Our favourite pink puffball has arrived on the Nintendo Switch; and he’s brought a few of his pals along for the ride. Between the cute capers and mimicking mischief, Kirby Star Allies is packed with fun, multiplayer action that’s perfect for the whole family. But if you’d rather go it alone, Kirby Star Allies remains a sure-fire pick for its light-hearted story and excellently designed platform levels.
From Kirby series developer HAL Laboratory comes an endearing new platform adventure that can be enjoyed with or without friends. Travel across four worlds and experience fun at every turn with a vast range of copy abilities, wonderfully designed puzzles that require combination abilities to solve, and the all new Friend Ability mechanic. With more than 40 different platform levels, Kirby Star Allies is a real treat for all-time fans. Its deliciously-looking themed environments come in all shapes and sizes, while the game’s music is marvellously upbeat, setting the tone beautifully. And although Star Allies’ story mode feels a tad too short at just over 8 hours of gameplay, additional challenges arrive in two unlockable game modes after completion.
As is the case with any Kirby game, the main campaign is often the meatiest part. In Star Allies’ case, it’s also the most endearing. Bandana Waddle Dee, King Dedede and Meta Knight are all acting stranger than usual. Kirby fears that something is amiss, so he assembles a rag-tag team of misfits to help him knock some sense into his fellow rivals. Along the way, our beloved puffball discovers that there’s a bigger issue at play. Rooted deep within the bodies of his rivals are Dark Hearts; purple, flame-embroiled hearts that change the way they think, feel and act, making every action grotesque, evil and rotten to the very core. Determined to overcome the flames of desire, Kirby continues on his journey with his rag-tag misfit crew in tow to free Dream Land, Planet Popstar, Jambastion, and even a world in Deep Space from the mysterious Dark Curse.
If, like myself, you prefer to play Kirby titles on your tod – aka, alone – then don’t feel discouraged by Star Allies’ emphasis on multiplayer action. Frankly, it’s just as fun playing with friends as it is without, arguably due to the pristine level design and nature of the puzzles. In fact, the CPUs knew what they were doing more often than my very wonderful – but very ditzy – partner-in-crime. As a single player, you have far more control over which copy abilities are best for the puzzle at hand, while in multiplayer you’ll have to relinquish that control and trust in your friends. Sometimes that can be harder than it looks; after all, patience is a virtue. But with that said, no matter how many players join on a docked or undocked Switch, Star Allies performs at a stable 30 frames per second. In fact, in our entire playthrough there was just one moment during a boss fight where the game’s framerate dipped slightly. While not ideal, as many would prefer 60fps, both gameplay and cutscenes run near perfectly on the console.
With up to four players able to join at any time with just one Joy-Con or via Pro Controller, it’s safe to say that the game’s core mechanic focuses on teamwork. By throwing a Friend Heart to any enemy in a level, players can utilise every copy ability available in the game, including new abilities such as Broom, Spider and Artist. With the Broom ability, you’ll be able to sweep up leaves, extinguish flames or even drench an enemy with a bucket of water. On the other hand, artists can use their special ability ‘Life Skill’ to conjure up food from a hand-drawn fridge. As one of the most versatile games in the Kirby series to date, Star Allies steps it up a notch when combining abilities.
Players can utilise all sorts of combos to solve different puzzles, too. Use the Broom ability in combination with the Air Cutter ability and you’ll create a quick-draw boomerang that can cut through the air to douse flames. Or blend the Spark Plug or NESP ability with the Party Bomber and you’ll create a zap bomb, enabling you to roll it down a hill or across a platform to electrify every enemy on land. It’s certainly one of the most entertaining features in Star Allies due to its sheer versatility. Plus, it’s no gimmick either as players can use it to solve puzzles within hidden areas, unveiling rewards such as collectible puzzle pieces for celebratory illustrations, stars and healing items.
For Kirby fans, Star Allies’ main collectibles come in the form of the aforementioned puzzle pieces. Scattered across the levels, each puzzle piece collected counts towards the completion of several pieces of illustrative developer art. While normal pieces can be collected repeatedly, only one rainbow-coloured piece is hidden in each level. Once collected, it’s placed in a pink slot on the illustrative art – similar to the StreetPass puzzles found on the 3DS. Of course, that’s where the main challenge of the game lies for completionists. It’s a shame there are no other collectibles available, however, particularly ones which interact with the core gameplay. An unfortunate misfire from the developers.
As alluded to in our preview, Star Allies also features the Friend Ability. To activate, players will have to find a four-player platform within a level to blow off some steam as a Friend Train, or become supportive cheerleaders by stepping on each other’s shoulders to make a Friend Bridge. Great for mixing up the pace, there are countless of these abilities to discover throughout each world, including a particularly special one – that we won’t spoil – during Star Allies’ end boss fight.
Speaking of the devils, boss fights are a particular highlight in Kirby’s Switch adventure. Fans will be pleased to see old faces such as Whispy Woods, Kracko and Chef Kawasaki turn up for new multiplayer action, alongside Bandana Waddle Dee, Meta Knight and King Dedede. During the main storyline, you’ll also bump into the Dark Sister Trio, featuring Francisco, Flamberge and General Zan Partizanne. Between their wit and whimsical ways, it’s more Hocus Pocus than Charmed but their three-stage battles remain entertaining all the same.
Of course, having three other members on your side makes for an easy boss battle. However, there’s a way to bravely ‘go it alone’ in a fight by resetting your characters each time beforehand. It makes boss fights much more challenging when you have no friends along for the ride, giving you a sense of accomplishment once defeated. And if you’re looking for an even tougher challenge, simply go for gold in The Ultimate Choice; a boss rush mode with seven levels of difficulty, unlocked after story mode completion. It can even be played in multiplayer, should you fancy a hand with the bosses.
Aside from the main campaign, Star Allies also features two new mini-games; Chop Champs and Super Slam Heroes similar to those featured in Kirby Super Star. Useful as a party mode, both mini-games require some skill to achieve the top scores. Unfortunately, they aren’t fully fleshed out as mini-games, resulting in a one-time play and throwaway. Thankfully, the time-attack mode Guest Star ???? Star Allies Go! does a reasonable job of making up for the mundane mini-games. You’ll play without Kirby and select an enemy character for the job instead, as you go for the best time across all world levels.
Kirby Star Allies works just as well as a single-player game as it does in multiplayer. While you may find it more fun with friends by your side, the wonderfully constructed levels and adorable focus on teamwork will make even the toughest of Kirby fans melt. And though it’s not technically perfect by any means, Star Allies remains entertaining from start to finish. Let the puffball meet the misfits, it’s time for Kirby to shine on Switch.
Review copy supplied by Nintendo UK.