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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Kirby Star Allies Review — Complete Version

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - The allies may be stars, but is Kirby Star Allies a shining star of the system?

We made a fairly big deal about the release of Kirby Star Allies when it released for the Nintendo Switch back in March of this year. Since then, Kirby Star Allies has had three substantive updates, adding new game modes, experiences, and content.

I think it's now worth writing a full review of the entire Kirby Star Allies game experience, since I initially refused to write a review until the game was actually complete.

Between the game's release and now, I've accumulated over 105 hours in the game, and have 100% completed everything (100%'ed Story Mode, gone through all the characters in Guest Star mode, all the hearts in Heroes in Another Dimension, completed all of the puzzles in the gallery) with the exception of the very final difficulty mode in The Ultimate Choice. I've gotten... close! But I don't feel that finishing that would impact the rest of this review.

My review won't have spoilers in it, but I also count anything in Nintendo's marketing materials as not a spoiler. Be careful of that. 

Kirby Star Allies title screen version 4.0.0
The title screen of Kirby Star Allies on its final version: 4.0.0. I'll be reviewing this version for you.


Fast Facts

Name
Kirby Star Allies
Console
Nintendo Switch
Publisher/Developer
Published by Nintendo
Developed by HAL Laboratory
Genre
Action Platformer
Space Required
3.9 GB via game download
1.0 GB via physical game with updates
ESRB rating
E10+, featuring cartoon violence
Number of Players
Minimum of one, supports co-operative play of up to four players. Local multiplayer only
Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price
59.99 USD
Demo?
Demo available on the eShop with two levels. Read a write-up of that here.

Kirby Star Allies Story and Characters


Kirby Star Allies introduces a new set of alien villains focused on collecting the Jamba Heart, which split into several pieces all over Kirby's planet of Popstar. One of these pieces hits Kirby, which suddenly gives him super good social skills that allow him to befriend people by throwing Friend Hearts at them. He is beckoned by shadowy Jamba Heart fragments to go and collect the rest, encountering old friends and new foes along the way.

In a trend that has been growing as the Kirby series has been progressing, a lot of the story and lore is hidden in pause menu descriptions of characters. Going into too much detail is quite spoilery, but let me put it this way: The set of new villains in this game (Francisca, Flamberge, Zan Partizanne, and Hyness) get quite a lot of details explained on the side of the game.

It's definitely a design choice that allows the game to appeal to multiple audiences. On one side, you can go through the game just appreciating the colourful (and very round, cute, and circular) character designs with your buddies. On the other, there are a few hardcore Kirby fans that can appreciate the world-building going on in the background across the franchise. Kirby Star Allies picks up from what the previous games have been building up in terms of the world-building, so if you're a fan of that sort of thing, the game delivers to a point.


Kirby Star Allies Bugzzy king of insects guest star pause description
Bugzzy, a long-time Kirby series miniboss, has his pause menu lore reference Beetley, the upstart beetle who also incorporates throwing attacks.



Kirby Star Allies Graphics and Artwork


As I said, the game is very colourful in its character design. It's also colourful and very vibrant in its levels and backgrounds. Kirby Star Allies marks the first mainline Kirby game in High Definition graphics — the other recent games are either quirkily-designed spin-offs (Kirby and the Rainbow Curse) or on the 3DS. Absolutely no complaints here, and really not that much to say. There's a lot of varied environments and eye candy, and everything is drawn clearly.

Kirby Star Allies Music and Sound


I said I have over 105 hours of Kirby Star Allies logged onto my Nintendo Switch. Some of that is literally just going to the Jukebox and listening to music. There are a LOT of remixes of previous Kirby series music, as I've written about before as a general thing that happens in the franchise. Some of the music even being in the game is sort of a spoiler, so here's something that is relatively early and I think is original to the game — Heavenly Hall:



Quite frankly, most of the game's music is remixes, but there are over 200 songs in the Jukebox (with the content updates adding new songs, mostly remixes of other songs in the series), and the remixes have effort put into them. I don't fault the game for being heavy on remixes. In terms of the puzzle gallery songs, those are all remixes, but they change up the source material so much it's extremely delightful.

This game basically has unique music for any situation, so it's incredible in that respect and it really doesn't get old. The music is the best part of the game.

