Seeing the little pink puffball breath dragon fire like a berserk demigod in Kirby and the Forgotten Land is one of the many amusing and unexpected sights you'll come across in the new Nintendo Switch game.
Kirby has always been on the fringes of greatness. Never really challenging Mario or Donkey Kong's throne for best platformers. Not to say, there haven't been some interesting experiments over the years – Planet Robobot on the Nintendo 3DS, for one. The series has just lacked that final push to take it from good to great.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land attempts to scale up the stakes by investing in a more open 3D world, introducing an ever-growing central hub as well as a levelling up system for its array of powers. All of which makes for another fun adventure but not enough to finally break the mould.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land review: Price and Release Date
- What is it? A new 3D platforming adventure starring Kirby to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the series
- Release date? March 25, 2022
- What platforms can I play it on? Nintendo Switch
- Price? $59.99 / £49.99 / AU$79.95
Kirby and the Forgotten Land review: What is it?
Kirby and the Forgotten Land sees the adorable pink protagonist dragged into a post-apocalyptic world by a spiralling wormhole, only to discover that all of the Waddle Dees (a peaceful species from Kirby's homeworld) are being captured by a new group of adversaries known as the "Beast Pack". Alongside Kirby's new friend Elfilin, a mysterious chinchilla-like creature, it's up to the player to explore the world, rescue the caged Waddle Dees and defeat the Beast Pack.
It's nothing revolutionary in terms of narrative and doesn't pick up until the final portion when everything goes nuts – like Resident Evil nuts. It feels quite rushed and I'd have loved to have seen the same story told throughout the entire adventure, not all shoved in the final hour or so. It's definitely going to be a talking point for fans.
The biggest difference with Forgotten Land is that the game switches up Kirby's traditional 2D side-scrolling gameplay to open 3D environments, while still keeping platforming firmly at the heart of it. Just don't go in expecting something on the scale of Breath of the Wild or Horizon Forbidden West. A closer comparison would be to Super Mario 3D World, singular linear levels that allow you to veer off from the beaten path but still end at the same goal. It even has a similar overworld with Kirby flying across a world map on the back of a Warp Star.
Additionally, while many of Kirby's famous copy abilities return, allowing the character to inhale enemies and use their powers, the game introduces Mouthful Mode. This enables Kirby to swallow items scattered throughout levels to unlock new actions, such as a cone, light bulb and car (that the internet has lovingly dubbed "Karby"). It's a charming new gimmick that doesn't outstay its welcome.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land review: How does it play?
To progress through Kirby and the Forgotten Land, players must complete levels consisting of platforming and combat challenges before then saving a trio of caged Waddle Dees at the end. Each land has an elemental theme to it, like grass, water or fire, something Nintendo has done for decades now. It's relatively uninspiring, again until the latter portion.
One brief standout is Wondaria Remains, a ruined theme park that is equally haunting as it is whimsical. Aside from that and the final areas that Nintendo has asked us not to spoil, a good bulk of the adventure was adequate but not nearly as exciting as it should be for a platformer in 2022. Nintendo seems to acknowledge this lack of originality with one land genuinely called Originull Wasteland For a series that's been around as long as Mario, Kirby deserves the same love and care the plumber receives... and this isn't it.
Kirby inhales enemies to gain control of different abilities, including Ice, Fire, Sword, Drill, Tornado, Ranger (yes, Kirby has a gun) and about half a dozen more. There's a brilliant selection, only heightened by the levelling up system. By collecting Star Coins and finding a hidden weapon scroll for that particular power-up, you can upgrade each ability at least twice. This was extremely rewarding with each jump feeling substantial.
Combat is super simple. You can either use one of the aforementioned powers or suck up enemies and shoot them back as a projectile. As Kirby can fly continuously, it does take away any real danger when it comes to platforming, though.
I've missed hub worlds. I still have great fond memories of exploring Super Mario 64's Peach's Castle, so it's great to see them having a bit of resurgence as of late. Waddle Dee Town is delightful. It starts out as an empty chunk of land before slowly growing into a bustling plaza filled with a cinema, café and some surprisingly fun mini-games.
I got so much enjoyment from hooking a giant golden fish in Flash Fishing and somehow completing the highest difficulty of Tilt-and-Roll Kirby, a motion game where you try to slide a Kirby ball into a hole without falling off the edge, during one hungover morning.
Additionally, there's the Colosseum, essentially a boss rush mode where you battle bosses consecutively, and a familiar winged knight that will be familiar to long-time Kirby fans is waiting. All of this can be experienced with a partner via local co-op, yet the second player is limited to play as Bandana Waddle Dee, one of the smaller creatures brandishing a spear. It does the job, again tipping the odds heavily in your favour when it comes to boss fights but can leave one player feeling like they're missing out on the wider experience.
The one thing that co-op doesn't cross over to is Treasure Road. These are one-off side levels that focus on specific powers and must be completed before time runs out. Truth be told, I enjoyed these short bursts much more than the main levels. The frantic nature and greater challenge convinced me to complete every single one I could find before seeing the story through.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land review: How does it look and sound?
Given that the dark and dreary Elden Ring is currently the hot topic in the world of games, Kirby's cute and colourful look is refreshing and couldn't stand out more starkly. It's a beautiful game that takes advantage of the Nintendo Switch OLED's capabilities wonderfully, allowing colours to pop and lighting to shine gracefully. Outside of a few frame rate issues for enemies materialising in the distance, it ran very smoothly.
The opening area, Downtown Grassland, looks like The Last of Us if Nintendo made it; nature has taken over everything, while abandoned cars and destroyed buildings appear around every corner. Another, Winter Horns, reminded me of Metro Exodus. Blankets of snow as far as the eye can see with rusted machinery peering out. Enemy designs embrace the fuzzy art style in all of its glory, occasionally offering some freakier looks. Nothing that a young child should worry about (for any concerning parents), just something you don't normally see in a Kirby title.
Musically, it's a feast for the ears. A tremendous mix of chill, joyful sounds coupled with exciting beats that are easy to just stop and listen to. Meta Knight's new theme, "Sword of the Surviving Guardian", is a major highlight along with the hugely uplifting "Running Through the New World" composition.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land review: How long to beat?
I rolled credits on Kirby and the Forgotten Land in approximately 12 hours while completing around 95% of all Treasure Road levels. It took an estimated 10 to 15 minutes per stage to finish, however, this depends heavily on how much you explore and solve puzzles to find hidden Waddle Dees. There's a sizable amount of content to do afterwards too.
One of the most disappointing aspects is that I didn't die once until the final battle. This only happened twice and was purely down to picking the wrong ability to use in the fight. I was also playing on Wild Mode, which promised more challenge, as opposed to the Spring-Breeze Mode that is designed for casual players. Either way, I think the most casual player will find no issues opting for the former.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land is an enjoyable platformer filled with colour and wonder that lacks any real challenge, even on its hardest difficulty, while Waddle Dee Tower is a delightful hub world that I always enjoyed heading back to in between levels. It's just a shame that level design isn't pushed to the extent that we know Nintendo is capable of, making a good portion of the game fun but forgettable.
As mentioned, a great platform game that is very similar to Kirby (but better) is Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury. The Nintendo Switch port brings together 117 quality levels from the Wii U game along with the new Bowser's Fury portion, which is like Super Mario Odyssey meets Super Mario Sunshine in the best way imaginable. Speaking of which, if you've not had the pleasure of experiencing the plumber's latest 3D adventure, then you have to remedy that right away. Super Mario Odyssey is delightful and one of the best games released in recent years.