Kirby games have always been about unlimited possibilities, as the cute pink puffball topples the mightiest challenges with the power of friendship. In his newest outing “Kirby and the Forgotten Land,” the action starts immediately when a hole in spacetime pulls parts of Kirby’s Planet Popstar elsewhere and warps him in the process, opening up a new world of possibilities. By taking the series to a new dimension (literally and figuratively), “Kirby and the Forgotten Land” delivers one of the best and most innovative experiences the franchise has to offer.
The game starts by grabbing you with its title theme, hooking you into its soundscape. The stellar soundtrack is incredibly diverse even in the introductory portion of the game, including the banging rock of the title screen, the sweeping orchestras of the tutorial level and the uplifting vocals of the game’s theme song. All of these tracks incorporate a leitmotif that follows you through the rest of the game, incorporating musical callbacks and Easter eggs fans should care to listen out for. The aforementioned theme song is particularly unique because the developers created their own language for the theme and the new world Kirby explores — just one of many design choices that makes the world feel alive.
Kirby starts the game washed ashore in what appears to be a jungle. He makes his way through this small starting area, defeating an odd doglike creature before making his way out of the woods as the camera pulls back to reveal familiar faces filling a massive plant-dominated cityscape. The characteristic cuteness of the Kirby series has now been thrust into this unique aesthetic of an abandoned civilization teeming with primitive life. The landscapes are littered with remnants of modernity, such as posters and signs written in that aforementioned fictional language, overgrown and decaying but still flowering with a unique charm. The plant life seems purposefully woven in a way that almost achieves an eco-brutalist aesthetic — a beauty that the game commits to on every level. This includes industrial remains flooded with new life, a theme park somehow still operating for its nonhuman guests and a frozen-over town still warm with well-placed enemies and environmental challenges. The game’s contrast of cute and cast-away makes it stand out, and the triumphant music swells to remind you that these abandoned structures are an adventure, not an entombment. This contrast is emphasized by who you come into contact with and how combat works on this adventure.
Several recurring adorable Kirby enemies make appearances that contrast with the new foes of the more animalistic native species — the Beast Pack, critters big and small whose larger and slightly more realistic designs give each dilapidated level more still-persisting life. Traditional bosses and mini-bosses return alongside the Beast Pack bosses, though their time in this new world has turned them wild as they battle you with crude yet effective weapons. Kirby’s combat has been simplified to work in 3D, but this system is taken to its fullest effect. Kirby’s endless possibilities originate from his defining power: the copy ability. By sucking up and digesting his enemies, Kirby can copy their abilities, and a handful of modifications and new abilities make each new game fresh. This is on top of a larger gimmick that helps make the creative platforming, enemy pummeling and puzzle solving enjoyable and different. In this new world, however, the number of basic copy abilities has been drastically reduced. There are still a couple of new ones — for example, Kirby now has a gun — but the decrease in the variety of abilities feels disappointing at first. However, this lets each singular copy ability have various special attacks and combos, and the lack of the series staple moveset guide provides a sense of discovery in how you can fight. The player can uncover for themselves how attacks can vary with walking, dashing, jumping, guarding and, if one jams or holds the attack button, combos. Each attack feels like it genuinely connects with the environment around you like never before in a Kirby game, as you gather enemies on your rolling spikes as Needle Kirby, sustain burns with Fire Kirby and freeze bosses over with Ice Kirby. The camera — an often tricky thing in 3D games — also enhances your combat and other gameplay.
A variety of scripted shots are composed in “Kirby and the Forgotten Land” to the fullest effect. Zoomed-in shots keep Kirby as the focus of the action while in the midst of combats. Wider shots pull back to show the incredible size of this new world, casting Kirby as a round, pink David against the Goliaths of the game’s bosses and levels. This is yet another aspect that adds to the adventurous feeling of the game — there is care put into making the grand scope of what you have to conquer to reach the end feel less like a chore and more of an exciting challenge, with each level packed to the brim with new and reinvented enemies and mechanics. Most of these new mechanics and ways to traverse this new world come from the game’s new gimmick — Mouthful Mode.