As for sound effects, they're good. Whatever you'd expect. The game doesn't have real voice acting. That's absolutely fine.

Kirby Star Allies Gameplay Overview


Kirby Star Allies is based around Kirby's signature ability to inhale enemies and copy their powers. In the tradition of Kirby Super Star, Kirby can also befriend enemies or convert his current copy ability into an ally character, which may be controllable via local multiplayer or a computer player. Each ability is represented by a different ally with their own unique character design and a full list of moves, ranging from two to five pages of button/control stick (or direction pad) combinations and combo attacks. There are 24 regular Copy Abilities (not counting Crash, Festival, Mike, or Sleep) and 13 Dream Friends, which are Kirby franchise characters returning from previous games with very complicated movesets. More on them later.

Kirby games are generally easy action platformers, with not much challenge on the platforming side because you can float virtually indefinitely. Key to Kirby Star Allies is that, with yourself and three others with powers, there are ability combinations and added ways to interact between you and your allies. You can add, say, Fire to the Sword ability to have a sword engulfed in flame, which influences your whole moveset — sometimes dramatically. There are five elements: Fire, Zap, Blizzard, Water, and Bluster (Wind).

There are also combination abilities, such as the Friend Bounce, and also things like the Friend Train and Friend Circle where your four characters (has to be four) undergo a transformation segment akin to on-rails vehicles.

The game expresses itself through several different modes, selectable from the selection screen board. There are overarching elements connecting them, including puzzles (filled in via collectable puzzle pieces) revealing artwork and music.

There is definitely variety here.

Kirby Star Allies Story Mode


Story Mode is the main mode of the game from a level design perspective. There are four worlds (and a final boss fight), with a total of forty levels. Each world has its own world map that doesn't serve that much of an importance besides being delicious eye candy, but you go select your level (it's rather linear with the unlockable levels not going to branching paths, but rather just more interesting game mechanics) and off you go.

The level design in Story Mode is designed in terms of the game being played on a multiplayer basis. Story Mode has several (mostly optional) puzzles relating to the different abilities, which can be solved in a variety of (sometimes novel) ways, but for the most part, the level design suffers from being rather bland and appealing to the lowest common denominator since it has to appeal to a wide range of player skill sets and multiplayer.

Still, the puzzles tend to be a lot more clever than the limited creativity we saw back in Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards. Here's an example of one of my favourites:



It's at this point in the review that I'll disclose that at no point have I played Kirby Star Allies outside of single player. I just don't have anyone wanting to play local multiplayer with me.

By the way, the final boss is better than any fight in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, so look forward to that.


Guest Star ???? Star Allies Go!


That ridiculous excuse for a mode name is actually where the bulk of the gameplay hours comes from for Kirby Star Allies. Remember when I mentioned there are 24 Copy Abilities (with 24 friend characters) and 13 Dream Friends? Well, you can play through a shortened and curated version of Story Mode with each of them in a Time Attack fashion! That's right, Kirby doesn't even appear in this mode. Now you're playing as characters like Bugzzy, Waddle Doo, and Chilly.

I mentioned that Story Mode has a wide variety of puzzles that can usually be solved in multiple ways (different abilities) that are sprinkled throughout the level design. Well, here's how Guest Star works.

There are five “worlds”, each consisting of generic, ability-neutral sections, and then sections that have an ability-dependent puzzle. All of these sections are rooms from Story Mode. Not all abilities have equally distributed puzzle amounts, so Hammer will get all the sections from Story Mode that include posts to squish (including ones requiring elemental enhancements, like a post with ice surrounding it), and Cook will get... pretty much just the ability-neutral sections, because Cook doesn't get puzzles.


As I mentioned, the mode is a Time Attack. How long you take to go through it is recorded. Unique to Guest Star are power-ups that increase your Health, Attack power, and movement Speed — there are five levels of each per world. These power-ups are usually hidden behind the puzzles (or forced enemy minion encounters that drop the power-up at the end if the guest's path doesn't have enough puzzles), which are often optional or behind doors that lead to a puzzle room. It's therefore a strategic choice about whether or not you want to do the puzzle and get the power-up — which will make the rest of the world be easier or faster — or skip it because of the time it'll take to collect the power-up.

