As a relative Nintendo noob, my experience with Kirby has only been limited to Super Smash Bros., where his ability to imbibe characters into himself was the bane of my existence. But as game releases are pretty quiet right now, there’s no better time to experience Kirby than now, especially since his latest adventure, Kirby and the Forgotten Land, is his first fully 3D adventure! Can Kirby deal with the likes of Mario, Luigi, and Link? Or has he bitten off more than he can chew?
So let’s just assume that you, dear reader, are like me and can’t tell a Kirby from a Pom Pom. Hailing from (I don’t shit you) Planet Popstar, Kirby is a small, round ball of pink cuteness designed to instantly capture the heart and soul of any kid who loves pink and cuddly. However, that cute outer shell hides a terrible power: Kirby can inhale enemies to copy their abilities. Aside from the many moral qualms about literally eating enemies to get their powers, it’s a fun mechanic, and it’s, frankly, quite hilarious to watch such a tiny trickle turn into a terrifying pink hole.
Is Sakurai working on Kirby and the Forgotten Land?
Kirby and the Forgotten Land dramatically kicks off when the lovable puff-ball is sucked into the air in a mysterious portal and dumped into the New World, a post-apocalyptic land that looks a lot like Earth if Earth was inhabited by cute cartoon animals instead of considerably less lovable people. Kirby’s comrades, the Waddle Dees, have also been sucked through the portal and are kidnapped by the Beast Gang. With the help of a new friend named Elfilin, it’s up to Kirby to save his friends, defeat the strange evils lurking in this land, uncover the mystery of the portal, and bring everyone home safely. And he has to do it all without speaking.
Normally I’d dive deep into the story here, like a miner looking for a vein of gold or a toddler looking for that elusive booger hiding in a nostril, but like in the classic Mario games, Kirby and the Forgotten Land isn’t really a story to talk about, at least not until the very end. Once the first premise is set up, the plot fades to the dramatic finale, where things quickly derail. I can’t even begin to describe it for fear of ruining something, but suffice it to say that I spent most of the last 30 minutes with an incredulous look on my face. It definitely goes to some… er, crazy places.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land review: An exciting new adventure
As for Kirby, he knows his job: charm the pants off of whoever is playing. He does the job with confidence, waving happily, hoping and dancing his way through the levels, his sheer innocence a welcome respite amid all the dark and grime of the world as we know it. Just look at the little guy-he’s like the incarnation of unicorns, rainbows, and candy combined, at least until he opens his giant blob and turns into an eldritch freaking horror.
But in reality, the plot is just an excuse for a series of levels with platforming and light action for solving puzzles. My Kirby knowledge may be lacking, but even I know this is the first time the little guy has been presented in a full 3D game, unless you’re into Super-Smash Bros. counts. As such, there’s a somewhat Super Mario: Odyssey vibe to this little Kirby adventure, albeit on a smaller scale. This is a light-hearted adventure that doesn’t strain the brain or skills-I mean, one of the two difficulty settings is called Spring Breeze, so obviously Kirby and the Forgotten Land doesn’t want to compete with Elden Ring or anything like that.
Kirby is a cinch to control, making the simplistic platforming action lighthearted and fun. There were only a few moments when I misjudged a platform or jump, most of which were due to the static camera making depth difficult to determine. Even if you miss, Kirby’s ability to flutter around (complete with a hilarious sweaty animation when he gets tired) gets you out of most situations. And death is hardly a big fear in Kirby, as each level is maybe 10-15 minutes at most.
If you’re not jumping around or solving basic puzzles, you’ll likely suck up enemies by holding down A and either spit them out like projectiles or absorb their unique powers. It’s also a pretty cool mix of things, like an ice skill that lets you skate around and turn enemies into ice cubes that can be pushed around, or a drill so Kirby can go underground and appear beneath enemies. Levels are littered with enemies, so you can switch and change, but many of them tend to focus more on one or more specific skills, which is easy to see when a particular enemy constantly reappears, indicating that their power will be useful for something nearby.
If 12 skills doesn’t sound like much, then fear not my dear, because there is a handy shop in the town of Waddle Dee where you can spend coins and special rare stars to upgrade them. The process is a lot of fun because to get stars you have to complete optional challenge levels, all of which are based on a particular skill. You may have to bounce chakrams off walls or race against the clock. These distractions are fun, and when you upgrade a power, Kirby gets a cute new hat to wear and a custom power, like maybe now your basic flame ability will leave small fire tornadoes or the ice skill will create snowmen that can be pushed into enemies. My personal favourite was the Ranger—at first it’s a simple gun (Kirby with a gun. Huh.) But the latest upgrade turns it into a laser gun.
