Kirby and the Forgotten Land Hands-On Preview
What do you get when you take the very best of Kirby gameplay, add a third dimension to run around in, chuck it into big, open areas, and try to modernise a classic, beloved, 2D sidescrolling platformer? You get Kirby and the Forgotten Land, a risky endeavour that has the potential to massively change the series going forward. You also get what could very well shape up to be the best Kirby game ever.
Let me be really clear before I move on: this is not exactly Kirby’s Super Mario 64 moment, or its Breath of the Wild moment. Instead, it’s more of a Super Mario Galaxy moment, a refinement of the ideas that make Kirby great, with enough experimentation and polish to make a good series great. It’s still an absolutely wonderful game.
The moment I started Kirby and the Forgotten Land’s introductory level, I felt a little bit of unease wash over me. It was deeply weird, seeing Kirby walk away from me, seeing the level fly past me as I wandered deeper into the post-apocalyptic wasteland that the Forgotten Land calls its home. In a way, it feels a little bit like Crash Bandicoot to begin with — and the starting area certainly seems to show that the developers knew exactly that — but quickly opens up to be something more, something a little grander in scale. The camera is mostly fixed perspective, not a full free camera like many other 3D platformers, but you can wiggle the camera a little bit to the left and right to see a little more of each level. I didn’t feel like I was missing anything, though, from having the camera be constrained in the way it is. It still felt like a big leap for Kirby, a sudden thrust forward for a series that has stayed within its lanes for far far too long.
After its introductory stage, and a few scenes showing off Waddle Dee Town, a colony for Waddle Dees that has sadly been destroyed and needs to be rebuilt (more on that in a bit), I got introduced to the world map. It’s a lot like world maps from previous games, but also reminds me of, again, Super Mario Galaxy. You’ll fly on your little power star over to a level hosted on the big map, and hop in to get started.
Your objective in each level is to rescue Waddle Dees, who’ve been kidnapped and imprisoned and hidden around the decrepit modern world. There’s usually four or five Waddle Dees hidden around each level, some very easy to find, and some very much not… but there’s more, too. Each stage will have a host of hidden objectives, and clearing those hidden objectives will net you more Waddle Dees. What’s interesting is that, if you manage not to find an objective, the game will give you a little bit of a hint to a couple of them that you missed. They could be as simple as “make three flowers bloom”, or “take no damage in this fight”, or they could be silly things like “eat 3 donuts in a level”. Where it gets interesting, however, is when the hints you’re given are cryptic and mysterious. It could be something like “find the hidden passageway”, and you’ll just have to replay that level and scour every corner to figure it out.
It’s a lot of fun to try and figure out what these hidden objectives are before you each the end of the level, but similarly brings a sinking feeling when you get to the end of a level and find that you’ve only found one hidden objective, and uh, “what the hell did I miss?!!” sinks in. These objectives add a lot of depth and a lot of replayability to the levels, a lot more than finding stickers or stamps did in previous games, and they vaguely remind me of something like the 3D Mario series’ stars in the best way possible.
Another really interesting shake-up to the formula is the way that copy abilities work. Of course, as with any game, you gain these abilities by swallowing up an enemy (there’s an added auto-swallow option too, for enemies that give copy abilities), but you’re not always stuck with the ability as it stands. Instead, you can evolve your copy abilities back in Waddle Dee Town, making them stronger or, sometimes, changing how they work. For example, the Cutter Ability, when evolved into its second form, actually becomes slightly weaker… but also much much faster, while also bouncing off walls in a more satisfying way. Other abilities change in different ways that range from small (more damage, more speed) to only barely resembling the core ability.
And then there’s Mouthful Mode. Oh man. There’s something inherently funny about Kirby, the little pink puffball whose main gimmick is that they can swallow anything and everything, being completely unable to swallow certain things, and getting stuck. Seeing Kirby’s little feet wobbling around in the wind as you race by, stuck on top of a car, is genuinely the hardest I’ve laughed at a game in a long long time. It doesn’t stop with just the car, either, there’s a bunch of Mouthful abilities and all of them are absolutely wonderful, both from a humour standpoint and from a gameplay and usability standpoint too. They’re a heck of a lot of fun to use (especially water mode Kirby, the way he jiggles is my favourite part of the game so far).
Another thing worth mentioning, and it’s something that I cannot believe Nintendo hasn’t featured more heavily in its marketing, is a new feature called Treasure Roads. These are distinct, small, time trial-like challenge levels that force you to use a particular copy ability or Mouthful Mode. The challenges themselves revolve around using a particular aspect of that copy ability in all the different ways they can be used, so they serve as both a challenge to the player, and a kind of tutorial to get better at utilising them effectively. They remind me a lot of Super Mario Sunshine’s FLUDD-less challenge Shines, in that you’re similarly limited and tasked with completing a tough challenge, and honestly, it’s some of the most fun I’ve ever had with the Kirby series.
There’s a few other interesting little things going on, too. Collecting Waddle Dees as you travel through the world unlocks facilities back in Waddle Dee Town, giving you incentive to seek out as many as you can and unlock all the different things you can. One of these facilities is a cafe, at which you can buy a healing item to keep at the ready in case things get hairy… and also play an absolutely hilarious little minigame where you have to serve the right food and drinks to customers as quickly as you can. There’s another minigame, too, which is a cute little fishing minigame where your reaction speed decides how big of a fish you catch, and the biggest fish is displayed in the plaza for all to see.
You can also, thankfully, play the entire game and its minigames (except Treasure Roads) co-op with another person, with that person taking on the role of Bandana Waddle Dee and his little spear. It’s a little frustrating that there’s no upgrades for Bandanadee from what I can see so far, but they do at least have a very diverse and interesting moveset, so hopefully all the player 2s out there don’t mind being stuck with the one character the whole game.
A final quick note, too, as I’m editing this preview for publishing, is that there’s actually two different difficulty modes! Wild Mode is the default, and features tighter timers and harder hitting enemies, while Spring-Breeze Mode is a lot more of a chill experience that lets you take it easy as you explore the world. I’ve only really played in Wild Mode so far, and it’s been challenging and sometimes even bordering on difficult, so I imagine Spring-Breeze Mode is fairly breezy. I’ll be sure to check it out before the final review.
There’s still so much more of Kirby and the Forgotten Land I have left to play, but from what I’ve seen so far, there’s a huge potential for this to be Kirby’s biggest, most exciting, and best adventure yet. I’ll have to spend some more time with the game to see how it turns out in the end, but it’s looking very very promising, and I absolutely cannot wait to get stuck into the rest of it.