The Dream Friends have unique-to-Guest-Star sections and have some neutral areas removed. That makes their runs much more fun, since they're usually shorter by about 20 minutes (depending on the character, a normal friend may take around 75 minutes to complete for their whole run), and it's a lot less repetitive. Dream Friends — like Marx, Magolor, Taranza, Rick/Kine/Coo, and others — may also have their unique sections be based on the games they came from, along with their very unique abilities. They have awesome references and throwbacks. For example, the Gem Apple micro-transaction currency that annoyed people in Team Kirby Clash Deluxe actually appears in Magolor's moveset, since he was the shopkeeper that accepted Gem Apples in that game. Taranza has references to the 3D effects in Kirby Triple Deluxe.

The weakness of Guest Star is that the neutral components represent either the bland level design from Story Mode, or the gimmicky portions of Story Mode such as momentum-breaking transformation sections or shoot-the-character-out-of-a-cannon-over-and-over sections. ...And underwater sections, which are bad because you lose free movement and the majority of your character's moveset. AND, there are also segments where you just wait around and dodge slowly moving level geometry trying to crush you into the floor or the wall. And by wait, I mean for a couple of minutes — which is a long time to wait around in-game and is a huge momentum killer. Why did HAL think people wanted to replay those sections? To reiterate, these boring parts are in every normal character's run, and players will dread coming across these sections whenever they wish to play Guest Star.


The other weakness of Guest Star is that, as I mentioned earlier, the game provides pause menu descriptions of each of the characters you get to play as. However, some of these ask questions and they never get answered, since Guest Star has no story components or even an end-game illustration commemorating the character completing the mode.


Kirby Star Allies Guest Star Vividria sisters art school pause description
Vividria wishes to prove herself to her sisters and get into a good art school.
By the end of her Guest Star run, we never find out who her sisters are, if she ever proves herself, and whether or not she got into art school.
Wasted potential.

This is the weakness of putting story and character development to the side as optional lore. Plotlines are started and not finished. Will we find out what happens to Vividria in the sequel? Will Guest Star even be considered canon? How does Vividria following Kirby's adventure get her into an art school? Or did she not get into an art school because that path of proving oneself makes no sense? Are her sisters the Vividria minibosses encountered throughout the mode? Why couldn't there be some customisation like the Dream Friends have to flesh this plot out? Vividria is just one example of many such instances.

On one claw, it's conceptually nice to be able to go through the Story Mode scenarios that encouraged constantly switching Kirby's Copy Ability... with one set ability the whole time (presumably your favourite). On the other claw, it gets repetitive (especially if you try to grind these out in a short period of time) and the concept fails when the level design incorporates a lot of bland sections that are the same experience no matter what character you use.

To have fun with Guest Star, you must be intrinsically motivated by the thought of having mastered the ability your Guest character has... because you'll become much more familiar with that Copy Ability's moveset by playing Guest Star than you would with Kirby in Story Mode. Extrinsic motivation like unique finish illustrations aren't around.


Kirby Star Allies The Ultimate Choice


You can also call this the Arena mode of Kirby Star Allies. You're going to need that mastery of the Copy Abilities in here, because this is a boss rush mode with eight plus one difficulty levels. (That plus one was added in the last content update, and it's the one I haven't beaten myself.) There are limited recovery items that get more sparse as you rise higher in the difficulty levels, and you fight more bosses as time goes on. The very highest levels have bosses that aren't fightable anywhere else.

You can choose Kirby, and/or any Kirby+Copy Ability or ally or Dream Friend to play as, and have as your partners. Kirby is strictly inferior to the ally characters, because they can attack in mid-air without needing to take a puff of air like Kirby. The game records your score/time on a per Copy Ability/Dream Friend basis.

The key to victory here is stacking your team with overpowered Dream Friends, and playing as a Dream Friend yourself with moves that have a LOT of invincibility frames.



Kirby Star Allies Minigames


Kirby Star Allies has two minigames: Star Slam Heroes and Chop Champs. Both are Mario Party-esque affairs that'll last about a minute each. They each have three difficulty levels, and are playable with 1–4 players in a split screen. There isn't much or any direct player vs. player action — you're just competing for the best score.

