When the first commercials appeared for the Nintendo Switch, the company made sure to stress its portability, but also that it can be used as the life of a party. By highlighting its multiplayer games out of the gate, the Switch could be something the other consoles couldn’t. So it makes sense that Kirby Star Allies, the latest addition in the Kirby franchise, would prominently feature multiplayer.
I recently got the chance to play two early Star Allies levels, and that experienced focused on heavily on the multiplayer component. It’s easy to see why. It’s a completely new way to play Kirby.
There have been numerous multiplayer Kirby games — usually allowing two (and rarely four) players to traverse a level — but the effort and gameplay has never been fairly distributed. You can play as main character Kirby, with his absorption abilities and his terminally delightful demeanor, or one of his sidekicks. Kirby Super Star introduced the Helper System, which allows a second person to take on the role of an actual helper, but not Kirby. Installments like Kirby & the Amazing Mirror did support up to four players, but because each player was just playing a Kirby clone, the novelty of multiplayer got old and redundant.
Kirby Star Allies, however, is a true multiplayer experience. It supports up to four players -- or one player and three AIs -- and each one can take on a distinct role. There is still one core player who gets to play the lovable pink squish, but that player has an extra ability: the power of friendship! If you come across an enemy at any moment in a level (besides a boss) you can throw a heart at it to turn it to your side. If you’re playing alone, the computer takes over, but if you have friends over they can drop in by picking up a controller.
And this is where the game shakes things up. Since the enemies are varied in the Kirby games to allow them to utilize multiple abilities, your team will never look the same each time. You can still play as Kirby and absorb enemies while waddling down hills and collecting coins and other prizes. However, throwing hearts strategically leads to a well-rounded team with fighters, elementals, and parasol carriers. So you can theoretically be in a group with a Blade Knight, a Burning Leo, and a Waddle Dee. The fun of playing Kirby has always been how you can select what powers you like at any given moment. Now that privilege extends to your friends or computer counterparts.
This tends to make the platforming sections chaotic, as everybody works to solve puzzles and get items before the others. Some areas split the group up in order to unlock areas, while others require all four of you to work together. If you’re playing alone, you’ll be fine, as since the AI seem smart and generally know when they are needed.
However, the fun isn’t just in gaining abilities, but in combining them. Since this is a team game, there are many ways to work together besides just hitting a boss at the same time. If you press a button and Kirby puts their arm up, you can gain access to special powers. For example, fighter classes can combine with elemental classes to create things such as ice or fire swords. This especially comes in handy when you’re fighting bosses that may have specific weaknesses. (Having a fire player on your team when you fight the Whispy Woods is obviously advantageous.)
Some classes even have bonus abilities that only work if you’re working together as a cohesive unit. Delightfully, the parasol power grants the player the ability to create what’s called a “Chumbrella,” which has the span to cover all of your team and shield them from attacks. You can also just activate the Chumbrella and waddle around with a giant umbrella and delight in the fact it’s named Chumbrella.
Based on two levels I played, Kirby Star Allies is a solid callback to the franchise, giving players most of what they’re used to. The game still has vibrant and dynamic level design with varied puzzles and enemies to fight, many of which you’ll recognize. As I previously mentioned, there’s the classic Whispy Woods boss, along with King Dedede. There are a couple twists that change up the levels, whether it’s upgraded animation or a reveal about King Dedede’s oddly-ripped body that may grant you a chuckle.
I assume there will be more nods to the franchise in later levels, so there are still many secrets to uncover. I know of at least one. Puzzle pieces scattered throughout the levels form to create images, although representatives from Nintendo wouldn’t divulge exactly what they depict, only that it’s a “celebration of your achievements.”
So while I mainly got to experience the multiplayer elements and feel a twinge of nostalgia (something Nintendo is always good at), there seems to be more at play that the company won’t divulge. A modern Nintendo game with secrets and surprises is always welcome, on top of what looks to be an already solid addition to the Kirby canon. Makes you wish you had friends.
Kirby Star Allies will hit the Nintendo Switch on March 16, 2018.