Kirby Fighters 2 Review
It’s been a weird year for everyone but Nintendo seems intent on riding out the catastrophe that is 2020 in its signature unwieldy style. After a record-setting success with Animal Crossing: New Horizons back when the first waves of lockdown set us up perfectly for a cute getaway, the big N has kind of just quietly enjoyed the success. With the exception of Super Mario 3D All-Stars and the utterly sublime surprise of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, we’re looking at a Nintendo not exactly primed for the Holiday season.
Then, like gasoline on an already strange fire, along comes Kirby Fighters 2, announced and released within a single day. The game comes by way of HAL Laboratory, the folks behind Super Smash Bros, boasting a near entire roster of Nintendo’s iconic pink identity theft extraordinaire, Kirby. In a wonderfully meta sense, Kirby Fighters 2 does impersonate much of what people have come to love in the Smash Bros series but all too often without the complexity that makes that fighter so beloved.
Kirby Fighters 2 is a far cry from a bad game, but it’s also equally as far from being all that memorable either.
You won’t be surprised to learn you play as Kirby, or one of the 17 variants of him available. There are a handful of other fighters to choose from, bringing the total roster up to 22, but the many cuts of Kirby are where the meat of the stew is at. Each Kirby fits into a specialised combat style that offers a decent range of options for players without being overwhelming to the game’s intended younger audience. You’ve got your basic Kirby who fights with a sword or other mid-range weapons, Kirbys who use specialised long-range tools to keep their distance or even a brand new Kirby who gets up close and personal with wrestling moves.
It’s not the biggest range of options in a fighting game but Kirby Fighters 2 doesn’t seem all that concerned. Each “class” of fighter feels both unique and satisfying to play with, making the limited options at the very least well balanced and focused. Much like Smash Bros there is fun to be had in just frantically jumping about and smashing the attack button but there is a welcome, and somewhat surprising, amount of moves each Kirby can pull off if you play smartly. Swift combining of stick directions, jumps and attacks can yield some great results for practised players. You can still inhale other fighters of course but instead of move emulation, Kirby instead just spits them back out for damage.
This variety of moves in turn compliments the game’s focus on cooperation beautifully. When playing with another Kirby by your side, AI-controlled or player, you’ll get access to powerful combo moves that become essential during the game’s more challenging later stages. I never once got tired of tossing an opponent as wrestling Kirby to my staff-wielding buddy who would punt the enemy halfway across the map for good measure. Your partner can also share healing items with you provided you’re both within kissing proximity (trust me, it’s adorable), making cooperation your best bet for success.
Unlike its unofficial big sister game, Kirby Fighters 2 focuses on health bars and post KO tactics, rather than ring outs and the like. After you widdle down your opponent’s health to zero, or vice versa, they’ll return as a ghostly apparition seeking another shot at life. If they’re able to land a hit they’ll be revived and put back into the match with a small amount of health. It’s a cute twist on the formula and gives everyone a second shot at redemption.
Odds are you’re going to get very comfortable with this mechanic toward the end of the game’s campaign mode too. Story-wise it’s about as bare as you’d expect but the main thrust is that Kirby’s villains have joined forces to be dastardly. After receiving an ominous threat (that he can’t read) Kirby and a buddy set out to conquer an evil tower which serves as a combat gauntlet of sorts. Each level consists of increasingly difficult matches followed by a boss battle, usually lifted from previous Kirby titles.
Structurally it’s not going to blow you away but Kirby Fighters 2 does make an attempt to differentiate itself from the pack. In between each level you’ll be given a choice between an item to use in the next match or a permanent upgrade to your attack strength or total HP. It’s a nice, tangible bit of progress amid matches that do begin to feel too samey after a while. Eventually, you’ll hit the 50th floor of the tower and things get a little dicey thanks to a limited number of lives suddenly in play. On every other floor death is a minor setback but here, in the end, you get three attempts before being booted all the way back to the start.
It’s a strange choice that runs interference with the game’s generally accessible leanings. The final few rounds are especially difficult too, making the upgrade choices you did or didn’t make on the way up suddenly very relevant. A mode that leans into higher difficulty would be welcome in its own right but opt-in would seem to be the more player-friendly choice for a game skewing this young and casual.
Outside of the campaign, there isn’t much else to Kirby Fighters 2. Again, running counter-intuitive to the game’s best core traits, there is a single-player mode that sees you fighting alone through another gauntlet of foes. Or you can try your luck with the game’s online mode, a barren, spotty wasteland of slow and missed connections. There is of course also couch co-op but in this economy, you might not get much out of that just yet.
Kirby Fighters 2 at least nails its cutesy aesthetics. You’ll be bopping across just under twenty different stages, all of which offer up a visual treat. Basic platformer ones aside, the game will also break out some truly inspired use of retro bit graphics and lift from Kirby’s rich history of level design. Things can get a little chaotic at times during stages which present large, intrusive obstacles but even then the confusion lends itself to the fun (as long as you’re not in the tower).
The whole package is one that boasts a terrific core set of mechanics but stumbles in its ability to highlight them. A limited range of modes, a frustratingly slow unlock path for its roster and some odd difficulty gating in the campaign form an unavoidable weight around the neck of an otherwise charming experience. For $30 AUD it’s a steep asking price, especially when Super Smash Bros Ultimate is sitting right there, but fans of Nintendo’s morphing pink blob may get a kick out of this attempted impersonation.
+ Solid and accessible fighting mechanics
+ Fantastic art direction and aesthetics
+ Love letter to Kirby
- Lack of modes
- Difficulty spike in campaign
- Value for money