Star Slam Heroes


Star Slam Heroes is the customary timing-based minigame in the vein of Megaton Punch. Depending on your difficulty level, you'll have to press the A button a certain number of times at the right times (when the on-screen metre is full) to send the meteor back into space to defend the town, country, or world from crisis. This time, the background music is a remix of Kirby Air Ride's Nebula Belt, which is a fantastic track to have timed hits with. For what it is, it's pretty good, but don't expect Star Slam Heroes to hold your attention for long.

My high scores in Star Slam Heroes. Town Crisis and Country Crisis are perfect scores.
Getting those was legitimately exciting.

Chop Champs


Chop Champs is the second minigame. This one depicts Kirby as a lumberjack cutting a giant pole to make a house. Unlike Star Slam Heroes, Chop Champs has some player-vs-player interaction. It's split screen, but chopping Gordos off your pole makes them land to your opponent's side. (There is no way to control which player it flies to or really recognise who contributed a Gordo to your pole, so it might as well be meaningless in terms of being player vs. player ineraction.) Kirby also wants to avoid his axe hitting a worm, so Kirby will be swapping between the left and right sides of the pole and pressing a button to chop. Chop Champs is therefore actually very button-mashy, with an occasional-to-frequent (based on difficulty level) control stick flick to dodge a worm or Gordo. This game is therefore pretty exhausting on the fingers and I don't recommend playing it more than a few times. Chop Champs is easily the weakest part of the entire Kirby Star Allies experience.

Heroes in Another Dimension


I can't really include any media in this part of the review since it would be spoilers in terms of Story Mode and a lot of other things. Heroes in Another Dimension was the brand-new mode added in Version 4 (the last version), and unlike Story Mode, it was built with single-player in mind. This mode takes certain Copy Abilities and Dream Friends to their limits, involving much more creative applications than Story Mode ever did, or even the unique Dream Friend segments in Guest Star.

The basis of Heroes in Another Dimension is that Kirby goes through four extended levels, going through doors that either force him to possess a certain Copy Ability or become a Dream Friend. Along the way are Hearts (30 per extended level). Progression in Heroes in Another Dimension is based on going through puzzles — these are also mostly optional to solve, but if you want the Hearts (and there is a strong in-game incentive to collect enough of them) you will need to solve these puzzles. Heroes in Another Dimension is also much tougher than the other parts of the game (besides its associated secret The Ultimate Choice difficulty) because it gets to cater to end-game single-players.

The mode suffers from a lack of graphical variety. The rest of the game has these awesome and varied environments, but Heroes in Another Dimension is the same environment throughout the entire mode. Still, if the rest of the game displayed this level of creativity, it would be in the running for one of the best platformers of all time. On that note...

Kirby Star Allies Concluding Thoughts


Now that the game has gone through three rounds of updates, I can pretty safely recommend Kirby Star Allies to people for $60. The game has a lot of content in it, and it's a must-have if you enjoy time-attacking things, possess a lot of intrinsic motivation to possess mastery over game mechanics, or if you have local people to multiplayer with. The whole game is cooperative multiplayer-compatible, though certain parts are more friendly for it than others.

The game has many moments of cuteness, an amazing soundtrack, some clever situations, and you can think of it as the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate of the Kirby series in that it brings back many elements of the previous games into here. If I didn't enjoy myself, I wouldn't have played through so much of the game, and now I wish that I consistently played more games in the series. (For more disclosure, I more or less missed out on the Kirby series between Kirby Super Star Ultra and Kirby Star Allies. Something I regret.) Kirby Star Allies, despite its flaws, surpassed my expectations.



December 13 is Ludwig's birthday, so he spent his birthday writing a game review that he's been putting off for nine months. At least it's for a game he has a positive opinion of. Now that all of the content has been released for Kirby Star Allies, it's time to revisit YOUR opinion: what do you think about the game, and of Ludwig's review?


KoopaTV's staff thought well of Ludwig's review, since it won the Best KoopaTV Review of 2018!

2 comments :

  1. I absolutely love this game! I like being a variety of characters instead of being the same four over and over. Star allies was a lot simpler than the other Kirby games I've played but I have yet to 100% since Guest Star Allies is a pain, but I still enjoy it. Other than that great review!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the compliment!

      Simpler in what way? Difficulty? Level design?

      Yeah, Guest Star Allies is a pain if you don't intrinsically enjoy that sort of thing. Exact same deal with, say, playing the single-player of Splatoon 2 with every weapon.

      Delete

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