On top of the 12 core skills, there’s also the new Mouthful mode, where Kirby can really test the limits of his gag reflex on large objects. The earliest example of this is when the pink puffball tries to eat a car, resulting in a wonderful moment of body horror and humor. Pushing the vehicle into its gaping maw, Kirby drives around, a concept that baffles me the more I think about it. Does he push the pedals with his tongue? What is happening? Regardless of the practical implications, it immediately adds some extra fun. Another great example is Kirby clinging to a flowing bong to turn herself into a walking water balloon. The other examples are less exciting, mind you, like becoming a locker that just falls over. It’s impressive how much fun the developers get out of seemingly mundane and boring items; who knew stairs could be so entertaining, especially when you’re jumping around crushing enemies? My favourite might be swallowing a giant circle and turning Kirby into an air rifle. Yes, mouthful mode is a good way to mix up basic platforming and very simple adventure.
Each level has a bunch of cute Waddle Dees to find and rescue. That in itself is quite satisfying, but Kirby and the Forgotten Land takes it a step further by having a Waddle Dee town where the rescued Waddle Dees will go. The more critters you save, the more the city is rebuilt, revealing some cool mini-games like serving lunch or a really fun marble game. Rebuilding the city is a good reason to fully explore the levels, so it’s a bit of a shame that finding all the Waddle Dees doesn’t unlock anything extra.
And if you’re really into collecting, there are stacks of capsules with small figurines, some with a bit of descriptive text as well. You can even put three of them on Kirby’s mantel to admire. These little figures are purely optional and don’t unlock anything else, or at least they don’t seem to-I wasn’t going to go after them all just to be sure.
The ultimate goal is to find enough Waddle Dees for them to break down the special so you can challenge that region’s big bad boss before moving on to the next region. These battles are great fun, pitting you against a fast-moving circus cat with sharp claws or a huge gorilla. Having a boss fight at the end of each region is some seriously old-fashioned video game design, but as the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Less entertaining are the mini-bosses that seem to have been randomly dumped on certain levels. You can usually dodge most of the enemies in the game by simply ignoring them and jogging into the distance, but these mini bosses have to be fought, and they are a chore. It doesn’t help that there are really only a few mini-bosses that you’ll have to face multiple times, and later battles do the terrible trick of just letting you fight two or more at once.
Some people may find this unfair, but I can’t escape the growing sense that the Switch’s hardware is struggling, especially since I’m lucky enough to own a PS5 and a decent PC. I’m mainly talking about the 30FPS and the fact that enemies and objects in the distance are rendered at a much lower frame rate to make everything run smoothly. It’s not too noticeable in handheld mode with the small screen, but on a 4K TV it’s a little jarring to see things jerk as if they were animated at 10 frames per second.
The rest of the graphics are a bit more of a mixed bag. The colours are often vibrant, Kirby’s animations are incredibly charming, and some of the enemy designs are damn cute, like the Awoofies, which I always hate to suck up and spit out. Poor little boys. It’s the environments that I don’t like. Deciding to go for an earthy setting and a semi-realistic style means Kirby explores such exciting places as a mall and a generic bridge. Some areas are more exciting and artistically interesting than others, but many of them are just plain boring. Kirby is such a fantastic character that it feels crazy to anchor him in our everyday reality.
On paper, Kirby and the Forgotten Land are nothing special. The core of the game is all very basic; the levels are small and simple, the whole structure is pretty standard, and so on and so on. But Kirby has that special Nintendo magic that’s impossible to properly describe or talk about without actually experiencing it. At once charming and captivating, The Forgotten Land wraps you in this cute little adventure that is, above all, a lot of fun to play. It’s great for kids, as my 8-year-old niece will attest, great for a family to play thanks to the 2 player co-op mode where a second person can take on the role of a Waddle Dee with a spear, and it’s a lot of fun for adults, as my stupid 30-year-old ass tells you now.
Of course, Kirby and the Forgotten Land doesn’t reach the towering heights of Breath of the Wild or the brilliance of Mario: Odyssey or Luigi’s Mansion 3. It’s not quite there. But it sits right at the tippy top of the row below, which is still an impressive feat, especially when you consider Kirby’s only small arms and legs. In front of a pink ball that resembles a marshmallow with a mouth, Kirby didn’t bite off more than he could chew as he jumped into full 3D.