If there's anything I've learned about Kirby through his stints in the Super Smash Bros. series, it's that he's a fighter. Also, he's only shown a fraction of what he's capable of doing. Sure, he can steal other fighters' powers, but imagine him taking the various skills from the rest of his games and applying them in a fighting game. If that was the case, you might get something that looks like Kirby Fighters 2. On paper, that sounds great. Unfortunately, it's a novelty that's fun for about as long as you can hold your breath.
Kirby, Kirby, Kirby
Kirby Fighters 2 is a simple premise. Players engage in four-way free-for-alls or two-on-two team battles selecting their favorite iteration of Kirby. There are also a few "buddies" available to select, like Bandana Waddle Dee or Gooey. It's a straightforward fighting game where players do battle until the opponents' health meter reaches zero. Controls are similar to Kirby platformers with players getting a dedicated attack button, jump button, and swallow, the latter of which is used to spit opponents across the screen for damage. It's incredibly easy for players of all stripes to pick up, so one might consider this "Baby's First Fighting Game." There isn't one character that's more complex than another, so you can pick up your favorite Kirby (Cutter, Bomb, Artist, etc.), jump right in with no experience, and fare pretty well.
This game's biggest similarity to Smash Bros. is its use of items, like Gordos and Bombers, which fall around the battlefield at various points. These can do heavy damage and can sometimes swing the game. I've had more than one instance where explosives rained all over the stage and went off at once, wiping out multiple opponents in a tandem blast. Speaking of opponent wipeouts, stages are also heavy on hazards, which can help mix up the action. Strategies can change depending on whether you're in a volcano that has lava bursts every few seconds or a wrestling ring where King Dedede tosses obstacles across the squared circle. For the Kirby fan, many of the locations will feel familiar and faithful to the franchise.
While playing in this sort of setting seems fun, there are a few things that keep Kirby Fighters 2 from feeling as good as other fighting games. For one thing, everything is styled after Kirby Star Allies, which is great for a platformer, but not so much for a fighting game. Kirby's jumps are too floaty and the character movement is too slow, which becomes tiresome quickly. The action can quickly become brainless with winning often determined by who hits their buttons the fastest. And button mashing quickly becomes the norm, because there isn't a lot that players can do with a single attack button. The control scheme lacks the potential for heavy combos or spontaneous discovery. After a few hours, it all starts to feel cookie cutter.
If that isn't enough to hammer home Kirby Fighers 2's repetitive nature, there's also the Story Mode. This is where Kirby can take a CPU buddy or a co-op partner and climb a massive tower in a journey to face off against the mismatched tag team of King Dedede and Meta Knight. As the story goes along, players will have to complete longer towers and that's where the action starts to feel samey. There are only so many Kirby variations in this game and by the end of the Story Mode, it'll feel like you've taken them all on a dozen times. The game will attempt to mix things up with an occasional boss battle, but it's not enough to hide the mode's mundaneness. In-between fights, players are given a boost that will help them through the tower, such as increased recovery item effects, increased health recovery between battles, and amplified attack power. Make your choices wisely, because if you go with the wrong build, you're left woefully unprepared for the final boss battle, which gets a sharp difficulty spike that will have most players backing out and not even bothering.
The puffball connection
After you inevitably get tired of the Story Mode, you're going to want to try a few multiplayer battles. If you have Kirby fans in your home the way that I do, it'll be fun for a little while. There are a few issues, however. The full Kirby roster isn't available right away. You only start off with a few Kirby variations and have to earn the rest as you level up. There are no microtransactions, so it's not Nintendo trying to rob you of your money, but given how long it takes to unlock the rest of the roster, they sure aren't afraid to rob you of your time. The gating of the other characters is an issue for anybody who wants to just jump right into the action with their favorite Kirby. Even the aforementioned Story Mode isn't immune to this, forcing the second co-op player to pick a non-Kirby character until just after the halfway point. This isn't meant to be a deep, 60-hour experience like Smash Bros., it's just a Kirby fighting game.
After the other Kirby-loving members of your household get tired of this game, the next instinct will be to jump online. So here's another thing that Kirby Fighters 2 shares with Super Smash Bros.: its netcode. Online play is a total lagfest, as I was barely able to complete any matches without a communication error. I didn't play a single match that wasn't a latency nightmare. The action in Kirby Fighters 2 is already slow enough without adding lag to the equation.
Even if you do somehow manage to avoid the netcode issues, online play in Kirby Fighters 2 is limited to team battles. You must team up with a stranger or an online friend to jump into team matchups. That's likely to utilize the mechanic where if a Kirby dies, they can fight on as a ghost and attempt to resurrect themselves. But even with that in mind, it would still be nice to get into some free-for-alls and see which Kirby rules above all. With online being restricted to team battles, one would think that two players on the same Switch could jump into online mode together. One would think that and one would be wrong. For whatever reason, two players can play together locally, but they can't join forces to go into online battles.
Down for the count
I like the idea of branching Kirby off into different types of games. The idea of a Kirby fighting game isn't a bad one. But Kirby Fighters 2 is a game that doesn't have that same magic that the rest of the series has. It has a lot of the ingredients that make for a good Kirby game, but they're not the ingredients that make for a fun and lasting fighting game experience. The action is too slow, the fighting gets too repetitive, and there's only so much that can be done when taking the mechanics of a Kirby platformer and trying to translate them into something else entirely.
While Kirby Fighters 2 is fun for a night with a co-op partner, there's little entertainment beyond that. There are better Kirby games out there. Try those instead.
This review is based on a Nintendo Switch digital code provided by the publisher. Kirby Fighters 2 is available now on the Nintendo eShop for $19.99. The game is rated E.
Kirby Fighters 2
- Decent roster of different Kirby powers
- Easy-to-grasp controls
- Stages are well-designed and faithful to the Kirby franchise
- Fighting feels slow and repetitive
- Story Mode is boring with a sharp difficulty spike at the end
- Not every character is unlocked out of the box
- Co-op partners can't pick Kirby in Story Mode until later
- Online play is a lag-filled mess
- Local partners can't play together online
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Kirby Fighters 2 review: Throw in the pink towel