Kirby and the Forgotten Land Review - A Mouthful of Whimsy
Review copy provided by the publisher
Kirby and the Forgotten Land is the seventeenth addition to the Kirby franchise, and though it follows a long list of games, its inventive 3D gameplay marks a turning point for the future of the franchise.
Since his first appearance in Kirby’s Dream Land, Nintendo has transformed Kirby into all sorts of shapes and sizes – both literally and figuratively. We’ve seen Kirby star in platformers, pinball games, racing games, and even competitive games as a playable fighter in Super Smash Bros. Now, 30 years later, Nintendo transitions Kirby into its first mainline 3D platformer with Kirby and the Forgotten Land.
Unlike previous Kirby games, Kirby and the Forgotten Land is a true romp into the 3D world. After an unexpected trip through a wormhole, we find Kirby plopped into the middle of a dilapidated, seemingly-human city. There, our protagonist comes across some Waddle Dees looking to make their home in the ruins of the city; only, a vicious group of monsters, the Beast Pack, is kidnapping them. With Kirby there, it’s up to us to help save the Waddle Dees and help them build their home.
KIRBY AND THE FORGOTTEN LAND – THE WORLD
Kirby and the Forgotten Land has everything you might expect from a Kirby game – you float through linear levels, swallowing up enemies to copy their abilities. You battle your way through a gorgeous environment, track down Waddle Dees, and fight bosses at checkpoints. Having to actually target your attacks in a 3D space adds a bit of extra challenge and feels incredibly satisfying.
It keeps Nintendo’s traditional “pick up and play style,” and brings back the usual Kirby lands: sand themes, grasslands themes, fire themes, etc. These themes are overwhelmingly familiar, but Kirby and the Forgotten Land presents them more like playgrounds than just levels. Players can hop, float, and flip through abandoned malls and gorgeous deserts, poking at each corner of the world to discover secrets and Waddle Dees. The world is vibrant and reactive, and just a pure joy to get lost in.
Though this isn’t Nintendo’s first venture into open-world games (Pokemon Legends Arceus, anyone?), I found the more-compact design of Kirby’s environments really successful. You don’t have the same freedom as, say, Breath of the Wild, but the contained environments led to more in-depth exploration of each area. I didn’t have to fiddle with camera movements, which meant I could focus more on the actual gameplay.
Smaller boundaries meant the more the I explored, the easier it was to track down secrets and Waddle Dees. As a result, I felt more successful and satisfied as a player. Kirby grants its players reward after reward, which, again, feels easy, but it also feels so fun. I can only imagine how accomplished and happy Nintendo’s younger target audience must feel.
On a side note, an incredibly interesting and passive way of progress-keeping is the development of Waddle Dee Town. Visually, you can see exactly how many Waddle Dees you’ve saved along your journey; mechanically, it opens up new avenues for items and mini-games like fishing. Most importantly, you see this community come to life and begin thriving as a direct result of gameplay. It’s an incredibly sweet touch that makes each player’s actions feel like they matter.
Though the main campaign in the game will take players anywhere from 7-10 hours to complete, the side missions add even more to explore. That, coupled with objectives that range from “Defeat X enemy using Y copy ability” to “Eat 5 donuts,” adds further interest to an already-smooth gameplay loop. All in all, the game keeps the player’s interest by varying the platforming format for increased replayability.
At first, the phrases “Kirby” and “post-apocalyptic” don’t really seem to mesh. However, it translates surprisingly well.
A SUCCESSFUL VENTURE INTO 3D PLATFORMING
Its starting narrative is a fairly simple, yet actionable hook typical of Nintendo platformers. Players are once again positioned as the hero, left to rely on Kirby’s signature abilities (and some new ones!) to save the world. Though firmly within the same themes and bubbly aesthetics as previous games, I found this setting to be far more fascinating.
At first, the phrases “Kirby” and “post-apocalyptic” don’t really seem to mesh. However, it translates surprisingly well. The cityscape lends itself to a unique level design that feels fresh, but still Kirby-esque. The world is clearly overgrown and broken down, but it isn’t broken. The setting presents an almost Ghibli-esque view of civilization and nature – one where people (in this case, Waddle Dees) and nature can coexist. It plays on the theme of rebuilding, which honestly feels poignant in 2022. Not to mention, Waddle Dees taking over human cities far in the future is a funny, yet sweet thought.
One of the biggest changes to the Kirby formula is the addition of upgradeable copy abilities. Using power stones from side missions, Kirby’s copy abilities get a serious upgrade – fire turns into Dragon lava, blades turn into mega-swords, and so on. It’s over-the-top, it’s outlandish, it’s absurd – all of which add to the game’s charm. The sheer variety in abilities kept the combat interesting and fast-paced, providing space for different combat styles.
On top of that, these copy abilities mattered to each level. Where previously, the copy abilities were just fun ways to try out different mechanics; however, here they take a significant role in the actual puzzle of the game. Certain puzzles require combos that can only be executed using specific copy abilities (ice for ice blocks, fire to melt things), making this mechanic far more meaningful. It’s an idea HAL Laboratories expanded upon from Kirby Planet Robobot, only perfected.
At the same time, I can’t say this game is too challenging. Kirby has never gotten near the same level of difficulty as, say, a certain open-world RPG, but experienced players will find this game to be fairly easy. Very minor frame rate issues mess with enemy combat, and players can usually rely on the same tricks to defeat each boss.
Though, Kirby and the Forgotten Land grants its players tons of affordances (ex: this cool look at the game’s 3D targeting). While this does remove some of the challenges from the game, it makes it a far more satisfying experience. Not every game needs to be particularly difficult, though I found this still presents enough of a challenge to enjoy. It’s full of personality, absolutely endearing, and at times just downright hilarious – and what more could you ask from a Kirby game?
Additionally, it highlights the developer’s explicit intent to accommodate their players. It opens the game up to a wider audience and removes challenges that players of different abilities may struggle with, and for that, I commend its accessibility.
It’s full of personality, absolutely endearing, and at times just downright hilarious – and what more could you ask from a Kirby game?
And, the element that has everyone talking – Mouthful Mode. Though the game translates Kirby’s copy abilities exceptionally well in this game, I found Mouthful Mode to be pure joy. It’s absurd – but then again, so is Kirby! Each Mouthful Mode transformation provides unique utility to traversing the platformer. Arch Mouth allows Kirby to conduct corkscrew attacks, while the infamous Car Mouth increases speed and mobility. I admit that Coaster Mouth is a bit of a stretch, but it’s hard not to smile at the silliness of Light-bulb Mouth.
Discovering that vending machines and cars could be turned into Mouthful Mode tools only got my mind racing – “What else can I do with this ability? How far can I push this?” And, for a game heavy on exploration, this is exactly the kind of game feel I’m looking for. Further, the Treasure Road trial stages add interesting bites of Mouthful Mode transformations, often pushing the player to really master the abilities.
IN CONCLUSION – KIRBY IS A BRIGHT LIGHT FOR THE FUTURE OF THE FRANCHISE
“Pure joy” – I think that perfectly encapsulates Kirby and the Forgotten Land. It was immensely successful in targeting its younger audience, while still accommodating older fans of the Kirby franchise. I do think that my experience with this game is very much a product of this time.
Living in a time particularly stricken with conflict, it was a real comfort to have a bright world with easier gameplay to return to. It’s by and largely solidified itself as one of my absolute favorite Kirby games to date, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking to just have some pure fun. If 3D platformers are the future of Kirby, then I’m in for the ride.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land is available to play right now on Nintendo Switch.