While Mario seems to prefer saving the world as a solo act these days, Nintendo’s latest platformer for Switch – Kirby Star Allies – has a much different message for gamers.
Without his allies, the gooey-eyed, pink puffball that is Kirby would be thwarted within minutes. On his lonesome, he’s quite powerless. Sure, he has better suction than a vacuum and can glide around like the world’s cutest zeppelin, but put him up against some of the enemies you encounter in Star Allies and you’ll see how limited he really is.
Fortunately, he’s a pretty good leader, and not only does he have a powerful army of allies to call upon, he can inhale their abilities, make a copy and become pretty bad ass himself.
But I’m a lone wolf. Does that mean this game isn’t for me?
No, of course not. It’s 100% a single player game and that’s likely how most people will experience Kirby Star Allies. The difference, though, is that Nintendo have made a fun, accessible, and entertaining platformer multiplayer as well. Unlike Super Mario Odyssey, this is a game about friendship and ultimately teamwork and it’s a beautiful thing.
Kirby can have up to three allies at any one time. These can all be controlled by the AI or if you happen to have a buddy or family member sitting around your living room doing nothing, you can toss them a Joy-Con and they can get in on the action. Kirby collects his allies by throwing a heart at an enemy. This outward show of affection warms the cockles of their greasy, black heart and instead of seeing red when they catch sight of him, now all they see is sugar and rainbows. D’aww.
There’s a real selection of allies to choose from, like Burning Leo, an all-powerful fire buddy who can scorch grass and raze everything to the ground. It’s quite an impressive aesthetic actually. You can also get Bonkers, a massive hammer-wielding monkey who can pulverize anything in his path with swings and twirls, Chilly, a cold-hearted snowman who would put Olaf in his place and Bugzzy a wrestling dung-beetle who can send enemies wailing around the screen Smash Bros style. There’s even a chef who cooks everything up on the screen and turns it into power moves and edible munch.
But perhaps the most impressive thing is that quite a lot of the boss characters you fight can become your allies! This is such a great little feature that can actually bring the likes of Meta Knight and King Dedede to your side if you visit the legendary palace. These are located in each world and have to be unlocked first by finding secrets within levels. From there, you then enter a random draw to see who you end up with.
And the characters can also be used to solve many of the puzzles dotted around the map. For instance, one character carries around a parasol and one solution requires you to keep an umbrella over yourself and your buddies to block a waterfall so another ally can go and light a fuse without it being quenched. It’s little touches like that which really show off the need to work together as a team.
But while your allies each have their own individual skillls, Kirby can actually suck up their abilities by collecting the hat they leave behind and copy them. Of course, each character has various different moves, which means the style of play changes each time so you’ll need to use various different button combinations to get the most out of your new power. It’s also worth considering that some abilities work better against particular enemies, though you may not have to change your hat to benefit.
Another great feature in Star Allies is you can combine your powers with an ally to infuse your weapon with an element. For instance, you can have a shock sword if you press up on the analog and your electical ally touches your blade. Or perhaps you’d prefer a sizzling hammer or icy daggers. There’s a surprising amount of depth and customisation and it genuinely makes the experience feel fresh throughout.
That said, there are certain types of ally I encounter more than the others in Star Allies, which does become a bit tedious and frustrating.
I was worried about that…
Yeah, I obviously didn’t keep score, but for instance, I’d say Burning Leo and Blade Knight pop up a lot. And another problem with that is both are incredibly overpowered. As you can imagine, wildfire spreading, enemies get caught up in it a lot and it eats into their health bars easily and effectively. As such, it makes it very difficult to just drop either of them and that’s a shame because by doing that you’d be missing out on the rest of the quirky cast.
On that note, I also have to say I found it incredibly difficult to lose a life and die. With a full strength team, you’re basically going to walk through the opposition 90% of the time. Kirby Star Allies is definitely not going to be one for those who’ve been buttering their bread with Odyssey and Celeste the last few months. But that’s ok and not the point of what Nintendo have set out to achieve here.
For some people who bought a Switch last year and have enjoyed the month-on-month bangers, one after another, these next couple of months are probably going to be a bit frustrating from a first-party perspective. Nintendo have yet to actually get focused games out to market for the younger audience because they’ve been giving us the massive Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and Zelda, creating their masterpiece platformer in Super Mario Odyssey and delivering the greatest multiplayer experience they’ve ever designed with Splatoon 2. Sure, youngsters have been getting in on these games too, but Kirby Star Allies presents a more natural entry point for everyone, what with the art style and the multiplayer and the co-op possibilities. Then next month you’ve got Labo which has again proven a bit divisive amongst the more mature Switch audience who are starving and clamoring for more content, bemoaning Nintendo for just releasing ports and not having something new for them to sink their teeth into.
