Kirby Fighters 2 has a very simple premise: It’s a fighting game where nearly every playable character is Kirby. It’s a cute concept, but the game struggles to keep its charm once the novelty wears off.
The last time we bore witness to all-Kirby combat was back in 2014, when the original Kirby Fighters was packed in as an additional mode in Kirby: Triple Deluxe on Nintendo 3DS. This stand-alone sequel makes its way to Nintendo Switch with 17 Kirbys to control, plus a few enemies to fill the roster of fighters.
Having this much access to a cache of Kirbys would be exciting in any other context, but Kirby Fighters 2 proves you can have too much of a good thing.
Controlling your puffball pugilists is straightforward in Kirby Fighters 2. Every character has the same options mapped to the same buttons: an attack, jump, grab, block, and dodge maneuver. The deviation between characters comes from which Kirby you choose. All 17 playable Kirby characters use different abilities, similar to how the character adopts attacks from the enemies he swallows. Each playable fighter embodies one of those skills, be it swinging a deadly yo-yo, pile-driving enemies with wrestling skills, or crafting deadly arts and crafts with the Artist ability.
To perform attacks, I press the main attack button and a different direction at the same time. Holding up and attack, for instance, might make Staff Kirby jab his weapon above his head. Unsurprisingly, doing the same with Sword Kirby makes him swing his sword skyward. This style of play extends across all characters, so learning new fighters is easy. Kirby’s trademark floating jumps allow me to float around each stage, dodging attacks or various hazards. I can even swallow enemies, much as you’d expect from Kirby. I can only use this skill to spit my enemies out like a cannonball, however. I can’t use this attack to switch abilities on the fly. It feels weird to swallow an enemy without the chance to copy their abilities, but removing this option allows each Kirby to feel like a unique character.
To win battles, I must whittle my opponent’s health to zero. Once defeated, my enemy is turned into a ghost. They have a limited amount of moves in this form, but they can get revived with a small bit of health if they manage to strike a surviving player with a slow punch.
Matches tend to end so quickly, however, that I’ve yet to see a wild tug-of-war between living and dead Kirbys.
An OK KO for Kirby
Kirby Fighters 2 offers a small handful of modes with an emphasis on playing with others in exchange. Only one mode is meant to be played solo, in fact.
The main event is a story mode that can be played alone or with a partner, with the second player taking on the role of one of the non-Kirby combatants. The story is light, much like most fighting games, but it adds a few twists to move you through its parade of similar battles.
In this adventure mode, I travel up a tower aiming to reach the duo of evildoers at the top. As I move up through each floor, I take part in a battle against one or two opponents in standard fights. Once I win, I get the option to unlock unique power-ups that persist throughout that run, like buffs to my strength or stickers that increase the effectiveness of items that appear on each stage.
The fights aren’t especially challenging, and the ever-increasing upgrades I get from power-ups makes the climb even easier. I face off against a boss from a past Kirby game every few floors.
These encounters play out just like they might in the action games that inspired them. The bosses fill up the stage, dishing out large attacks that I have to frantically dodge. In these moments, Kirby Fighters 2 feels more like a traditional Kirby game, compared to every other moment that feels like a Super Smash Bros. match where everyone decided to choose Kirby as a goof.
It’s a shame because this game is oozing with charm, from its inventive levels that are brimming with character to all the Kirby franchise-specific weapons. The problem is that everything melds together so fast. When every character on screen is Kirby — or a Kirby-shaped enemy — everything turns into a polka-dotted world of chaos.
It’s a different sort of confusion than you’d find in a Super Smash Bros. game. In those titles, the visual overload is broken up by uniquely designed characters whose silhouettes can be distinguished from the visual pizzazz. In Kirby Fighters 2, nearly everything is a round ball of mayhem.
The staleness and repetitiveness wouldn’t be so much of an issue if most of the characters and unique costumes were easier to unlock. To gain access to everything on offer — from each Kirby, non-Kirby combatant, and stage — I have to trudge through numerous battles to increase my “fighters rank.” Getting all the game’s content is slow work, and requires that I level up my fighters rank 100 times.
Story mode is the way to do it, as the boss encounters and power-ups make the process less of a slog, but I barely gained access to a quarter of the game’s unlockables even after several runs through the mode.
Trying to spice things up through online play was a nonstarter. If you’ve tried to play Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on Switch over a wireless connection, then you have an idea of what connection issues you can expect. It was nearly impossible to get a match to run at a decent frame rate online.
As just a mode in another game, the original Kirby Fighters was an interesting diversion. As a stand-alone title, Kirby Fighters 2 has to work a lot harder to pack a punch, even at $19.99. It’s curious, cute, and lacking much definition, just like its namesake character.
Kirby Fighters 2 is now available on Nintendo Switch. The game was played on Switch using a 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.