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December 2023

Kirby And The Forgotten Land

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Genre: Platformer
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: March 25, 2022


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Switch Review - 'Kirby and the Forgotten Land'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on March 30, 2022 @ 12:16 a.m. PDT

In this new 3D platforming adventure, Kirby explores a mysterious world full of abandoned structures from a past civilization.

Buy Kirby and the Forgotten Land

It's easy to love Kirby because he's scientifically designed to be adorable. It's difficult to be cuter than a little pink ball who speaks in adorable squeaks and battles a penguin — and the occasionally horrifying eldritch deity. Kirby and the Forgotten Land is the latest of Kirby's adventures, and it sticks to the proven formula. It shifts the setting from Popstar to the titular Forgotten Land, a land full of realistic-looking postapocalyptic buildings, but even that somehow looks adorable in Kirby's world. If you like Kirby games, then you already know what to expect from this latest candy-colored quest, and if you don't, it's a great way to learn about what makes the pink puffball so beloved.

Kirby and the Forgotten Land isn't necessarily Kirby's first trip into 3D, but it feels like the most fully fleshed-out version. The core design of the game is strongly reminiscent of Super Mario 3D World. There's an overworld map, and you can go into levels that resemble 3D versions of classic Kirby stages, down to most of the same core mechanics. You can still swallow enemies, spit them out, and use special powers to beat up baddies. The only change is that Kirby's ability to infinitely fly has been changed to a hover, so you'll have to reach higher areas in different ways.

Kirby retains his iconic Copy ability, which lets him swallow enemies and temporarily gain their powers (and a cute hat). There are only about a dozen powers in the game, and pretty much all of them are classic Kirby abilities like Crash, Fire or Sword. What is new is the ability to upgrade those powers by finding blueprints in the world. Sword can be upgraded from a Link-inspired slash to a huge sword that comes with a built-in shield, and it can be even further upgraded to Metaknight's blade that's capable of shooting lasers. Once you unlock an upgrade, it always replaces the lower-tier version of that power unless you choose to swap back. Each upgrade also has its own visual design.

I am a little torn on the weapon upgrades. On the one hand, I really like the increasing sense of power and the cool shift of Kirby's looks from simple to complex. Fire goes from a cute little flame head to a glowing purple dragon flame complete with little wings, which look cool and adorable. In some cases, there are advantages and disadvantages to certain upgrades, so it can be theoretically more useful to swap back to old ones. On the other hand, you're basically upgrading to get the full functionality out of a power, and that can make it less exciting. This feels a bit limited, so I'd prefer a wider array of non-upgradable powers.

That limitation is made up for by the new (and bizarre) Mouthful mode. In the Forbidden Land, Kirby finds real-world objects. Unlike the cartoony designs of his own world, he can't swallow these whole. Instead, he … wraps himself around them in a distinctly unnerving way, giving him a new transformation based on what he "eats." Eating a car lets you drive around and turbo boost through areas, while consuming a set of steps allows you to create a platform to get up higher or smash your foes, and ingesting a water fountain lets you spew water to knock things over and clean up messes. These powers are limited, and generally, you'll have to leave them behind after you've left the area where they can be utilized.

Mouthful mode is a nice way to give Kirby additional powers without designing a full "class" around them. Once you see a Mouthful object, you know there will be a puzzle or challenge that requires that specific talent to defeat, but the game keeps things interesting. The aforementioned stairs can be used reach a higher spot or be moved around like Tetris blocks to sit on switches. The Car can engage in a high-speed race or smash through obstacles. There are some one-note powers, but even those tend to be fun, like a roller coaster where you have to maneuver Kirby to avoid damage. Each power feels natural and fun and makes up for the limited Copy ability.

Each stage basically asks you to reach the end of the stage by navigating a variety of obstacles. An early stage has you exploring an abandoned mall where you need to find clues on the wall to figure out which passageway leads to an exit. Another is a haunted house where fake ghosts pop out of the walls to scare you and force you to wait for them to disappear before you can move on. Some stages are combat-heavy, while others are puzzle-heavy. There are even optional challenge stages that give you a specific power or ability and put you on a timed run to the end.

The optional objectives tend to make stages more interesting. Each stage has hidden Waddle-Dees that you need to rescue, as they'll help build your hub village and unlock new minigames or features. Some are hidden in secret cages that you unlock by completing puzzles or beating certain enemies. Others require you to finish special tasks, such a reuniting a mother duck with her ducklings or tearing down "Wanted" posters of Kirby and his pals. Some want you to demonstrate your prowess in battle, such as defeating enemies without getting hit or using only certain attacks. They're a nice way to spice up levels and encourage players to explore instead of rushing to the end. Since you can unlock bonus power-ups, a battle coliseum or a cute hat that Kirby can wear to go fishing, this is easily the most important part of the game.

The only criticism I have about Forgotten Land isn't so much a flaw but just something people should keep in mind. As a franchise, Kirby has been defined as the first game anyone can play because it has heavily forgiving mechanics. This means the games are easy, and The Forgotten Land is no different. The game offers a Wild mode that makes the game slightly tougher, but even that is a walk in the park. This isn't the result of bad design; Kirby is just designed to be that forgiving. Enemies are adorable, platforming is simple, and a lot of the fun is the theme park atmosphere. Don't go in expecting something to challenge you to the level of Kirby Superstar.

The counterpart to this is that Forgotten Land is a fantastic game for young children. It isn't quite as hand-holdy as some games made for youngsters, and it has tons of rewarding options. You can make Kirby wave and cheer with the face buttons, each power is simple to use and has a nice impact, and it's generally very soft and friendly. It is genuinely the best Kirby game to give to a young gamer who wants to platform on their own. It isn't quite as no-risk as Epic Yarn, but it's not actually difficult enough to risk frustration. There's even a co-op feature that allows a second player to take control of a Waddle-Dee and help Kirby, which is perfect for a parent to join in with their kid.

Kirby and the Forgotten Land really feels like a game to play handheld. It looks great and runs smoothly in handheld mode, with lots of adorable animations and super-cute designs. When it's docked, its flaws stand out more. Background enemies move at an extremely low frame rate, and there's an annoying blur over much of the game. It's clear that handheld was the first priority, and the scaled-up version versus the handheld version is one of the starkest differences I've encountered on a Switch offering. It's a shame, as Nintendo first-party titles are usually better about this, so be warned.

Kirby and the Forgotten Land is a delightful cotton candy fluff of a game. It isn't difficult or complex, but it is frequently fun and always adorable. It's almost more of a theme park ride than a platformer, but it does a great job of keeping itself engaging and interesting with a constant shift in mechanics and level design. The only flaw holding it back is the poor performance when docked, which could be a game-breaker for someone hoping for a Mario Odyssey level out of everyone's favorite pink puffball. If you enjoy Kirby, you'll enjoy Kirby and the Forgotten Land, and I'd be hard-pressed to name a better choice for younger gamers.

Score: 8.5/10

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