Kirby Star Allies review: Shining friendship

Credit: Nintendo
Credit: Nintendo /

Kirby Star Allies is perfectly cute, relaxing, and easygoing on your own, or appropriately chaotic with friends. It also includes a giant, rolling ball of Waddle Dees.

Title: Kirby Star Allies
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: March 16, 2018

Welcome to year two of the Nintendo Switch. Year one kept a mostly-tight focus on single-player experiences and adventures (Mario Kart 8 Deluxe an exception), but we know where Nintendo’s strengths have laid for years. Even during the Wii U years, Nintendo has consistently produced the games that brought my friends and I together on a couch to goof around for hours with cute mayhem. Kirby Star Allies headlines what promises to be a year full of that (Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze and Super Smash Bros. later this year are already in mind). And it headlines the party aspect well, even if some other aspects suffer for it.

As usual, Dreamland and sundry worlds are in danger, and Kirby happens to get involved because he’s hungry and food is also in that direction. But instead of traveling alone or with a cohort of Bandana Waddle Dees, Kirby can befriend most enemies he meets, recruit them to his team, and mix and match their powers with the ones of the enemies he inhales and copies to devastating effect. You can have three friends with you at a time plus Kirby, meaning three AIs or up to three human beings in full control, taking down obstacles alongside you through the game’s short campaign. If you’re a fan of Kirby’s traditional epic galactic finishes, you won’t be disappointed on that front.

kirby star allies
Credit: Nintendo /

Kirby Star Allies practically showers you in friends and things to do with them. If you’re ever bored with your current friend, just swap them out for one of the ten new ones waddling along a few feet away. If you like your current friends but feel they aren’t bulky enough, use a friend with elemental powers (water, fire, ice, electricity, wind) to power up their weapons. Bosses aren’t recruitable (with two exceptions), but minibosses are, and they bring interesting new powers such as Kawasaki’s Cook or Vividria’s Still Life. And in some stages, you’ll join your powers together to form powerful, speedy Friend Trains or Friend Stars that will let you mow through stages at warp-speed.

Kirby Star Allies is at its best when the room is full of people, much in the same way that the Wii U Super Mario 3D World and similar games were. It’s just that much better to have real life people at the wheel to make the dumb, fun mistakes the AI won’t, such as setting your weapon on fire when you needed the ice power, or repeatedly killing the enemy you want to copy. That’s not snark; anyone who’s played a Nintendo game like this knows what I mean. Humans with controllers trying to coordinate in a 2D space to complete an objective is funny almost all of the time, and if you’re with friends or family, that makes for a fun game.

kirby star allies
Credit: Nintendo /

Kirby and friends look great on the Switch as they traipse through the gorgeous levels, backed by a soothing, often jazzy soundtrack.

An unfortunate side-effect to all this friendly chaos is a loss in what I’ve loved about Kirby games and Nintendo platformers in general: memorable level and boss design. While the friend powers make for some fascinating combinations, I never once felt the gentle intellectual challenge of having to determine what tools were needed to either progress or unlock a secret. If there is a puzzle before you, the friends needed are probably sitting right next to it, begging you to pick them up and use them in an obvious way. After the fun challenges of Kirby Planet Robobot on 3DS, the moment-to-moment platforming and puzzling of Kirby Star Allies was forgettable. This is especially true in single-player, where your AI-controlled allies will solve almost everything for you.

Though not much of a mental exercise, Kirby Star Allies may surprise you in the difficulty department, especially in single-player. Your playthrough will be a breeze, as again, the AI is mostly smart. Fill your party with friends, and profit. They will destroy everything in their path, and you have only to sit back and occasionally swap them out or add elements to their weapons. But beat the game, and you can up the heat level on a boss rush challenge that will test your abilities far more, all the way up to Soul Melter difficulty. With this mode and some amusing minigames (Chop Champs is great) in mind, Kirby Star Allies as a platformer feels almost like an afterthought to Kirby Star Allies as a brawler. It’s more akin to Kirby Battle Royale in many ways than to Planet Robobot or Triple Deluxe. If you can accept the shift in emphasis, you’ll appreciate the game all the more.

kirby star allies
Credit: Nintendo /

Though I wax wistful about the good ol’ days of puzzle platforming, Kirby Star Allies still made me profoundly happy. Kirby and friends look great on the Switch as they traipse through the gorgeous levels, backed by a soothing, often jazzy soundtrack. Meticulous detail went into the character animations: every character has a unique victory dance and subtle details like the final character in line waving as a Friend Star goes through a door are a delight to notice. Everything is soft, polished, and gentle, making this a great game to play with younger family members. And adults will enjoy raising eyebrows at the occasional implied moral oddities of Kirby mind controlling enemies to be his friends, or Kawasaki cooking foes and turning them into edibles.

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Kirby Star Allies doesn’t quite live up to my admittedly high expectations of a Kirby game on Nintendo Switch, but it’s far from a disappointment. As an adorable romp with friends on the couch, it offers enough surprises and replayability to make it worth the purchase. It sounds like Nintendo is bringing more free DLC friends into the fray in the coming weeks and months, which may make it worth a revisit if they significantly change bits of gameplay. I’d hesitate only if you intend to play entirely solo. It’s probably too much to hope for that Nintendo Online services will open the door to online play with friends for this title, but given how easy the learning curve is, this may be the perfect game to test a spontaneous Nintendo Switch social outing on.

You can purchase Kirby Star Allies at GameStop, Best Buy, or Target. Learn more about our e-commerce policy here.

8. If you have even one friend who will come over to play this with you, <em>Kirby Star Allies</em> is worth a try. Though shallow on the puzzle platforming side, there’s enough going on with different friend combinations to make combat varied and enjoyable, especially once you turn up the difficulty post-game. Collectibles, minigames, and free DLC coming soon flesh the adventure out further. Adorable animations, gorgeous environments, and smooth, jazzy music wrap the game up in a neat, Kirby-cute bow that may entice solo players who just want an easygoing, adorable ride.. HAL Laboratory. . Kirby Star Allies

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.