Kirby: Planet Robobot review

Game Info
Platform 3DS
Publisher Nintendo
Developer HAL Laboratory
Release Date Jun 10, 2016

Power armor may be the most meaningful addition to the Kirby canon since yarn and sequins.

Kirby: Planet Robobot ticks nearly every box that a Kirby game should. It's adorable. It's fun. It's inviting. Kirby eats things. At the same time, Planet Robobot also introduces some significant new mechanics into the mix. Add to that the series' standard glossy topcoat of cuteness and you have a perfectly delightful game — albeit one with a few irritating shortcomings.

Since the series' inception, Kirby's blobby pink life has revolved around eating the other characters that inhabit his world, absorbing their abilities while progressing through relatively linear levels, and fighting the occasional boss. While Kirby's literal hunger for power may be as pure and unaltered as ever, each iteration has to have its twists, and Kirby: Planet Robobot's comes in the hulking metal robot suit that the marshmallowy hero can now pilot.

The mechanical side of Planet Robobot is as precious as its fluffier components

Unlike the vehicular power-ups peppered through previous games, Kirby's Robobot armor is more than just an occasional toy. It's a fixture in every level, and players can expect to spend as much time inside it as they do outside. There's always the option to forgo the armor altogether, of course, and going without can have its advantages. Kirby's armor can unscrew parts of the environment and move large objects, for example, but it can't pass through small spaces, or fly as long or as high as Kirby himself. Players intent on getting as many collectibles as possible will definitely have to make clever use of the suit, but even if you're racing to the end, the mechanic of swapping in and out of the armor never feels cumbersome.

Furthermore, instead of swallowing enemies, an armor-clad Kirby will scan them, allowing the beefy suit to redesign itself and incorporate that enemy's abilities into its appearance and attacks. It would have been easy to make the Robobot armor little more than a souped-up Kirby who could only lift heavy objects or unscrew selected bits of the environment — both of which do come into play in the game's puzzles — but otherwise had the same powers. Instead, each ability behaves differently than Kirby would after inhaling the same enemy. It breathes (sucks?) new life into powers while still feeling familiar and comfortable to play.

kirby robobot screen 2

It feels much less familiar when Kirby: Planet Robobot shifts from lighthearted platformer to a straight shoot-em-up. Even if "shmups" aren't my personal favorite genre, these sections added some welcome variety from the game's gentle platforming — with one significant exception. While most of Planet Robobot's scattered flying and shooting levels play in a horizontal 2D orientation, the final boss shifts to a head-on perspective that players need to learn on the fly (pun always intended). Learning a completely new style of play in the middle of a boss fight is not something I relished, though that fight is exactly the kind of flashy final spectacle the game deserves.

Even beyond the pageantry of its more climactic moments, Planet Robobot is a great-looking game — and I'm not just talking about graphics. There's a particular aspect of Kirby: Planet Robobot's aesthetic that works almost better than I had expected: It manages to make the mechanical side of the world as precious as its fluffier counterparts.

In video games, "cute" usually leaves machinery and computers and the cold, smooth, synthetic side of life out of the picture. Even within the Kirbyverse (a place resplendent with adorability in all forms), cuteness is commonly embodied by squishy little blobs and soft edges and melting ice cream and scraps of yarn and all things soft and organic.

kirby robobot screen 1

And that's where Kirby: Planet Robobot surprised me most. Even though machinery and computers (and corporations, oddly) are at the heart of the game's conflict, none of them are made any less cute. None of them feel out of place. It's not Kirby & co. against the cold evils of modern life. From cars to remote-controlled robots, pocket watches to sentient supercomputers, everything is equally adorable, equally colorful. Heck, you can even apply collectible stickers to the biceps of your robot suit, and putting stickers on your stuff is just about as cute as it gets ... even if "your stuff" is a set of gleaming power armor.

Kirby: Planet Robobot's challenge level is just as nonthreatening. It's short and fairly easy, and on its own I'd consider it a perfectly pleasant way to pass a stress-free summer weekend paired with an oscillating fan and maybe some lemonade. For players who are after more of a challenge, completing the main game will unlock Meta Knightmare Returns, a time trial mode played as Meta Knight with special abilities and fewer recovery items. If hunting down every single collectible isn't enough motivation to replay some of these levels (and for me it isn't), this mode adds just enough variety (and purpose) to make a second pass more appealing.

The other unlockable game modes aren't nearly as substantial. There's an arena mode where you can fight the game's various bosses using power-ups of your choice; Team Kirby Clash, where one to four players can choose classes and team up to also essentially fight bosses; and Kirby 3D Rumble, which offers brief 3D levels that feel vaguely like they mean to be some sort of puzzle, but are essentially just joyless cross sections of the core Kirby experience. Jump, collect, devour, progress. I could see myself playing something like this on my phone while waiting for a bus, but it's just not the kind of experience I ever open my 3DS for.

Wrap Up:

Even with robot armor, Kirby retains his charm

If a serious challenge is what you're looking for, then Kirby: Planet Robobot might struggle to keep you satisfied. But keeping with tradition, even with robot armor, Planet Robobot overflows with charm, and a packs a wonderfully playable game to boot.

Kirby: Planet Robobot was reviewed using an advance retail copy provided by Nintendo. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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