional stages unlocks a Rare Stone, which can be traded alongside Blueprints to upgrade Copy Abilities in the Weapon Shop. Once an ability has been upgraded, it can be toggled on to appear throughout the game when Kirby sucks up the accompanying enemy. These upgrades are a lot more powerful than the default, and can be a big help.
In terms of graphics, Kirby and the Forgotten Land is one of Switch's better-looking first-party games. The title's vibrant colors pop off the screen, and there are a lot of nice details. In particular, the clothing looks great, like the leather in Weapons-Shop Waddle Dee's hat or the knitting on Kirby's Frosty Ice hat. The game's overall art direction is really impressive. Forgotten Land is set in a world that looks and feels slightly post-apocalyptic, with Kirby exploring abandoned shopping malls and theme parks. Forgotten Land still manages to keep the cheery tone that players have come to expect from classic Kirby games, but the overall world gives the game its own unique flavor, and it ties in well with Kirby's new Mouthful Mode abilities.
When starting the game, players are prompted to choose between two modes: "Wild Mode" and "Spring-Breeze Mode." Wild Mode offers a more challenging experience, while Spring-Breeze is, like it sounds, a bit easier. The game also allows players to easily swap between the two options. I spent all of my time with the game on Wild Mode and found it a little more challenging than the average Kirby game. Some of the later boss fights ramp it up a bit, but I never felt like I needed to make a change between the two modes. That said, some of the game's Treasure Road stages can offer a decent challenge; nothing too steep, but enough that you might walk away surprised. Some of my favorite Kirby games have been fairly easy, but I liked how Forgotten Land allowed me to choose a little more challenge. This should definitely be the standard for the series, moving forward.
As we've seen from a lot of first-party Nintendo Switch games, Forgotten Land features a co-op mode. In this case, a second player takes on the role of Bandana Waddle Dee. Bandana Waddle Dee does not have the same copy abilities as Kirby and instead uses a spear to attack enemies. When Kirby uses some Mouthful Mode powers, Bandana Waddle Dee even hops on and tosses spears at opponents in the way. It's not quite as enjoyable as controlling Kirby, but it is a great way for parents to play the game with their kids, and I applaud Nintendo for continuing to include this option. If you've ever played Pokemon: Let's Go, Pikachu! or Let's Go, Eevee!, co-op here is quite similar, though it's a bit more intuitive, allowing players to easily shift between single-player and co-op from the pause menu.
If you had asked me my favorite Kirby game a few weeks ago, it would have been a toss-up between Epic Yarn and Planet Robobot. However, I can honestly say Kirby and the Forgotten Land is the best the series has ever been. Developer HAL Laboratory has put so much care and effort into this game, offering a compelling entry with so much to see and do. It took me more than 10 hours to complete the game's main campaign, but I only found myself at about 62% completion at that point. Length isn't important if there's no incentive to stick with the game, but Forgotten Land is so charming that players will want to spend more time finding every hidden secret. With lush graphics, fun gameplay, and a ton to see and do, Kirby and the Forgotten Land is a must-play for fans of the series, or anyone that has ever wanted to try a Kirby game. This year marks Kirby's 30th anniversary, and the future for the series has never looked brighter.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5