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'Kirby Star Allies' review: How to make friends and eat them

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor
He’s round, he’s pink, he’s cute as heck, but most of all, he’s going to eat you.

Kirby, everyone’s favorite pink ball of cuteness is finally making his debut on the Nintendo Switch in “Kirby Star Allies.” And with its impressive graphics and smooth multiplayer experience, “Kirby Star Allies” is certainly a slick outing for the adorable carnivore.

But while Nintendo (NTODY) mainstays like its “Mario” and “Zelda” franchises were majorly overhauled for their premier on the company’s super successful console, “Kirby Star Allies” feels like a continuation of the popular Kirby formula.

That’s not to say there’s nothing new for the pint-sized cream puff, nor does it mean you should pass up on the opportunity to dig into the saccharine title. On the contrary, “Kirby Star Allies” is a game that you’ll enjoy from start to finish.

Eating your enemies … and friends

“Kirby Star Allies” is a classic side-scroller with a hint of 3D thrown in for good measure. The game looks great and runs smoothly on both your big screen and the portable Switch, but you can only really appreciate the title’s graphics on a television.

What’s the story here? Well, it’s a Kirby game, so if you’re coming for a coherent story, you’re in the wrong place. Just know that you need to constantly move forward, or whatever direction the arrows placed around the world tell you to go.

Kirby, as he is want to do, is out to save the day from some mysterious bad guys. And to do that he’s going to hoover as many Waddle Dees, Sir Kibbles and Rockys as he has to. Like every Kirby game, gobbling up your opponents imbues you with their abilities. And since this game looks so wonderful, all of the abilities look fantastic.

‘Star Allies’ offers vibrant worlds with puzzle elements that require just a touch of thought to pass.

What makes this particular Kirby game different, though, is that with the press of a single button, you can toss a giant heart at your foes and instantly turn them into your friends. Up to three friends can tag along with you over the course of your adventure. These allies aren’t the one-and-done type either. You can heal them by picking up food and health items and then sort of, well, I guess kiss them. Yes, this game is so sweet that you should have insulin next to you while playing.

If you happen to lose your own power, though, you can also inhale your newfound friends and absorb their special abilities. Which is super dark when you think about how that must make your friends, now food, feel.

Bringing your real friends to the party

Playing with four characters on-screen at once can get a bit chaotic at times, especially during boss fights when everything is either moving, exploding or both. That’s not the case when you switch to multiplayer, though.

You can mix different abilities to create entirely new skills.

“Kirby Star Allies” lets your friends jump in and out of the game as seamlessly as possible. Start it up, toss a heart at an enemy and your friend can immediately control it. Both you and your friend only need one Joy-Con to play, so if you’ve got two pairs, you and three friends can play at the same time without issue.

When your buddy has to head home, you can tap a button and the computer’s AI will takeover for them. The last game I played with such a frictionless multiplayer experience was “Super Mario 3D World” for the Wii U. Playing with real-world friends in the same room at my age is such a rarity, though. If it wasn’t for my fiance, I wouldn’t have been able to test the feature at all.

My own issues aside, the multiplayer truly makes “Kirby Star Allies” feel like a completely different game. The addition of the ability to mix different elemental abilities by passing them from one character to another only adds to that. To combine powers, you’ll need, for example, a character with something like a fire ability, while you have some form of melee weapon. Press up on the joystick or the directional pad and your ally will add her fire ability to your weapon.

The mechanic works across a slew of the game’s characters, which makes mixing and matching them to form different combinations a real treat. This isn’t just an exercise in getting the player to experiment during their playthrough. You’ll actually need to mix skills to solve some of “Kirby Star Allies’ ” puzzles to unlock secret rooms and levels.

No broken boundaries

Outside of the addition of combining powers and the smooth transition between single player and multiplayer, “Kirby Star Allies” doesn’t do much to push the franchise forward. Not every game needs to be a boundary breaking, genre defining work of art, but long-time Kirby fans might find themselves wondering why developer HAL Laboratory didn’t do more to distinguish this particular entry.

Despite some interesting additions, ‘Star Allies’ doesn’t do much to push the franchise forward.

The game does a great job of paying homage to its predecessors by calling back old adversaries and even allowing you fight add them to your team by unlocking Dream Palaces, but doing so can feel a bit like cheating, especially if you bring along a particularly tough baddie.

That said, “Kirby Star Allies” is the perfect game for the Switch. Levels are broken up into bite-sized segments that make quick playthroughs on your commute and killing time on the go incredibly easy. You won’t be getting off at your bus stop and freaking out because you can’t find a save point. Complete a level and the game saves automatically. Don’t finish in time, and you can run through it again in 5 minutes.

I played about 50% of “Kirby Star Allies” during my 30-minute commute to and from my office, and was disappointed when the credits rolled because I wasn’t sure what to do on the subway anymore.

Should you get it?

“Kirby Star Allies” isn’t going to completely blow your mind, nor will it be the sole reason you buy a Nintendo Switch. That kind of heavy lifting is taken care of by “Super Mario Odyssey” and “The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild.” Instead, “Kirby Star Allies” is the title you get when you’re looking for a solid game that will bring a smile to your face and not ask much of you or your time.

If you’ve got a Switch, and want to make friends and eat them, get “Kirby Star Allies.”  

What’s hot: Experimenting with and mixing different powers is a blast; Bite-sized levels perfect for the Switch; Easy to join and leave multiplayer mode

What’s not: Follows a safe “Kirby” formula; Too many characters on-screen can become chaotic and hard to follow; A short experience

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Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.
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