Kirby Star Allies marks the first time HAL Laboratory and Nintendo have published a traditional Kirby platformer in HD. As the first Kirby outing on the Switch, Star Allies keeps it pretty standard. Star Allies has all the things you’ve come to expect from a Kirby game: the colorful worlds, the delightful music, cutesy characters; they’re all here. All these elements string together to create a joyful Kirby experience that plays it safe.
This time around evil invaders are attacking Dream Land and Kirby must expel them using the power of friendship! As hinted by the game’s title, Star Allies is all about teamwork. The twist for Star Allies is Kirby’s new ability to throw hearts at enemies and add them to his team. Toss a heart at a monster, and it’ll become Kirby’s partner. Using this ally system, Kirby can bring up to three monsters with him on his adventures. It’s a nice feature knowing you’re never alone when you’re adventuring, but what makes Star Allies truly compelling comes from the way it uses these companions to enable drop-in-drop-out cooperative play for up to four people.
Star Allies’ greatest strength is in its cooperative mode. This isn’t the first time a Kirby game has experimented with cooperative play. However, Star Allies takes advantage of the Switch’s strengths as a multiplayer device. The option to play with friends is easy, and the Switch’s Joy-Con setup makes jumping in and out of coop play simple. But the overall design of Star Allies suffers from this cooperative option. Having four partners, whether cooperative or A.I. controlled, makes combat a cakewalk as Kirby and pals steamroll through most encounters. Kirby titles are generally designed towards younger players, but when just tapping the attack button without any regard makes combat pretty dull, the experience begins to slow down. Playing with a group of friends is as fun as you’d imagine, but when everyone is mashing buttons mindlessly, the lack of challenge will stray people away.
While Star Allies lacks many new monsters to fight against, there are plenty of different options when it comes to collecting allies. The abilities you copy here are the staples since the classic games. It’s fun to recruit classic enemies and seeing your old enemies come to your side, but it’s disappointing that the new rivals can’t join you in any way.
Once you unlock secret “Dream Palace” stages, you can summon friendly rivals into action including Meta Knight and King Dedede.
As usual, Kirby can copy his enemies’ powers by swallowing them, but now he’s able to combine powers with his allies. The most common combinations boil down to enhancing physical attacks with elemental attributes such as a fire sword or a lightning hammer. Most puzzles throughout the game can be solved using combined abilities leading to hidden puzzle pieces and secret level switches. All players can make use of combination powers, and the computer-controlled allies can use these boosts as well. Speaking of which, the AI companions end up being pretty smart on the field, whether it’s surviving combat or using fusion abilities. This frees up players from having to worry about losing allies whenever they need to use them for a puzzle.
What the story lacks in challenge, Star Allies makes up for it in style, with its scenery and catchy soundtrack that accompanies Kirby on his journey. Planets and environments will shift from grassy plains to icy slopes to the vast cosmos. Each location looks stylized and are as appealing to the eyes as the classic tunes are to the ears.
Outside of the main story, there are an assortment of other modes to check out. Minigames, “Star Slam Heroes” and “Chop Champs” are quick bouts of batting practice and tree cutting that aren’t too engaging. Once you complete the story, new modes open up that offer more decent challenges. “Guest Star ???? Star Allies Go” will have players picking allies allowing them to speedrun through highlights of the story mode. It’s worth checking out for a few surprises. The other unlockable mode is “The Ultimate Choice” and has players picking teams to run through a boss rush mode. It’s a fun concept but the ability to revive teammates makes it pretty easy even on the “spiciest” difficulties.
HAL delivers a polished Kirby experience here that plays well, but ultimately falls short of being remarkable. Star Allies shows off its potential, but the game never quite reaches that peak. The brief adventure across Dream Land and beyond ends right when things start to shake up, leaving you wanting more. Kirby Star Allies is a friendly romp through the franchise’s memorable moments, and the lively spirit of Kirby makes it a great way to introduce a new generation of fans to the series.