Kirby is better than ever thanks to his new ability-mixing pals.
As Nintendo’s chameleon character, Kirby is only as interesting as the abilities he copies. With up to four players controlling him and his new elementally powered friends, Kirby Star Allies gives him a lot to work with. You can mix, match, and combine abilities to reach greater heights than a Kirby game ever has before. Whether it’s working together to solve environmental puzzles or charging up weapons, this engaging and colorful co-op platformer allows everyone to shine in a whimsical adventure that ends just a bit too quickly.
In addition to Kirby’s trademark copying power in which he absorbs the abilities of enemies he slurps up, you can now toss hearts at enemies to turn them to your cause, letting you use their abilities at the same time. So while Kirby may start solo, you soon ally with up to three more fighters who’re controlled by your friends or a helpful AI. Together you’ll tear through the vibrant and energetic levels, and the resulting melee begins to feel more like a very cute beat-‘em-up than a traditional Kirby platformer – especially when tangling with the varied and creative bosses and minibosses. Arenas practically explode with fiery projectiles, hazardous elements, and hilarious team attacks, but thanks to the well-defined art style things never got so out of hand that I couldn’t pick out my character from the chaos.
Each of the almost two dozen enemy types you can entice to your side embody one of the many abilities Kirby can copy, like the sword-wielding Blade Knight or the ice-blasting Chilly. When Kirby is using a weapon ability like a Cutter and holding it in the air, allies can strike at it to enchant your attacks with new effects and increased damage. Elemental effects can also be used to counter enemies’ defenses, like dousing a flame-wreathed shield with water to make a big enemy easier to take down. With so many team combinations and weapon/element combos, the first few hours were full of surprises as I discovered what a newly swapped-in ally could bring to the fight.
Arenas practically explode with fiery projectiles, hazardous elements, and hilarious team attacks.
Other allies can fulfill specific roles like healing or grappling, but my favorite is the Broom Hatter. His ability to infuse weapons with wind attacks with his broom, apply a water buff with a splash of his bucket, or even use a vacuum cleaner to send my friends ricocheting around the screen to destroy everything in sight.
Just using your team to demolish enemies is fun in its own right, but Star Allies takes a clever approach to making sure you’re constantly rearranging your group. There are plenty of roadblocks along your side-scrolling adventure, and it’s only by using the right abilities in tandem that you’ll be able to forge ahead, or find secret areas. Giant bomb on a rope blocking your path? Only cutting moves will sever that rope – but you’ll also need to make sure your cutter’s been supercharged by a fiery ally to light the fuse while cutting the rope. The constant variety of intriguing yet intuitive puzzles, and the allure of seeing what each new enemy could do, kept me swapping out allies or changing Kirby’s current abilities.
Combining moves to solve puzzles is also where the AI partners of Star Allies surprisingly shine. Initially, I was worried I’d have to direct my team by myself (and you can, by having Kirby piggyback on an AI ally to manually control them), but instead I found them quite reactive to their environment. Simply holding my weapon aloft would trigger any elemental allies in my group to shuffle over and supercharge me and any other non-elemental teammates. They would also react to any puzzle elements they could tackle on their own: a water ally would busy himself dowsing flames, while the the hammer-swinging Bonkers would smack down on any pegs. Having the right ability or ally in the right place often led to discovering hidden areas and treasure. My only gripe is that the puzzles inside optional secret rooms aren’t exactly challenging because the necessary characters are often standing patiently nearby. It was only in the last few levels that these secret areas really made think or go out of my way to find the abilities I needed.
If you prefer having human friends on your team, Kirby Star Allies makes it easy with an extremely simple and effective drop in/drop out local co-op system available at any point during a level. Friends need only press the L and R buttons on their controller of choice to take over an AI teammate (or, if Kirby is alone, they’ll pop out of whatever form he’s copied). If that friend has to leave mid-level, all it takes is holding down the Y button (or A depending on you control scheme) to give control back to the AI. It’s the incredibly streamlined appeal of this system that makes it a perfect party game, and the screen zooms in on the action close enough to make playing handheld with friends a viable option (if you don’t mind crowding around).
Wish Upon a Star
The nonsense story is the same random excuse for action that you’d expect from a Kirby game: a mysterious force appears to threaten the universe and wakes Kirby up from his nap, which gives way to mysterious characters who fight you for… reasons. Even if you don’t understand why, the battles themselves are clever and frantic in the best possible way. Given the multiplayer nature of Kirby Star Allies, boss enemies waste little time in evening out the playing field by forcing your allies apart, or creating multiple threats to deal with. Sometimes, having the right ally can save the day, like using Parasol Waddle Dee and his “Chumbrella” to shield your whole team from a boss.
What the plot lacks in substance, Star Allies definitely makes up for in style, most notably in its scenic settings, the crazy, over-the-top final boss battle, and the catchy soundtrack that accompanies Kirby on his journey. Planets and environments will shift between shimmering icy slopes, lush forests and underwater caverns, and fiery volcanic hotspots pelted with dangerous burning meteors. Each location looks crisp and stylized, and even with my team of four exploding enemies left and right, I never saw the action dip below it’s smooth 60 frames per second. I was really happy to see some nods to older songs in secret levels, as well as the collectible puzzle pieces that formed guest art (ala the 3DS’ Streetpass Puzzle Swap) to celebrate the history of the franchise.
Boss enemies waste little time in evening out the playing field by forcing your allies apart.
A lot of the fun comes from sequences that have your allies combine to form unified constructs like the Friend Circle or Friend Train, which allow you to mow down enemies while avoiding pitfalls (and hoping your friends don’t try and overrule the timing on your jumps). I really enjoyed riding the Friend Star, which saddled the team on a flying star – allowing one person to steer (that could be swapped at will), while the rest fired projectiles to clear threats and destroy terrain.
While the main map will have you crisscrossing galaxies to a variety of themed planets that all look gorgeous, the frantic pace of barreling through enemies at top speed actually made some levels feel short and insubstantial. Even finding all of the hidden switches to open up secret levels and most of the collectibles, I was able to see it all in around eight hours.
Of course, there are an assortment of other modes to check out after that, and some are decent. The confusingly named Guest Star ???? Star Allies Go, on the other hand, is a challenging two-hour romp that has you picking an ally to speedrun through highlights of the campaign. It’s an interesting twist that forces you to rely on your ability to arrange your team to fill in the gaps left by Kirby’s absence. Because you can’t swap moves like Kirby can, and you’ll find a lot fewer healing items, you need to play defensively and make use of allies like Chef Kawasaki to churn out a feast of health. There are at least a few new surprises to find in this mode, which makes it worth checking out.
The other big mode, The Ultimate Choice, has you picking a set team to run through a boss battle gauntlet with limited health items. Again, it’s an interesting idea, but the ability to revive downed teammates made it pretty easy even on some of the “spiciest” difficulties. Finally, the minigames Star Slam Heroes and Chop Champs are extremely quick bouts of batting practice and tree-cutting, respectively, and didn’t really feel engaging past a single round.