When Kirby happens upon a couple more doglike enemies and starts inhaling, he ends up stretching himself around a car. Aside from blowing up the internet, Mouthful Mode’s applications fundamentally change how you can traverse each level. Each form allows a different degree of interaction with the world around him, including Car Mouth blasting down the roads, the Cone Mouth piercing through enemies and the Ring Mouth blowing through obstacles. Unlike the core mechanics of previous games, Mouthful Mode isn’t an enhancement of Kirby’s existing abilities like the Hypernova inhaling of “Kirby: Triple Deluxe” or the Super Abilities of “Kirby’s Return to Dream Land” but a complete reinvention of how Kirby and his game can operate. While Kirby’s malleability has been used to great effect to mix genres in the parts of the main games and in spin-offs — incorporating on-rails shooters, pinball and racing, for example — this is a new way to explore and interact with the environment. You’ll fly, spray and race through the world, all in an effort to restore your part of this Forgotten Land.
Kirby finally sees some friendly faces after facing only his old enemies, but they’re in cages; his friends are being flown away from the ruins of a town they built upon landing. The overarching goal of the game is to rescue his friends and bring them back to town, where they can rebuild it into the game’s hub world. While beating a level does save the minimum amount of friends to progress, every single level is packed with side objectives with the reward of more friends that are wonderfully designed to push the player to explore the expansive nooks and crannies hidden behind clever camera angles and branching paths. Some secrets don’t even pertain to side missions, and you might accidentally discover them while diverging from the beaten path, like the ever-elusive HAL rooms. Each completion of a side mission and clearing of a stage rescues more of Kirby’s friends to help them rebuild the hub world, unlocking new sub-games (this is what the Kirby series calls mini-games, for some reason) and options to enhance your experience.
Looking back at Kirby’s history presents different modes and mini-games included, but it’s never felt as charming as this. Your town includes the post office in which you can commit mail fraud for free items, the café for restoring health and playing a hellish customer service simulator, the gyroscope-based Tilt-and-Roll Kirby mini-game whose last challenge mocks my 100% save file, the Corner Stage where I’m playing the game’s soundtrack from while I write this (because oh my god Kirby dances to the music) and a fishing mini-game that finally elevates Kirby to the status as one of the ultimate good video games. Progressing through the game and thoroughly exploring each level to rebuild your town gives this sense that in this corner of a world left behind, you’re growing something new from something cut down. One of the most important additions to this hub is the Weapons Shop — it gives you the exact same feeling of growth in Copy Ability Evolutions.
Another secret uncovered by exploration is the Blueprint, part of what allows you to unlock Copy Ability Evolutions that are faster, stronger and reach further. The Evolution system allows for more unique variations on Copy Abilities, expanding the seemingly smaller powerset into a larger scope of options. The other component needed to Evolve Copy Abilities is the collection of Rare Stones — collected in optional challenges called Treasure Roads that open up as you progress. These challenges enhance your exploration of Kirby’s abilities to reward you with the Rare Stones that make them stronger. The final type of collectible is the Gotcha figure (not gacha figures, but pun intended). They serve as a final barrier to the completionist, but their flavor text enhances the game’s story for diehard fans to seek out.
I won’t explain how this new entry factors into Kirby’s nightmarish lore, but when you look deeper into the environmental storytelling, the minimal writing found in cutscenes and the flavor text given by Gotcha figures, the plot that we’ve been touching upon shifts from uncomplicated to deeply alluring. Its premise is then sufficient to keep both new players and veterans excited — just like its difficulty, encompassing a spectrum that is accessible for the inexperienced but potentially confounding for a completionist (looking at you, Tilt-and-Roll Kirby). This applies to the mechanics too — the simplicity of transforming into what the environment gives you results in such a wide variety of possibilities — that same environment being so full of experiences when you make the decision to explore, find your friends and restore parts of this lost civilization.
At its core, “Kirby and the Forgotten Land” is about bringing new life into what has been left behind. For a series that had largely remained a side-scroller while other Nintendo names like “Mario” and “The Legend of Zelda” made leaps and bounds into the third dimension, Kirby has finally caught up. By carefully rebuilding the series in 3D, leaving behind what wouldn’t work and reinventing what could, Kirby’s creators have surpassed the limits of what the series can be. It’s a game that put a smile on my face, widening as the game progressed and only disappearing when my jaw dropped in awe at whatever new experience it threw at me — a game I will never forget.
Daily Arts Writer Saarthak Johri can be reached at email@example.com.