Kirby and the Forgotten Land might be the cheerful pink sphere’s first fully 3D adventure, but he takes to it like a duck to water. He also barely bats an eyelid after getting sucked into a vortex – how do you like them apples, Kirby? – and dumped on the beach of a new and mysterious world to explore, finding himself thrown in a fight to rescue Waddle Dees from the Beast Pack.
With all his previous games having been side-scrolling platformers, the jump to 3D feels perfectly natural – you’d hope it would be when HAL Laboratory could look to over two decades of other 3D platformers to see what would work best. Instead of a close third person camera like in Super Mario 64, this game has a more distant overlooking camera view that’s more akin to Super Mario 3D World in how it can sometimes frame the action in a specific way. It’s also a decision that has a direct impact on the gameplay itself, keeping things nice and open for co-op players to share a space.
Kirby turns up in the Forgotten Land with all the core abilities that you would expect. He runs around, arms stretched back for a textbook Naruto run, jumps into the air and can float gently back to the ground, or you can fight to stay aloft by furiously tapping the jump button. His most iconic move, though, is being able to inhale pretty much any danger he faces and then either spit it back out as a projectile – or swallow enemies to steal their abilities.
The baddies of the Forgotten Land are the Beast Pack, a motley assortment of different animals appearing in the series for the first time, but there’s also a bunch of Kirby series staples like the Blade Knight, Chilly and Hot Head for the Sword, Ice and Fire abilities respectively. Some new enemies include Bernard who grants Kirby the gun-toting Ranger ability, and mole-like Digguh who yields the Drill ability when inhaled.
All of these copy abilities can be upgraded throughout the game. As you complete levels and rescue the captured Waddle Dees, they gradually rebuild Waddle Dee Town, adding to shops and mini-games like Flash Fishing and Tile-and-Roll Kirby to play. The most important building is the Weapons Shop, where you can take blueprints and upgrade them. The basic flame-thrower of Fire ability turns to spewing a stream of lava, the Sword becomes a bigger sword with a wider arc to hit enemies with, and the Ranger gets a second gun and stronger charge-up shot.
Sometimes Kirby’s eyes are bigger than his mouth. He sees something that he wants to eat, but doesn’t realise that it’s just far too large, even for him, to scarf down. Still, he gives it his best shot for the new Mouthful Mode, wrapping Kirby around an object in a way that it’s probably best not to think about too much, and then giving you some kind of control over that object. It starts off with a rust-bucket of a car, which Kirby can somehow drive, his feet sticking up in the air from the car boot and (presumably) his tongue dealing with the steering and pedals? But then you come across water towers, storage lockers, vending machines, and even just archways which Kirby can glom onto and use in imaginative and frankly hilarious ways. There’s only so many Mouthful Modes, but HAL starts to combine their use to create some fun new puzzles and challenges to overcome.
While the game starts off pretty easy and accessible, thanks in large part to Kirby’s floating ability, the later stages do start to throw up a steeper challenge. Each level has around 10 Waddle Dees to rescue, whether it’s simply reaching the end, finding the hidden Waddle Dees or completing some mystery objectives. One mystery goal is revealed for every completion so you’re never stuck, and on top of that, any special Mouthful Mode sequences can be repeated in-level in case you missed something. If you want a bit of a challenge – and to earn stars for ability upgrades – there also rifts that open on the overworld leading to special challenge missions that can be quite fun to take on.
You can also take Bandana Waddle Dee into the fight in co-op. This militant spear-wielding Waddle Dee has a handful of useful moves, like being able to throw a trio of spears for a ranged attack, but they absolutely play second fiddle to Kirby’s wildly more varied abilities – Kirby is also always the centre of attention for the camera. In Mouthful Mode, BWD will generally hop on board and be able to throw spears for a little added attacking. It’s great to have co-op kept for this game and, combined with the early difficulty level, I can see this being a great game for parents to help their kids play through.
Even compared to all of Nintendo’s other bright and colourful franchises, Kirby’s art style is exceptionally cheery and family friendly. Stepping into a ruined world, everything is still brightly coloured, the enemies include fluffy (but bad) dogs, squat little knights, wizards flinging bombs, spiked bars with eyes and more. They’re an odd mix and some can feel a bit out of place and dated, but on the whole the game looks great. It checks off a number of abandoned and ruined world tropes along the way, but doing so in a way that’s engaging and visually appealing, from the opening city and shopping mall, to an abandoned theme park, and beyond. There’s some really gorgeous vistas that you run through.
The deeper you get into the adventure, the visual style and the story shifts in a darker direction, and the difficulty steps up as well. It starts to put more time pressure on you through the regular platforming, though typically for optional areas and collectables, and starts to test your abilities through boss battles. Having your Copy Abilities levelled up really helps here, and the fully upgraded Dragon Fire became my go-to, though the way it ramps up in intensity can be quite wearing.