And if you’ve somehow not played Super Mario Odyssey or Splatoon 2 yet then read our reviews and get yourself to the store!
But to purely pigeonhole Kirby Star Allies into a ‘kiddie category’ doesn’t do it justice either. No, it’s not peak Nintendo platforming excellence. By their standards, it might even be seen as sub-standard or mediocre, but compared to the rest of the pack, Kirby Star Allies is still light years ahead in terms of creativity, fun, and entertainment. It’s not just adorable and one of the best-looking games on Switch right now, there’s real substance and some genuine wow moments peppered throughout. Taking a ride on the friend train, for instance, is an absolute delight, and that’s just the start of it. The friend combinations make up some of the best parts of the game and despite the slightly slow start, help Star Allies pick up momentum in the second half. After the initial stages, Kirby takes players down an unexpected and exciting path, but to talk more about that ventures into spoiler territory.
Awww, just a little hint?
Suffice it to say, there’s some wonderful references for Nintendo faithful in the later stages of the game and I think that’s something Kirby Star Allies manages fantastically. There’s an old-school feel about the game despite the gorgeous HD bells and whistles, it harkens back to an era where you could couch co-op with a few friends and just have fun.
And that’s especially true with the silly mini-games, like Chop Champs where the aim is to chop your tree as much as you can before the timer runs out. You have to avoid Gordos by moving around the tree and collect more wood than your rivals. It’s fast-paced and simple, but it also captures some of that mini-game party fun the Switch has been missing since launch. Same with Star Slam Heroes where you’re literally smashing a meteor back into space with a baseball bat. These games just break the action up a little bit and are fun diversions and welcome inclusions. You can even play them with motion controls.
But like the old school nature of the game, there are some old school tendencies. AI, for instance, can be a bit ‘too good’ at the mini games, making them a tough opponent to beat in just about anything. It reminds me of Super Monkey Ball a little – By the way, when are they bringing THAT to Switch?
Likewise, they’re a bit rebellious during the story mode, attacking enemies when you’re trying to befriend them, or venturing off somewhere and getting themselves killed. For the most part, they work great, but every now and again they do something stupid that reminds you they can get a bit out of hand and character.
However, it wouldn’t be an old school game without a loading screen and Kirby Star Allies has a lot of them. Too many, in fact. Every scene change introduces a loading screen which is definitely not going to be favourable to the impatient. Thing is, it wouldn’t be so bad if the game wasn’t prone to some dips in frame rate, particularly when the action gets a bit chaotic. Mostly during the mini games, you’ll notice KSA chug a little bit, though it also happens in boss battles and during certain sequences.
To be honest, I found the game actually ran and performed better in handheld mode, so I spent most of my time with it there.
Kirby Star Allies is warm and fulfilling fun. It has this infectious charm that immediately rubs off on you and keeps your eyes glued to the screen. Visually, a game like KSA reminds you that you don’t necessarily need 4K and the highest resolution textures possible to be absolutely stunning and incredibly easy on the eye. Coupled with the game’s old school charm, HAL Laboratory have really identified a gap in Switch’s library and filled a hole.
There’s also a decent amount of content to digest here, between the change of characters, the jigsaw puzzle pieces as well as secret levels and the hidden palaces, though you can power through it all quite quickly. And unfortunately, once it’s over, the mini-games can only hold appeal for a certain length of time. Kirby is also hamstrung by a few technical issues, like AI going rogue and continuous loading screens and frame rate issues.
And while it’s a game you can play alone, Kirby Star Allies doesn’t really shine unless you’re playing with someone else. Multiplayer is, undoubtedly, where it’s at its best because that’s when you get the most chaotic, honest to goodness fun.
Kirby Star Allies is not Nintendo or HAL Laboratory at their best, but it is still a fantastic platformer that gets way more right than it gets wrong. I was hooked from beginning to end and I very much look forward to the future content updates over the next few months.
+ One of the prettiest games on Nintendo Switch
+ Diverse and varied customisation and co-operation
+ Cool mini-games
+ Fun, entertaining platforming giving you lots to smile about
+ Excellent multiplayer
– Constant loading screens
– Frame rate issues
– AI can get a bit out of hand and acts rebelliously
– Can be whizzed through quite quickly
Kirby Star Allies
7.5 out of 10
Tested on Switch
Code provided by the publisher