Kirby and the Forgotten Land Review
Kirby and the Forgotten Land starts, as most of Kirby’s adventures do, with a cutscene. Kirby and friends are enjoying life on Planet Popstar until, as with most of Kirby’s adventures, disaster strikes. A gigantic wormhole opens up in the sky, Kirby and countless Waddle Dees are sucked into it, and so, the adventure begins.
Kirby wakes up on the beach, a beach that looks a little too similar to the one from Crash Bandicoot (I’ll come back to that, really), and finds a lush, overgrown jungle ahead. Venturing forth begins to reveal the world that we find ourselves in — overgrown, sure, but human, civilised. A slice of the real world, caught in a post-apocalyptic bind, vines adorning buildings and rust adorning signs. Later in the game we’ll see more glimpses of the Earth we call home, glimpses of London streets, long-abandoned amusement parks. But for now, we arrive at a small village… or what’s left of it, at least. Waddle Dee Town. When, exactly, the Waddle Dees had time to establish and then lose this town is not quite explained in depth, but it’s here, and it’s ruined, and its inhabitants have been captured by the Beast Pack, a shady cabal of mammals that rule the ruined wasteland of our world.
And so, our goal is to journey the world, bring back the Waddle Dees, rebuild their home town, and defeat the Beast Pack (or at least fend them off so the Waddle Dees can live in peace). On our journey, we visit the usual Kirby lands: grass land, ice land, fire land, sand land, gimmick land. It sounds a bit tired, listing them out like that, but as we saw with Super Mario Odyssey, it’s more than possible to put new spins on these old tropes. Kirby and the Forgotten Land does this wonderfully, not quite rejecting the tradition of these worlds, but more than willing to turn them into fresh-feeling playgrounds on which to frolic.
The first major boon of this game is the variety within each world. Sure, the fire world is filled with toasty levels, but none of the individual levels feel samey or overdone. That’s something that’s been sorely missing in Kirby games past — levels have tended to feel a bit like they could all be strung together in one long super level, with visuals and gameplay gimmicks matching throughout each stage in a world. Making each level look and feel distinct and individual makes playing through Kirby and the Forgotten Land an absolute delight, rather than something that fatigues you after 6 levels of the exact same thing over and over again.
The second major boon is the way in which you progress through the game. Each level has a host of hidden Waddle Dees to find, usually 4 or 5 at a glance, and they’re sprinkled throughout the level in various places. Some will be very easy to find, just a short jump over a gap and a smash of the cage and you’re there. Others are hidden deep within the level, requiring a watchful eye and some clever thinking to even find out where they are – and getting them might be even harder. And then we come to the objectives, far and away the best addition to the Kirby series to date.
Each level has four hidden objectives, on top of the standard objective of finding the hidden Waddle Dees. Multipart objectives are revealed as soon as you complete the first part — these are things like “Make four flowers bloom” or “Eat 5 donuts”. But others are much more cryptic and opaque, like defeating a certain enemy with a certain copy ability, or finding a hidden passageway that you almost certainly wouldn’t find on your first playthrough. Completing a stage for the first time will reveal a couple objectives you missed on the way through, and that gives you incredible incentive to go back and play the level again. Completing these objectives gives you more Waddle Dees, which are then used to rebuild parts of Waddle Dee Town, or to unlock the boss of the world. It’s a little bit like Super Mario 64’s power stars, in a way, but it adds so much replayability within a single playthrough of the game, even if you could, technically, avoid them all and rely on the standard Waddle Dees sprinkled throughout the levels.
Before we move on from the levels, I want to briefly mention just how gorgeous this game is. You’ve almost certainly seen it and been wowed by the trailers, but seeing it in motion as it reacts to your gameplay is a whole other level of “wow”. Every environment is absolutely stunning to look at, every particle effect is absolutely dazzling, every enemy and object and set piece is cohesive and pretty and just… wonderful, really. It’s almost certainly one of the best-looking games on Switch, and probably rivals Super Mario Odyssey in its masterful balance of art style and visual prowess. There are some very occasional frame drops, from time to time, and far away enemies drop into a low frame rate animation cycle, but it’s rare that you’d see them and rarer still that you’d actually pay attention to them, so both of these minor drawbacks are easily forgiven.
