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Kirby: Mass Attack (DS) artwork

Kirby: Mass Attack (DS) review

"The inability to consistently fling puffballs is the biggest problem that youíll likely have with Kirby Mass Attack, because at times that particular activity can be vitally important. For example, in one stage you must repeatedly ram a block to slide it along a platform before a timer counts down and it explodes. Thereís specific placement youíll have in mind, but getting the explosive charge positioned in time can be difficult when every second or third swipe on the screen doesnít register."

One day, Kirby was taking a nap. Suddenly, a powerful wizard named Necrodeus split him into 10 miniature puffballs. With the brave windbag thus weakened, the wicked wizard set about eliminating each pint-sized portion of the hero Ö until only one pipsqueak remained. Not all was lost, though, because Kirbyís courageous spirit remained in the form of a floating star. Empowered by the reminder of his former greatness, the pint-sized hero set about reuniting with his slain fellows by gobbling up magical fruit that lies scattered throughout the world. If enough fruit is eaten and enough members of the wizardís Skull Gang are defeated, thereís a chance that Kirby can become whole again and save Dream Land.

Kirby Mass Attack should not be mistaken for a conventional Kirby game, though it comes closer to feeling like one than the masterful Kirbyís Epic Yarn did last year for Wii. As Kirby, you wonít run and jump through stages while performing careful leaps, dodges and glides. You wonít inhale foes, take on their powers and turn into a spaceship or anything like that. Instead, youíll assume the role of star general. Youíll tap the screen where you want Kirby to go (or more often, the mass of as many as ten miniature Kirby puffballs that you have accumulated) and then youíll hope for good things.

The stylus is your sole means of control, and the good news is that mostly the odd setup works and allows for some ingenious moments that will surprise you with their complexity (particularly given the fact that really youíre just tapping the screen or swiping at it with your stylus). The bad news, though, is that the control method misfires often enough to get in the way of the purely joyful experience that Kirby Mass Attack otherwise might have provided.

Kirby and his clones tend to move around the screen like a swarm of ants. When you point to a destination, a star appears on-screen and the little pink pipsqueaks will trot over to it. If you quickly double tap to indicate that haste is in order, theyíll sprint instead. Pressing the stylus against the screen and holding it there will cause the puffballs to assemble, and then you can drag the stylus from there to carry the balls in cloud form for a few seconds before they drop to the nearest platform. You can also flick the stylus and in that manner toss the little pink heroes at objects that need some battering--weak blocks, armored enemies or various other obstacles--but itís not always easy to predict when a swipe will have the intended effect and when the puffballs will just prance a few steps to the side because your swipe didnít register properly.

Kirby Mass Attack asset

The inability to consistently fling puffballs is the biggest problem that youíll likely have with Kirby Mass Attack, because at times that particular activity can be vitally important. For example, in one stage you must repeatedly ram a block to slide it along a platform before a timer counts down and it explodes. Thereís specific placement youíll have in mind, but getting the explosive charge positioned in time can be difficult when every second or third swipe on the screen doesnít register. In a similar scenario, you must propel a giant gear along a stone platform. At first missing the occasional swipe is no big deal, but then you have to roll the gear uphill. If you have poor luck that results in lost momentum, the gear might start rolling back toward you and it can quickly crush one, two or even all of the Kirby puffballs under your control.

Even when swipes arenít necessary, there are times when itís difficult to predict the outcome of a tap on the screen because itís not uncommon for a puffball or two or three to get hung up on a stone block or something and fail to follow the rest of the herd. Many stages are designed so that this isnít a problem, but there are other situations where--for example--you have to make dashes to various recesses in stone so that a recurring sandstorm doesnít blow away any of your crew. When eight of the ten pipsqueaks dash in perfect unison to the next destination, thatís fun, but watching two of them lag behind for no apparent reason (and then seeing them get caught up in the storm) is less pleasant.

Youíll gradually become accustomed to the control quirks as you spend more time with the game. Then you can more fully appreciate some of the other things the game does so well, like inventive boss design that gets a surprising amount of mileage from the general setup. Bosses often take up most of the screen and they employ interesting attack patterns that require actual strategy. Besides powerful and familiar foes that wait at the end of each world, youíll encounter special challenges elsewhere along the way. Nostalgia also plays a welcome role in some of those situations. At the end of the first world, for instance, youíll battle the weeping willow boss from basically every Kirby game ever made. Here you must hurl miniature puffballs at segments of the treeís trunk while directing your pink swarm to avoid spiked balls that drop from the overhead foliage. The familiar encounter feels fresh all over again.

Partly because of the odd control quirk but mostly because of good design, Kirby Mass Attack is one of the most challenging titles in the franchise. Early stages are a snap, but venturing into the desert-themed second world makes it clear that you wonít be able to dream your way through the obstacles that lie between Kirby and the closing credits. Even once youíre able to power through most stages, you may be tempted to play through them again in search of a better ranking (good luck earning a Gold rating on every stage; youíll have to avoid taking any damage at all to do it). There also are a number of gold coins to find in each stage. Obtaining all of them will put you squarely in harmís way, but youíll be rewarded with mini-games once you gather enough of them.

Those mini-games add another few hours of play to what is already a robust adventure. Some of them arenít as good as others (the Curtain Call one comes to mind, as it just involves counting the number of Kirby puffballs you see on the screen before time expires), but there are some neat diversions that include a vertically-scrolling shooter and a pinball table that both make excellent use of the stylus controls and nicely fit the theme of the overall game. The mini-games track your high scores, so youíll probably return to them often to kill time.

With a lengthy and remarkably inventive main quest that offers plenty of challenge and a selection of mini-games that can provide nearly as much fun as the main adventure, Kirby Mass Attack is the perfect investment for someone who is looking for another first-rate experience with the aging DS hardware. While the control quirks are sometimes frustrating, the interface is put to good use and makes some interesting ideas come to life that otherwise couldnít. Thereís enough first-rate content here that most gamers will happily master the art of controlling everything with the stylus and they will lose themselves in Dream Land all over again. Necrodeus couldnít possibly have realized it, but it turns out that ten miniature pink puffballs are in some cases better than one big marshmallow!


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Staff review by Jason Venter (September 17, 2011)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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