Kirby and the Forgotten Land (Switch) review
"Kirby's adventure in three dimensions is uneven, but delightful enough to overcome its worst shortcomings."
Kirby and the Forgotten Land is a frequently terrific game but, like the titular pink puffball, it suffers from the lack of a persistent identity. If the developers had committed to a more consistent vision, their project might have become one of the mediumís all-time greats. As things stand, it settles for being sporadically outstanding.
The first thing to know about Forgotten Land is that it represents the first game in the franchise to offer a 3D platformer experience from start to finish. That canít have been an easy transition for the team responsible, and yet they handle that quite efficiently. The game isnít 3D in the sense that Super Mario 64 is, or Super Mario Odyssey, because the camera is less intimate like in Super Mario 3D World. Fixed angles keep any necessary action visible, while also allowing the developers to hide secret items in nooks and crannies slightly off the beaten path. Though typically satisfying, the approach prevents the game from offering the truly 3D adventure it might have done.
As usual in most series installments that donít involve yarn, Kirby inhales enemies to gain their powers. Broadly speaking, there are 12 unique abilities to snag this time around. However, each can be upgraded one or more times by finding blueprints well hidden throughout the gameís worlds and central town environment. The usual abilities make an appearance, including a lethal ice spell that with upgrades allows Kirby to fire waves of icicles or to skate across heated environments. Powering up an initially weak ability takes some doing, but the results are satisfying because they tear through enemies so efficiently and make formerly hostile environments feel more like a welcoming playground.
Besides the usual powers, Kirby has gained the ability to inhale much larger objects ranging from a pool ring to a vending machine to a small car and more. Such abilities are used only briefly so the pink superstar can smash through weak walls or floors. They feel ridiculous and the artists gleefully emphasize that whimsy, making them super endearing. Smaller children should find them especially thrilling. Theyíre almost certain to love a car that smashes through barriers and leaps over small gaps while careening about obstacle courses. The vending machine is especially bizarre; it waddles around areas and fires an onslaught of soda cans that virtually no target can withstand.
A level hub joins the seven themed worlds, which range from a tropical jungle to a watery bay to an amusement park and beyond. Earlier zones offer verdant landscapes and twisting urban corridors that feel the most unique, while later zones play host to more hostile environments with less of the sense of joy that pervades early chapters. They try to make up for that with an impressive sense of scale, but with mixed results. Between stages, Kirby floats around the world map on a flying star to investigate suspicious landforms and find additional coins and bonus stages.
Those bonus stages provide challenges based around a given ability, which the player must first have unlocked through standard play. Completing a zone earns Kirby a special chunk of rock to take to the town blacksmith and improve gear, provided the accompanying blueprints are also located. Unfortunately, some of the later bonus stages implement strict requirements for success that may put even more experienced gamers to the test. Timing is tight and may lead to frustration, especially as failure will prevent newcomers from experiencing some of the coolest advanced weaponry. Itís possible to lower the difficulty to provide a more generous timer, but that feels almost like cheating. Also, it still canít ensure success in the most demanding cases.
Regarding the gameís difficulty in general, donít go in expecting easy times like you might have had with Kirby in the past. On the ďSpring BreezeĒ mode, players earn fewer rewards and face a less robust challenge. Bosses donít hit quite as hard, but Kirby still does. Enemies are always placed the same, though, and attack patterns donít change. On any setting, player can also buy temporary upgrades that might allow them to sneak past a challenging area. However, such investments require them to spend in-game currency they might put to better use on lasting upgrades. Wasteful spending (or a lot of deaths, which subtract 100 coins per pop) then ensure they must run through familiar stages a few times just to build up a stockpile of coins.
With that said, itís clear all the stages are meant to be played repeatedly. They all feature several objectives, most of which are kept obscured unless you stumble upon them by accident. After the first world or two, complete rewards are unlikely on a single run because the developers either got creative or excessively specific with the criteria. You might have to beat a boss with one of several available weapons, and how would you know which one to use unless youíve consulting a guide? Or you might have to negotiate a particular segment without falling into the lava. Youíd try to do that anyway, of course, but maybe you would have tried extra hard if you knew such parameters existed. Especially in later stages, you might require two or three runs to accomplish everything, even if you manage to find the usual hidden captives in their cages. This mechanic does add some replay value, but it also can prove irritating at times. Most levels are enjoyable, but there are a few you might not rush to revisit.
The developers also attempted to add longevity with a selection of minigames. In the town hub area, you eventually unlock additional buildings that often feature a neat little side attraction. One lets you fish for rare fish, which reward you with coins when caught. In another case, you work as an employee at a cafť, serving up orders as customers arrive and then hopefully enduring a lunch hour rush. In yet another mode, you hold your controller like a board as marbles appear, then tilt it to try to control how those marbles roll around a board toward a goal. While such diversions are pleasant enough, they donít add a lot to the experience overall.
The game begins with a brief, generic story about Kirby being sucked into another world. This event prompts a meeting with a bubbly sort who acts as guide throughout most of the ensuing adventure. The story is barely revisited after the opening scene, until very nearly the closing credits. Then the player must endure a series of boss rushes and then several intense battles with powerful foes who appear for the first time to talk about the extensive planning and power. The scenario writers went a little over the top, with one sequence feeling more like a fight against Sephiroth in Final Fantasy VII than it does an encounter in a game about a talking pink marshmallow. Itís justÖ bizarre.
Some of the moments when Forgotten Land gets ambitious and might most appeal to core gamers are at odds with the family play the developers clearly had in mind. Kirby: Star Allies allowed as many as four players to work together clearing stages. Here, that number is cut in half. The limitation would seem to make the outing perfect for a parent and their child to play together, or an older sibling and a younger one, or two friends of differing skill levels. With the gameís occasional difficulty spikes, however, itís difficult to imagine any one audience that will be best served. The developers aimed at everyone and in the process failed to cater to anyone.
Surprisingly beefy end game content could serve to exacerbate that issue. When the credits roll, some players might not even realize the game still has much more to offer. Further exploration reveals a new series of extended stages that significantly extend the clock while upping the challenge. They offer extended and less forgiving takes on everything Kirby has already done throughout the game, including boss battles with new patterns and more demanding stage layouts. Itís a bit like the second quest in an older classic like Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda, except the goal is to find redemption for one character who might benefit from it.
Somewhere along the way, the fresh sense of adventure Kirby and the Forgotten Land establishes early on begins to diminish. Environments lose their vibrancy and the child-like wonder fades. The game commits the crime of overstaying its welcome, arguably offering too much of a good thing while finally stretching itself too thin. The overall package still earns an easy recommendation based on the strength of its bewitching first half, but too much potential was ultimately squandered for the title to count as one of its genreís all-time greats.
Staff review by Jason Venter (April 02, 2022)
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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