I lied, we’re not moving on from the levels yet, because I almost forgot to mention my favourite part of the game: Treasure Roads. There are about as many Treasure Road levels as there are standard stages, but they work a little bit differently. You’ll be locked into a particular copy ability (or mouthful mode, or sometimes even just plain old Kirby), given a quite often tight timer, and have to race through to complete ability-specific tasks, combat challenges, or puzzles. They’re a lot like Super Mario Sunshine’s secret challenge shines, and they’re absolutely fantastic in every single way. The timer is usually tight enough that you have to stay on your toes, but never so tight that it feels impossible; if you’re timing out, it’s almost always because you messed up, and if you messed up, it’s almost always in a way that is obvious and fixable with enough attempts. And if you enjoy the challenge, each Treasure Road has a “target time” too, an even tighter timer to work towards, and these are incredibly tough but oh-so-satisfying when you finally pull it off. Completing a Treasure Road awards you a Rare Stone, which can then be used (alongside, uh star coins? The little star things you collect, do they have an official name?) to upgrade copy abilities.
Which brings us to Kirby’s third major boon: its copy abilities, or more specifically, copy ability upgrades. Like just about every other Kirby game, Forgotten Land has you gobbling up enemies to take on some aspect of their abilities. A lot of the usual abilities are here, of course — fire, ice, hammer, sword, etc. — and a few new ones too, like gun and drill (both fantastic abilities, if a little lacklustre compared to previous “new” abilities). At first, I was a teensy bit disappointed with the relatively small number of available copy abilities, especially since there were some glaring omissions in fan favourites such as stone and beam, but the game more than makes up for it in two big ways: mouthful mode, and copy ability upgrades.
We’ll start with mouthful mode; I’m sure you’ve all seen the trailers and the subsequent memes. Kirby tries to suck up a large item, can’t quite make it, and gets it stuck in his mouth. The result is an absolutely hilarious ability mode, in which Kirby gains the ability of the object stuck in their mouth, while their little feet and arms flail around it in the air. It’s some grade A slapstick nonsense, and it does a huge part to inject humour into the game. The mouthful modes themselves are interesting from a mechanical standpoint, too; car mouth instantly transforms Kirby into a racing machine, vending mouth turns Kirby into a rapid-fire, can-slinging, portable cannon, and arch mouth turns Kirby into a glider. All of these new modes are limited to small, often gimmicky sections of a level, so they don’t quite stand in for copy abilities, but they’re usually interesting when they do pop up, and some of the best environmental puzzles in the game revolve around these abilities.
And then we come to upgrades. Oh my goodness, upgrades. Scattered around the game’s universe, usually hidden in levels but sometimes also as rewards for particular tasks, are blueprints. If you collect these blueprints and bring them back to the weapons shop in Waddle Dee Town, the helpful weaponsmith there will concoct a new version of a particular ability. Cough up some rare stones and you’ll be able to transform into this new version, not just at the weapons shop, but every single time you gain that ability in the wild, too. A few of the ability upgrades are a little bit underwhelming, but others can drastically change the way you play and use these abilities.
For example, the hammer ability upgrades up to the toy hammer, which is faster and has some AoE attacks, but then it also upgrades to the wild hammer, a much much slower, but significantly more powerful form. See, this is what I like most about how the ability upgrades work: each upgrade is not necessarily a straight upgrade over the previous form, with some instead being a more lateral move that changes how the ability is used. Another great example of this is the cutter ability, which starts off as you expect, then changes to a form that allows you to have a bunch of cutters out at once that follow a more curved arc, before finally turning into a form that lets you have only one big cutter that ricochets of walls and travels in a straight line. The best part is that you can swap to any other upgrade stage as much as you like, and eventually even power up whatever particular form you enjoy using, too. The beauty of this system is that it both effectively triples the amount of copy abilities available, and lets you pick a version of the ability that works best with your play style. I absolutely hated the ice ability until I had the opportunity to upgrade it into a form that lets me create snowmen and chuck them at my enemies. This is possibly the best addition to the Kirby series to date, perhaps even more so than the third dimension of play on offer, and I sincerely hope it becomes a series staple.
