Nintendo’s insatiable pink mascot finally has his first fully featured 3D adventure with Kirby and the Lost Land. After being sucked into a mysterious vortex (oh how the tables have turned), he finds himself in a seemingly unfamiliar post-apocalyptic world. Building on his old bag of tricks and adding successful new gimmicks like Mouthful mode, Kirby makes an amazing transition into the third dimension.
Kirby’s classic abilities are all here and as fun as ever, only now he can use them in 3D space. He can jump, hover, and suck enemies and objects into his mouth to launch them at targets. I rarely felt out of control and I can step onto the platform with precision when required. The series’ core set of copying abilities, allowing Kirby to absorb an enemy’s powers and use them as his own, is, as always, the foundation of his arsenal. These cloned powers range from giving Kirby a sword, turning him into a Katamari-like rolling pinball, and using the Crash ability to create massive explosions that clean the screen.
Skills can be upgraded in Waddle Dee Town after finding appropriate blueprints in levels. These upgrades add new twists and tweaks to any attack style. My favorite is the advancement of the bomb skill, which swaps out normal, rollable bombs for ones that line up and cause bigger explosions the more attached to each other. And later, another development made it possible to target explosives. These more powerful capabilities are interchangeable with their earlier versions, but while there are likely use cases for each variant, I’ve never found a reason to look back after upgrading. When Kirby’s natural talents aren’t enough to get him through certain obstacles, he can venture into a new realm of transformation in the Forgotten Land.
Mouthful Mode is a new tool available to Kirby that allows him to suck up large, oddly shaped objects and stretch Kirby’s form around them to take control and solve puzzles. With a gulp of traffic cones, Kirby can ram the cone tip into cracks in the ground to crash through to what lies beneath. Or, after eating a car, he can speed through the level and overcome obstacles with ease. These Mouthful objects can be found in almost every level, and while they’re usually restricted to specific areas to be used for a specific purpose, the game offers more flexibility to bring these shapes through the levels than I expected . Just about any bite form is great for taking out all of the Beast Pack minions in and around the area, and I take advantage of that opportunity whenever it presents itself. When a level doesn’t force Kirby to cough up one of these abilities as expected, there’s often a reason that provides an opportunity to explore even further. Mouthful mode is a lot of fun and does a great job of clearing each level, and each transformation brings a different pace and gameplay hook to play around with. Also, it easily puts a smile on my face when Kirby finds another ridiculous and helpful gadget to pack.
While I enjoy pretty much everything about Kirby’s moveset, I do have a few minor complaints. An unfortunate side effect of switching to 3D is that Kirby sometimes has an arbitrary limit on vertical movement, limiting his ascent much lower than expected. It’s not a huge problem, but it’s frustrating when I can’t jump onto a surface that looks scalable while I can sometimes make daring escapes from pits with ease. Also, the overall gameplay speed is much slower than other Nintendo platformers, making exploration sluggish. This is offset a little by fun exploration and abilities that can sometimes speed up the speed at which Kirby moves through the different areas of the new world he’s stranded in.
Kirby finds himself in this land of overgrown malls, cities, and theme parks; All of the original inhabitants of these areas have long since disappeared. The setting is very different from the typical worlds Kirby visits, and despite the appearance of the lands’ society crumbling into rubble, the game doesn’t delve into the mystery of why everyone is missing. That’s not to say it’s not addressed, but the game instead focuses on the urgency of rescuing the missing Waddle Dees and rescuing their ransacked village from those who kidnapped the residents.
The Forgotten Land is now occupied by the Beast Pack, a massive beast force led by tough, monstrous bosses who kidnapped the Waddle Dees and serve as tentpole boss fights at the end of each world. Bosses are given open arenas to fight in, where the camera is aimed at them, as opposed to the typically fixed camera angles present in the rest of the game’s stages. This gives them a great fighting spirit. Sometimes these bosses, like the nimble cheetah Clawroline or the goofy dancing armadillo Sillydillo, offer complex dodges and make combat play more like a third-person action title than a platformer. I loved learning the patterns of these great evils and defeating them with whatever copying skill I had at hand.
Each level begins with an impressive score to set the scene and often highlight the beauty of the places once inhabited. Forgotten Land looks great, often blending Kirby’s typically whimsical style while emphasizing the more realistic areas. Hal’s use of textures, lighting, and depth of field allows game environments and key cinematic shots to shine.
Once unleashed on a stage, Kirby’s main objective is to rescue the imprisoned Waddle Dees, found at the end of each somewhat linear but explorable level. Additionally, each area has a handful of secondary mystery objectives that offer even more Waddle Dees as rewards for completing them. I enjoyed visiting secret rooms, finding and tearing down wanted posters, or eating a certain number of donuts. It’s a natural way to extend my visit to each level, and I return to unfinished quests to search every nook and cranny to fully complete a level. The main levels aren’t overly difficult and rely more on general exploration than platforming skills. That’s not to say there aren’t difficult moments, but the difficulty I often craved could be found elsewhere in the world.
Accompanying the standard levels in each world are additional stages called Treasure Road, which are challenges I was really excited to complete. These grant Kirby a specific copy ability, or Mouthful, that the level is built around and challenge the player to complete the stage in a specified time. Completing a level of Treasure Road yields a valuable Rare Stone that can be redeemed for skill development, making these side missions worth playing. These helped me see the nuances of Kirby’s many abilities, and it was a lot of fun to figure out and complete the task at hand. Each Treasure Road level has an even tighter target time to reach, which rewards some extra coins, which keeps me coming back to try and hit those more challenging times.
I enjoyed completing the main levels, reaching the Treasure Road stages that opened, going back to Waddle Dee Town to see what new buildings were available, and honing my copying skills with rare stones and blueprints that I found on my journey. It always feels like there’s something new to try, which inspires the urge to dive into another level. Even the mini-games that unlock around town, like a simplified foodservice game inspired by games like Cook, Serve, Delicious, or Fishing a Fishing Hole, are fun distractions. More challenging quests like the Boss Onslaught available in the Coliseum will reward welcome items like blueprints, coins or other collectibles.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land is great and should not be missed by Kirby and platformer fans alike. This isn’t quite Pink Puff’s rendition of Super Mario 64, but it successfully brings the series into the 3D realm and doesn’t have to rely solely on its latest entertaining gimmick. Luckily, Kirby remains as charming as ever, and this new adventure can easily provide hours of fun.