Review: Kirby Star Allies – Among the Stars

Kirby Star Allies takes what works well from previous games in the series and meshes them together to make a top-notch co-op experience. It’s a beautifully simple game that offers a good amount of content and tons of fun.

Kirby games aren’t typically heavy on the story in a traditional sense – they rely more on showing rather than telling, with deep lore, rich for the more observant. The opening cutscene, which takes full advantage of the Switch’s graphical capabilities, is beautiful and sets the stage for the rest of the game. A robed baddie in a space station-like ship causes dark matter to fall on Kirby’s world. That’s about all you will get in terms of story for most of the game, but it doesn’t need to expand – it just works.

The game has four worlds total, each packed with increasingly more levels to puff and platform your way through. You start out in the lush green hills of Dream Land, but as you go on, you venture into space and platform on different planets and other intergalactic objects. Each level is beautifully rendered in HD. The backgrounds of the levels are colorful and vibrant, and the foreground of the levels are delicately detailed. One problem is that the game plays in 30 FPS, but it never seems to dip below that at any time despite a barrage of particle effects and enemies filling the screen.

The platforming itself is simple and doesn’t provide much of a challenge, but it is thoughtfully done, and I never thought that any area was superfluous or out of place. In some segments, there will be swimming sections, or parts of the earth will move as you traverse your way to the end, but it all transitions smoothly and allows players of any skill level to maneuver it efficiently.

The cream of the crop in Kirby Star Allies are the enemies that can become potential allies. Player one controls Kirby, and Kirby can suck them up to gain their abilities, par for the course. Much like Kirby Super Star, each ability has a list of surprisingly complex combos. Alternatively, up to three other players can join in on the fun and become one of the enemies or “star allies.” The throw of a heart from Kirby – a new mechanic in this game – will make an applicable enemy become an ally, allowing players to jump in and help out. Star allies can throw hearts to change their powers as well, so you aren’t restricted to just one ability.

I was a little disappointed that there weren’t some powers in this entry of Kirby, such as the leaf ability, but what this game offers is a sufficient roster. There are fire, electric and water abilities and allies, but also more unique ones. My personal favorite was the staff ability, allowing you to bounce around, and poke and jab at enemies at a medium range. Others, like the the web-flinging spider and the Earthbound-inspired ESP, are extremely fun to use and make the game all the more enjoyable.

In Kirby Star Allies, the gameplay possibilities are expanded even further with the ability to imbue allies with elemental abilities. Holding up the stick will raise your weapon, allowing for the AI or co-op partners to either receive a new elemental augment or give one; Kirby can do the same. For example, the hammer ability can be augmented to use fire, ice or electric. Each augment adds a unique new effect to the weapon. This is not quite on the same level of Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, but it holds the same idea: combining two abilities to become more powerful.

This mechanic can be frustrating with AI. If you play by yourself and you want a certain power-up, there is no discernible way to get a specific augment; rather, you have to let each ally give a new augment until you get the one you want. At least in combat, the AI is competent enough that they will be useful but won’t get in the way of things, and maneuver around levels well enough.

In some instances, you might be prompted to do a Friend Action, allowing the Kirby and four friends to transform into different things. A Friend Circle sends you rolling down hills and hopping from platforms all the while demolishing any foe that stands in your way, whereas the Friend Star has you fly around shooting at obstacles and baddies like a side-scrolling shooter. These are a nice change of pace that break up levels to be a bit more fun and challenging.

Sometimes certain abilities have a temporary augment that is more powerful than giving someone a fire sword. The rock ability can become a lethal curling stone that can take out enemies like nothing else. In most levels, there will be either hidden doorways or environmental obstacles that require an augment. The hidden doorways are usually a puzzle of some sort, which upon completion will grant a collectible or benefit of some kind. The puzzles are by no means ingenious, and often the solution is given to the player right from the start. This is disappointing, but it is still satisfying to see the effect. Another downside to these puzzles occurs when you play solo. The AI usually catches on and helps solve a puzzle, but other times they act like brainless buffoons and are no help at all. Sometimes it takes trial and error without actual friends to help you.

These abilities will be useful during one of Kirby Star Allies’ many boss battles. Throughout the zones you will face multiple bosses, some familiar and some new. A lot of them are extremely straightforward, requiring the player to simply attack them without much effort. Other bosses are a tad more unique near the latter half of the game, but in the end it doesn’t require any ingenious thinking. Maneuvering out of the way of their attacks and damaging them usually does the trick. The thrilling final boss fight is an exception to this.

After beating the game, which will last around 8 to 12 hours, there is still a considerable amount of content to play. Within each stage there are puzzle pieces to unlock pictures in a viewing gallery. There are large buttons in several levels that are hidden, where upon jumping on them you can unlock bonus stages.

Two modes outside of the regular story mode are unlocked from the start: Chop Champs and Star Slam Heroes. The former is a button-mashing extravaganza where four Kirbys compete head-to-head to cut the most logs all the while dodging Gordos and worms by alternating left or right. Star Slam Heroes has four Kirbys hitting a giant meteor back into space with a baseball bat, requiring you to time gauges correctly for maximum effect. These are a novelty at best.

Two other modes are unlocked after beating the game. One is a speed-run, where you take the role of one of the star allies, Kirby being absent. You can collect power-ups that make you do more damage, have more health, and go faster. It will take you through many levels from the story mode and record your best time for each of the five levels. This is a great mode because, if you only played first player throughout the game, you aren’t restricted to Kirby. Likewise, a boss rush mode with different difficulties allows you to play as any ally other than Kirby. Both are fun and add to replayability, and are the most engaging of the four modes.

Kirby Star Allies comes down to how you play it. Playing with friends is extremely fun and allows you to use the copy and augment mechanics to their full potential. Playing solo is still a fun experience, but nowhere near as engaging, and doesn’t really help you get the full experience. The game is beautiful to look at and all the mechanics work well in tandem with each other. The combos of each ability are surprisingly deep and the levels are vibrant and crafted wonderfully. The experience is what you make of it, but with friends, it’s hard to say no to Kirby Star Allies.

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