A new Kirby game came out last week. Kirby and The Forgotten Land tells the story of what would happen if Kirby and his fellow Popstar residents got sucked through a strange rift into a world that vaguely resembles our own (in proportion and technology) perhaps a thousand years after all Humans vanished from it. Being a completionist with very little time to play video games over the past few days, I’ve only gotten to the second area, so there is likely more to the story than I’ve found before writing this. That said, the story of a Kirby game is never the reason you play it. They’re all basically the same: something bad happens, Kirby and Co. team up to save the day, and evil forces are thwarted. A story frequently told entirely without words, relying entirely on cutscenes, music, and good facial expressions to tell the story.
I wouldn’t mind if the stories got a bit more complex. It would be difficult, though, since Kirby is a simple character and any attempts to make the small pink puffball a complex, multi-dimensional character would likely be foiled by the fact that Kirby is pretty much friend-shaped. Most of Kirby’s emotional complexity is shown through his friendliness and williness to extend a hand in friendship even to people who have wronged him. Which isn’t that complex, let’s be real, since that is pretty much his only reaction to anything ever. His villains might changed, but they’re typically only foes until something worse comes along (King Deedeedee is notoriously an ally only when something has dethroned him), sometimes even mid-game. If the games were to tell stories that are more complex, it would likely need to be done through the villain or one of the occasional anti-hero/villain characters like Meta Knight or King Deedeedee.
That said, I don’t think the stories need the complexity. The games aren’t terribly complex themselves, doing an amazing job of making themselves easy to enjoy and moderately difficult to complete. So a story with more complexity to it than “save the day and make friends along the way” would feel a little disingenuous given the soft, “children’s storybook” appearance of the world and most characters in it.
This outward simplicity might make someone unfamiliar with the franchise believe that it’s a game meant only for children, but the instant you really settle into the game and dig through it, you realize that it is, in fact, meant for all ages. Unlike many games that tend to learn toward specific audiences, age groups, or types of players, the only demographic I could use to describe the target audience for this game is “people who like Kirby games.” Fighting the various bosses might not be a challenge, but doing so with certain abilities, in a certain amount of time, or without getting hit makes it a challenge. All of the aforementioned are examples of the challenges the game provides you to the player on boss levels, but there are many more challenges unique to each level that aren’t required to progress but are a great way to rescue enough Waddle Dees to unlock things faster.
The world building is stellar, setting up the place Kirby and company now inhabit as some mysterious world only inhabited by animals and the beings pulled in through the rifts in space. It has managed to strike a balance of feeling empty, abandoned, and even lost, without ever feeling sad or implying that you should feel guilty for cavorting in these overgrown, forgetten cityscapes. Even as you dance in the ruins of some forgotten past, the light-hearted and fun nature of Kirby games shines through, showing you that while the original creators of this world might be gone, life still exists here in the form of the various beasties trying kidnap your friends and now your friends doing their best to make a life in the world they’ve found themselves stuck in.
Each of the level designs is a mixture of elegant simplicity and brilliant, devious hidden detail. Taking advantage of the 3D world and largley fixed camera angles, hidden paths, items, and unlockables are placed just-so, forcing you to shift the camera as much as you can and pay attention to your surroundings if you want to find everything hidden in the level. There are even moments where the game plays off the assumptions of experienced gamers, putting enemies where you would expect hidden treasure and making what would seem like a hidden path actually a trap ready to be sprung on someone who blithely runs in, assuming they’ve figured out the level’s hidden pathway. And, more devious still, there’s frequently something actually hidden just a few steps past the trap you can only find if you move past the trap and go blindly around the next corner.
Aside from certain boss battles, most of the world does very little damage to Kirby. Falling into freezing water or off the top of the bridge you’re running across hurts Kirby, but not very much. There’s very little reason to be cautious outside of area boss battles, since the levels provide many opportunities to heal from your misadventures, which is a great way to encourage exploration. Even in Wild Mode (the more dangerous difficulty), most damage you take isn’t so severe that you will be in trouble if you mess up a combo or fall off the edge of the level. Most of the change in Wild Mode, the cost of earning extra coins in-game, comes into play in the area bosses (where one or two heavy hits can put you in danger of dying). Most of the actual challenge of the game comes in pursuit of 100% completion, mini-games, and fighting bosses without getting hurt, but it’s all a challenge that feels achieveable (unlike finding all 900 Koroks in BotW, which I’ve yet to do because I get so tired wandering around or grid-searching).
Thruoghout it all is the absolutely lovely music the Kirby franchise is known for. There are no songs that stick out to me as music I need to go find immediately, but playing this game has been one of the few times I’ve turned off my podcasts and actually just let the game’s music and sound effects play without interference from the podcast of the day. It is the perfect soundscape for the sometimes fun, sometimes delightful, sometimes harsh, but always adorable world of Kirby and the Forgotten Land.
If you like Kirby games, I suggest picking this one up. It is easily worth full price. If you like adventure games, cute things, or some memorable and delightful background music, this is a game for you. If you’re looking for something lightweight and fun with progression that feels good and completion that feels rewarding, this is a game for you. If you’re looking for something to relax with, to escape the drudgery of your day-to-day with, this is a game for you. I’ve played it in all of my free time and I’m still excited to get back to and play some more. Especially if I can find another person to join in for two-player mode.