There are fewer games that are more wholesome and fun than the Kirby series. His side-scrolling adventures always prove to be bright and colorful, while also holding up as exquisite platformers. Kirby Star Allies doesn't reinvent this wheel in any significant way, but it does address the question of "Wouldn't this be more fun with friends?"
That answer is indeed a resounding yes. Kirby's official Nintendo Switch debut proves to be every bit as fun as its predecessors, adding enough wrinkles to the formula for a satisfying journey alone or with friends.
Band of Brothers
Kirby has seen a lot of weirdness hit Dream Land over the past three decades. So waking up to see dark hearts raining down and corrupting the world's denizens isn't entirely treading new ground. Nonetheless, Kirby is the right puffball to set things right.
Anyone with even a remote familiarity with Kirby games should know exactly what to expect. Kirby can flutter jump, swallow baddies, and steal powers from select foes. Many powers from Kirby's previous efforts make their return, as do a handful of new abilities. The variety in abilities has always been a highlight of this series and Star Allies is no exception. It's fun to experiment with different powers, like Kirby's old-school sword and parasol, but it's even cooler to play around with more recent abilities, like the ESP ability from Kirby: Planet Robobot.
But while Kirby is probably more than capable of flying solo, that's not the point of what this game is.
The Buddy System
The hook for Star Allies is the ability to make friends, creating a party of up to four characters. Almost any enemy can be turned into a friend and part of the challenge in this game is finding a team of four that works. It becomes more interesting as certain powers can be mixed together to create more powerful abilities. Weapons like Bonkers' mallet or the Kirby sword power can be buffed up by elemental enemies.
This not only makes boss battles easier, but most times these combinations are used to solve specific puzzles. In fact, Star Allies' design is often generous in pointing out which specific abilties Kirby needs to either have at his side or absorb himself. Some secret doors will contain a specific enemy or stages will start out with a specific batch of foes to indicate what players will need to proceed forward. It's not overt hand-holding, but it is a good way to encourage players to try out as many powers and partners as they're offered.
There's one issue I had with friends and that's that the AI isn't always cooperative. There were several instances where I wanted to recruit or swallow a specific enemy to utilize their power set, but my AI teammates would get far too overzealous and go straight for the kill. More difficult platforming sequences also don't prove great for AI teammates, as they're more prone to set themselves on top of hazards, like spike beds, and take unnecessary damage.
Fortunately, one of the best aspects of Star Allies is the ability for human friends to drop in and out at any time. This includes in mid-level or even during boss battles. Couch co-op makes the Star Allies campaign a lot more fun, since friends can work more cohesively and also power each other up as needed. Friends don't even have to settle for being grunts. The Dream Palace allows Kirby to recruit bigger names, like Meta Knight and King Dedede, allowing other human friends to take control of a big-name Kirby character.
The other reason Kirby has friends around is for numerous "Friend" abilities. Certain stages will require Kirby and his three allies to band together to create a tandem ability to get through to the next area. This includes the Friend Bridge, which sees Kirby and company creating safe passage for a key-holding buddy, and the Friend Wheel, which has Kirby and friends barreling through walls as a giant wheel and avoiding traps along the way. One of the few complaints I have is that this feature wasn't utilized as much as I'd like. In particular, the Friend Train was a blast and was sadly one of the most underused of Kirby's Friend abilities.
This also leads to one of my other gripes with Star Allies and that's the frame rate. There were many instances in this game where I experienced some noticeable frame rate lag. When it happenned during an average stage, it was annoying. When it happenned during boss battles, it got more irritating, especially when there was a lot of action happening on the screen. Then there were the instances where the frame rate lagged during Friend Wheel sequences, which actively caused deaths. The several lag instances weren't enough to make Star Allies a bad game in my view, but it was hard not to cringe whenever they popped up, especially on Nintendo's flagship console.
The Star Allies campaign isn't a particularly long one. It clocked in at somewhere between eight and ten hours for me. There is a lot to keep Kirby players going, like finding numerous puzzle pieces scattered throughout every stage. Giant switches also open up new levels and new challenges. On top of that, there are more things to do after the story is over.
There are also a couple of mini-games: Chop Champs and Star Slam Heroes. These are two Mario Party-style mini-games that are good for a quick diversion, but won't be something that many players turn back to later. The meat is in the story and, fortunately, there's enough to do there to keep players engaged.
Kirby Star Allies is a brilliant Nintendo Switch debut for the pink puffball, bringing his accessible and lovable brand of side-scrolling platformer to a new console. The friend mechanic adds to the formula tremendously, especially when human friends are involved.
The amount of room for experimentation in regards to mixing powers, the tandem abilities, and the tried-and-true level design are enough to make this feel like one of the better Kirby games in recent memory. But it's the drop-in, drop-out co-op that makes Kirby Star Allies truly stand out, making it one of the best couch co-op games to grace the Switch in this early life cycle.
This review is based on a Nintendo Switch digital code provided by the publisher. Kirby Star Allies will be available on Nintendo Switch and the Nintendo eShop for $59.99. The game is rated E.