Let’s quickly talk about that third dimension, too, because it might not be quite what some people are expecting. This is not a full 3D, open world, Mario 64-style game. There’s very little free camera movement, only allowing for a little bit of a wiggle from side to side in a very much fixed camera position. Instead, think a little more like Crash Bandicoot (see, I told you we’d come back to that), or Super Mario 3D World. It’s not quite as game-changing as you might expect, and there are some drawbacks to this method if I’m being honest. The biggest one, in my opinion, is that water stages are absolutely nowhere to be seen here — there’s no diving underwater, no changes to abilities, no running from sharks. It’s a teensy bit disappointing, but I’m not sure it would’ve been much better if water stages had been included, they tend to be extremely difficult to get right in 3D games. Still, while it’s a little bit unsettling to see Kirby running away from the camera at first, it quickly becomes very very natural, and it’s left me wondering why it took so damn long to make the leap.
Another big change to the Kirby formula is its approach to difficulty. There’s two difficulty modes: Wild Mode, and Spring Breeze Mode. The former is a more difficult mode, with tougher enemies and tighter timers, but also giving more star coins as rewards, while the latter rewards less star coins, but is also a lot easier. The game doesn’t shame you for picking the easier mode in any way, and you can switch between the two at any time outside of a stage, so if you’re struggling on a section, there’s absolutely no harm or shame in jumping down for a bit to get past it. There’s also no lives system, and therefore no 1-ups! Thank goodness for that. Lives are the vestigial organ of a games industry that is long dead, and Kirby was more or less the only series left that I cared about that was still holding onto it. It’s a modernisation that seems small on its face, but really helps to cut down on potential frustration in longer play sessions.
And boy, did I have some long play sessions. See, during the review period, there was a day where my entire state lost access to internet and phone service. So what’d I do? I spent almost 10 straight hours just playing Kirby and the Forgotten Land, and loved every moment of it. I played the majority of the game in co-op mode with my sister, and while it was exceptionally fun with a player 2, I do have some small gripes about the co-op mode.
The first is that there’s still no online co-op multiplayer. I’m lucky enough to live with other people, so playing couch co-op is absolutely fine by me, but I also have a lot of friends who live interstate and overseas. Being able to play through the whole of a game like Kirby with those friends would be really nice. I know Nintendo is all about those couch co-op experiences, but if I can play Mario Party Superstars and the Switch version of Super Mario 3D World online with friends, I should be able to do so with this game, too.
The second is that player 2 is always stuck as Bandana Waddle Dee. Now, don’t get me wrong, Bandanadee is absolutely adorable and I love that little fella with all my heart, but Kirby, at its core, is all about the copy abilities, all about switching it up for the occasion. Bandanadee has a fantastic move set, with a wide range of short- and medium-range abilities, that honestly feels like it might be more versatile than any other copy ability in the game. But there’s also no way to upgrade Bandanadee’s abilities, to make them stronger, and I can only imagine that playing through the entire game with one single set of abilities, while watching your player 1 swap in and out of a wide range of fun and quirky forms, must get a little bit tiring. Maybe it’s time for HAL to introduce a second Kirby-like creature for co-op modes, one that can also somehow absorb and use the abilities of enemies. Or just slap a different colour palette on Kirby and let player 2 go wild. Either way, it’s a small frustration more than anything else, and one that I hope is addressed in future titles.
Some small final notes before I sign off for this review:
There’s a bunch of cute minigames in Waddle Dee Town, from an absolutely hectic food service game to a fishing game and even a cute little throwback to Kirby Tilt ‘n’ Tumble. There’s also a colosseum, because of course there is, with a few different gauntlets to take on. You might even see (or not see) some familiar faces… And it’s also worth noting that the boss fights in this game are absolutely fantastic, too, each challenging and unique, with a very funny take on the classic Whispy Woods. Clawroline can get in the damn bin though, I hate that stupid cat and her stupid knives. At least the music is pretty much always fantastic.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land is the best Kirby game I’ve ever played. It’s probably the best Kirby game you’ve played to date, too. More evolution than revolution, it’s nonetheless a big step forwards, not only in its newly added third dimension of gameplay, but also in its quality of life additions, its clever approach to powerups, and its delicious gameplay loop. Sure, there are issues with it, if I sit down and try to think hard, but the moment I get into the game they all fall by the wayside and I’m sucked into a wonderful, incredible, enjoyable experience that’s quite unlike anything else in the series.
+ Copy ability upgrades are the best thing to happen to the series
+ Treasure Roads are fantastic bite-sized challenges
+ Third dimension quickly feels natural and enjoyable
- Still no online multiplayer in Kirby
- Player 2 is always stuck as Bandanadee