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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (359)

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Sundered 3/5
Iconoclasts 3/5
Divinity: Original Sin 2 4.5/5
Heroes of the Monkey Ta... 4/5
Lands of Lore III 2.5/5
Lands of Lore II: Guard... 1/5
Lands of Lore: Throne o... 2/5
Rage 2 4/5
EnHanced 3.5/5
Blossom Tales: The Slee... 3.5/5
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 2.5/5
Far Cry 5 4/5
Jotun 2/5
Armada 4/5
RiME 2.5/5
Song of the Deep 4.5/5
Shadowrun: Hong Kong 4/5
Destiny 2 4/5
Shadowrun: Dragonfall 4/5
Shadowrun Returns 3/5
Kirby Star Allies 3.5/5
Dark Quest 2 3.5/5
Never Alone 3/5
Octopath Traveler 3/5
Guacamelee! 2 4/5

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Kirby Star Allies   Nintendo Switch 

Kirby, Super-Bore    3.5/5 stars

“Kirby Star Allies” is the latest game in the long-running ‘Kirby’ franchise, developed by Nintendo second-party, HAL Laboratory. With a long-term focus on relaxing gameplay and multi-player cooperative action, the ‘Kirby’ series has been a go-to for the MJ Crew for quite some time. However, our expectations weren’t met by this latest entry, which instead, left us feeling deflated.

Presentation
‘Kirby’ games all typically have the same general aesthetic. Outside of outliers like “Kirby’s Epic Yarn,” which used handicrafts as its visual inspiration, and “Kirby’s Dream Land 3,” which used hand-drawn scribbles as its visual inspiration, all ‘Kirby’ games tend to look like bright, colorful, kawaii cartoons come to life, and “Kirby Star Allies” is no different. It’s a 2.5D title built in a proprietary engine, where all of the in-game assets are 3D and polygonal, yet (almost) the entire game takes place from a 2D, side-scrolling perspective.

Audiowise, “Kirby Star Allies” isn’t much different from any other ‘Kirby’ game, with heavy use of remixed tunes and sound effects (or straight up ported chiptunes) and a minimal amount of new music. ‘Kirby’ games have always had vibrant, zippy music to accompany the cute-splosive action, and “Kirby Star Allies” is in lockstep with series tradition.

The place where “Kirby Star Allies” falls flat in presentation is technically. First, and most immediately noticeable, even by bystanders just watching the game being played, the load times are quite terrible for a cartridge-based game. Nintendo (and its legion of fanboys) has always made a big deal about how cartridges are better than optical media because the load times are so much quicker. Yet “Kirby Star Allies” doesn’t feel any quicker, with several noticeable seconds of loading when going through doors within stages or starting a new stage. The other major technical flaw in “Kirby Star Allies” is the abysmal controls, a flaw which can definitively be laid at the feet of the Switch hardware itself. When the MJ Crew played through this game, we used sideways Joycons (we didn’t want one person to use a ‘better’ controller, like a Pro or 8bitdo). Let’s just say that sideways Joycons are only acceptable as a stopgap measure, or perhaps as a ‘main’ controller for incredibly small children, as the ergonomics of an adult man person using them to play a 2D sidescroller just flat-out stink. It’s never good to be forced into using a joystick to control 2D character movement, but the traditional ‘Kirby’ control scheme seems particularly negatively impacted by the lack of a d-pad. To top it all off, we had problems with the Joycons randomly becoming unresponsive throughout play for certain characters, which could be mostly corrected by holding the controllers closer to the console dock.

Story
“Kirby Star Allies,” like so many other games in the franchise, doesn’t really attempt to forge any striking new narrative pathways. The game begins with fragments of a mysterious, purple Dark Heart scattering themselves throughout the galaxy, infecting those they touch with negative emotions.

Kirby, our pink, lardaceous hero, is immune to this baleful influence due, most likely, to his pinkness and lardaceousness. Thus, he sets out, once again, on a journey to spread his own unique flavor of happy emotions to all of those negatively impacted by this stellar event.

Along the way, Kirby runs into a variety of old friends, corrupted by the Dark Heart, as well as traditional non-friend enemies, and a trio of female warriors in the service of an individual known only as Lord Hyness. This quartet of new villains, breaking from ‘Kirby’ tradition, has quite a bit of dialog and exposition, apparently as a counterbalance to the fact that the early, non-vocal narrative feels disjointed and nonsensical.

Unfortunately for gamers who like to get bang for their buck, “Kirby Star Allies” is woefully short, clocking in at roughly 6 hours to complete the main story mode. BUT WAIT! Just because you’ve completed the game and found all the secrets within the stages, DOESN’T mean you’ve completed the game! No sir! After completing the main story, the player unlocks a few new modes, including the typically banal Boss Rush and a couple of silly minigames, but also a special mode where the player can replay an abridged version of the main story WITHOUT Kirby! Instead, the player may choose one of the huge number of power-up friends available in the game to take the lead. This bonus mode takes less than 2 hours to complete… once. But then the game wants the player to replay it over and over and over with a different friend in the lead each time. Yeah, no, that’s not going to happen, as that’s just waaaay too much repetition for no real payoff.

Gameplay
Gameplay in “Kirby Star Allies” is bog standard ‘Kirby.’ The first player takes on the role of the pink blob himself, while players 2-4 can assume control of one of Kirby’s cadre of mind-controlled allies, who follow him in a conga-line of bad AI. Kirby can hump/piggyback any one of these AI companions to directly control them, but it’s far more practical to have friends control them, as we did. Kirby can steal the powers of enemies by inhaling, then swallowing them, or add them to his friend-cult by chucking a heart at them. Cumbersomely, it’s impossible to start this multi-player-focused game in multi-player mode, as it is necessary for player 1, as Kirby, to befriend an enemy before player 2 can control it, and so on.

Unfortunately, the level/stage design in “Kirby Star Allies” is simply not up to par. While traveling left-to-right and killing baddies, Kirby and his friends can gather puzzle pieces to complete memorial pictures (nostalgic, and badly-drawn reminders of the series’ storied past). Each stage contains one big, rainbow-colored puzzle piece that is unique and doesn’t respawn, while regular puzzle pieces can be grabbed over and over by replaying stages (hello, abridged mode!). These big puzzle pieces are not particularly well hidden, and we found all but one of them on our first run through the stage where it was hidden. Historically, Kirby games have been easy to finish, yet more challenging to fully complete, due to the plethora of secrets stashed everywhere. “Kirby Star Allies” is the most threadbare entry in the series from that perspective. Indeed, the only times we even used any of our stock of over 100 1-ups was when the controls decided not to respond.

Sadly, the closest “Kirby Star Allies” ever comes to feeling as inspired and crazy as some of the series’ high points is during the long, multi-phase boss battle that caps-off the main campaign (which is not present in the abbreviated, Kirby-less campaign).

Overall
Between the sloppy controls, boring/simplistic level designs, incredibly short length, and expected repetition, “Kirby Star Allies” is the least impressive traditional ‘Kirby’ game since “Kirby 64.” Still, even at their worst, HAL Lab does adhere to a minimal baseline of quality for their games, so “Kirby Star Allies” isn’t actually ‘bad,’ it’s just far less good than most other games in the franchise. It’s clearly not intended for ‘Kirby’ veterans, unless they’re introducing their young children to gaming for the first time with this game as the medium.

Presentation: 4/5
Story: 2.5/5
Gameplay: 3/5
Overall (not an average): 3.5/5

 

 


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