I’m rolling around on jelly cubes, wearing an adorable dollop of whipped cream on my head. Around me, several other Kirbys in a range of colors — some wearing Carby as a hat, which I hope to unlock soon — are waving and saying “hey.” These other players and I are in the waiting lobby for Kirby’s Dream Buffet, and we’ll soon go head to head in a series of challenges. May the best Kirby win.
In Dream Buffet, you play as the iconic puffball rolling around levels made of delectable desserts. The objective is to collect the most strawberries by winning a series of challenges — which include races, along with minigames like a battle royale or collecting strawberries as they appear in large teacups. You can play alone against CPUs, online against friends or strangers, or in-person via couch co-op or local Switch communication. It’s ultimately a kinder approach to the chaotic racing party game. It’s also incredibly appealing to me, a person who really enjoys watching streams of Fall Guys or Mario Kart more than actually playing them.
Out the gate, Dream Buffet’s dessert theming is absolutely adorable. There are waffle-ridged bridges, fork platforms, and pancake stacks to traverse. Little Bronto Burts and Kabus fly around with whipped-cream-topped heads just like mine. Pleasant haptic feedback accompanies Kirby’s rolling, punctuating the slow sticky roll through icing, jelly, or syrup. Schmaltzy music keeps the tone light. As Kirby eats more strawberries he grows in size, making him a more intimidating adversary in minigames.
Race tracks are short and sweet, in contrast to racing predecessor Kirby Air Ride, which had longer tracks that felt more substantial when played as individual levels (though that game also had hilariously limited racing controls, making for a wonderfully disastrous time). I still own a GameCube for playing Air Ride — my bias is showing — but Dream Buffet feels more like a party game than a racing game, with an approach that feels primed for giggles over competitive mastery. Even if you don’t win, you still gain points toward your Gourmet Rank, which unlocks cute cosmetics like a little burger hat. The child in me who spent hours hunting down spray paint cans in Kirby & The Amazing Mirror was instantly hooked.
Because you’re rolling, the controls aren’t as straightforward as a typical karting game. It’s more like Katamari Damacy or Fall Guys, where you move relatively slowly — though thankfully not as slowly as those chaotic beans — and slap into each other a lot. You can use classic power-ups to create mayhem or advance in the race or minigame. Each of these powers are also in keeping with the adorable dessert motif, with the classic Kirby hurricane depicted as a cupcake and Kirby’s wheel form as a donut.
But the atmosphere is way less menacing than Fall Guys, a game that’s more overtly designed to let you screw over your adversaries for comedic effect. For one, Kirby can float, so falling off of ledges during races is less of a hazard. Furthermore, power-ups regenerate quickly, and there are so many strawberries falling from the sky that it never feels scarce. The end of each race is marked by three stacks of strawberry-bedecked pancakes, valued at 10, 30, and 50 strawberries — so getting there first nets you the most berries. This is the game’s way of rewarding first, second, and third place.
Minigames are similarly generous. In the battle royale event, where you can donut smack each other off the ledges, you do get penalized strawberries for falling off — but you also get rewarded (with a smaller handful of berries or a power-up) immediately upon reentry. If you’re seeking an even chiller experience, or are playing with younger kids, Dream Buffet also has a Free Rolling map for people who just want to ambiently guide Kirby around while he eats delicious berries.
It’s the cherry on top of this sugar-sweet game, a perfect confection of Kirby cuteness and chaos.
Kirby’s Dream Buffet is out now and was reviewed on Switch using a pre-release download code provided by Nintendo. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.