The Kirby games have never quite reached the heights of some of Nintendo's other titles, but even so, there were big hopes for Kirby Star Allies. As the first big Nintendo Switch exclusive of 2018, Kirby Star Allies is part of Nintendo's strategy to keep the Switch's momentum going, but anyone expecting anything more than a standard Kirby game with a gimmick will be disappointed.
The gimmick of Kirby Star Allies is that Kirby is able to recruit enemies to follow him on his adventure by hitting them with hearts. The entire game revolves around these enemies-turned-allies, as most puzzles and platforming challenges require players to combine their abilities with them. Experimenting with different co-op abilities is one of the best parts of the game, though unfortunately the puzzles that players need to solve with these abilities require little to no thought.
From the puzzles to the platforming, one of the biggest faults of Kirby Star Allies is that it's just far too straightforward and easy. There is hardly any challenge at all, and while most Kirby games aren't known for their high level of difficulty, Star Allies seems even easier than usual. Dying has little consequence as the game hands out free lives like they're nothing, and even then, Kirby dying is the only thing that can trigger a game over. People playing in co-op can die as much as they'd like; they'll either be revived by a teammate or take control of the next enemy that has been "friended" by Kirby.
Besides recruiting enemies to his cause, Kirby can also absorb them and copy their abilities for his own use. There are a couple of things that make this a little more frustrating than in past Kirby games. For one, the CPU controlled teammates are not the brightest, and will often kill enemies that Kirby may need to absorb to solve a certain puzzle, forcing players to backtrack to make the enemy respawn. Secondly, when playing in co-op with a sideways Joy-Con (as the game suggests), it's not difficult to accidentally hit the trigger and make Kirby discard his ability.
Kirby Star Allies' frequent load times can also be frustrating, as they kill any momentum for the player. Whenever Kirby moves through a door, players are met by a bright blue loading screen that lasts just long enough to be annoying. For levels that have a lot of doors, these load times can ruin the pace and break up the action.
Another area where Kirby Star Allies stumbles a bit is its boss battles. While some of the later bosses are somewhat more challenging, the majority of the bosses in the game can be defeated by simply spamming attacks at them. Players don't even really need to bother with avoiding their attacks, as having a full squad of four characters means that bosses are constantly pummeled and their health meter should drain fast enough that they never really become a serious threat.
The lack of challenge makes boss fights far less exciting than they would be otherwise, a problem that is amplified by the fact that players will find themselves fighting the same bosses repeatedly over the course of the adventure. What's worse is that a number of the bosses are recycled from past games, albeit with slight tweaks to how their battles play out.
The game's repetitive nature arguably hurts it more than its lack of challenge. If players were consistently treated to new experiences from start to finish, then the game may have done a better job of holding our attention, despite being so easy. Unfortunately, players will find that Kirby Star Allies does little to evolve, and as a result, they will see most of what it has to offer by the time they complete the first world.
Kirby Star Allies has its fair share of flaws, but one area where the game shines is its presentation. The visuals are sharp, the game runs smoothly, and the music is catchy. There is a lot of charm to the world, and while it isn't the most impressive Switch game from a graphics standpoint, it is still one of the better looking games on the platform.
From its excellent presentation and its smooth gameplay, it's easy to tell that Kirby Star Allies is a technically sound game. However, it's worth pointing out that before we downloaded the day one update, we experienced some serious stability issues, like the game crashing multiple times and the audio randomly cutting out. The update seems to have resolved these problems, but those hoping to pick up Star Allies to play on a trip or something will want to make sure it's updated first.
Kirby Star Allies isn't a bad game, but it's also totally unremarkable, and those expecting it to be one of the best Switch games of 2018 will likely be disappointed. It's best suited for someone looking for a relaxing, low stakes platformer or something to play with their kids. Everyone else will find its lack of challenge and repetitiveness to be real roadblocks to enjoying it for more than a couple of hours at a time, as the game becomes monotonous and boring during longer play sessions.
Kirby Star Allies is available now, exclusively for the Nintendo Switch.