Review – Kirby and the Forgotten Land
Kirby is the one Nintendo character that I keep going back to despite deep, deep disappointment. For me, a bitter old man shaking my cane at everything that says 4K or VR, the Kirby franchise seemed to peak in the Game Boy heydays, when riding a hamster was peak whimsy and the best new mechanic ever seen. Since those days, Kirby has had a series of interesting adventures, from some truly bizarre exploits as a golf ball, to the borderline maddening journey in a touch-only DS title. The last main Switch release, Kirby Star Allies, was decidedly mediocre to the point of boredom. It was simply too easy, too hand-holdy, and so geared towards children that children lost interest. Yet the very nature of this irrepressible, adorable round mascot means wanting to try again. So when HAL Laboratory announced Kirby and the Forgotten Land, a 3D Kirby game with a distinctly different vibe, I put my jaded memories in a box and rallied. For that, I’m really, really grateful.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land is the latest installment of Kirby’s adventures, which are non-sequitur at best and totally disjointed at worst. Kirby is chilling on a star one day when the damn Arceus portal shows up and sucks up him and every Waddle-Dee for miles around. Kirby regains consciousness on a beautiful beach, and shortly discovers that this new world appears to be some abandoned part of civilization. Natural overgrowth shows this idea of a post-human society in which the relics of society are everywhere, from abandoned vehicles and boxes to fully dilapidated malls and buildings.
Kirby meets Elfilin, yet another adorable cast member, who calls this place New World (good name) and explains that Waddle-Dees are being kidnapped by some unknown entity who operates through a group of animals called the Beast Pack (also adorable). With that, Kirby sets out to do a whole bunch of stuff, from saving Waddle-Dees and beating up angry gorillas to ripping down wanted posters, harassing birds, and humiliating swans.
Many people were overly excited and subsequently confused by the initial look of Kirby and the Forgotten Land, incorrectly citing it as a fully open world game. In truth, Kirby is still moving through a mostly linear landscape divided into separate stages, but there’s a good amount of freedom and exploration in the execution. For example, many of the stages have hidden rooms and pathways, with the benefit being that players will always be rewarded for seeking out the alternate areas that you wouldn’t naturally encounter. I’ve heard from Elden Ring players that this is almost a knee-jerk approach to the game, but for Nintendo-only players, this new take on the game style serves a three pronged purpose of elongating gameplay, showcasing design skill, and also just making the game more fun. That word, fun, will be one that we circle back to multiple times, both in positive and negative ways.
If there’s one thing that Kirby and the Forgotten Land has done successfully, it’s created a world that I desperately wanted to be fully engaged with, thanks to some truly stellar interpretations of New World. It would have been enough to have a traditional approach to a Dreamland game, with the star blocks and the odd hills, and we call it a day. It would have been bizarre and frankly upsetting to create a full-tilt post apocalyptic game for Kirby to fly around in.
Instead, by blending elements of a reclaimed planet with indicators of an existing civilization that still functions in some capacity, you’re enveloped in the best of both environments. You can find relics and scraps from people that have long since past, but it’s not sad or mournful. It’s a true sense of wonder and adventure, more like you’re discovering some lost tribe or culture instead of going through a mall that was abandoned back in 2012. That feeling of discovery never leaves until right towards the end, where everything comes together and makes sense (no spoilers).
Mechanical aspects are another great feature of Kirby and the Forgotten Land. Sure, you can suck things up, spit them out, fly almost endlessly, and absorb powers. But that need to ferret out secrets and plumb every nook and cranny can lead to blueprints in order to actually increase the power of the various hats that Kirby wears. Sure, you can have the sword, the throwing blade, the bomb hat, and all the others that you’ve come to know and love, but what if they could be something more?
The Cutter hat can be upgraded to the Chakram Cutter hat, letting you Xena all over the map and truly be a force of nature. The Fire hat, already something strong, becomes a goddamn Volcano hat and lets you Vesuvius all over monsters, letting you destroy a certain woodland-based boss in seconds instead of minutes. This is another great Kirby element, where you can see the game trying to evolve and become something to hit with all players instead of just younger ones. Kids aren’t going to care about min/maxing their frigging hats, but adult me is going to put in the work.
Also, Mouthful Mode. This new style of Kirby sucking up something but not eating it is hilarious, overpowered, and never lost its charm. From the second I became a car to the umpteenth time I had to be some storage lockers, it was always delightful, and it wasn’t overdone, thank God. There are a few Mouthful transformations that I would have liked to see more of, but there wasn’t a point where it felt like they were put in unnecessarily. Cone Mouth, Pipe Mouth, Vending Mouth…I loved them all. I would legitimately like for Nintendo to go back and stick Mouthful Mode actions into Kirby Fighters 2 so that I actually play it for more than three minutes.
The graphics and sound are a triumph, but that almost doesn’t feel like a huge win for an in-house Nintendo game anymore. It can be really frustrating to see games that run magnificently on other platforms struggle and drown on the Switch, so I feel like there’s some kind of breakdown between being outside the Mario Club and being inside. Anyways, Kirby and the Forgotten Land is colorful without being overwhelming, with a shocking amount of variety in monsters, landscapes, and items, though you’ll sometimes feel like it gets phoned in a bit with the same beasts cropping up so much in a single stage. The result is the game running butter smooth, and the almost pathological demand to have the speakers on and going at all time. Not headphones, speakers: this is a symphonic game with full atmospheric soundscaping, and you cannot ignore it. Hell, Kirby won a Grammy: what other proof do you need for amazing music?
Yet it’s not perfect, and it shouldn’t be expected to be perfect. Truth be told, I sincerely hate mindless sidequests and minigames. The need for players to deviate from the main stages in order to do “time attack” skill courses to unlock new power-ups wasn’t my favorite, and it meant I wanted to leave them on the table, but felt I would probably miss something if I didn’t go in and prove I could eliminate five waves of enemies with my freeze hat in sixty seconds. The fishing mini game, the cafe part time job, dumping coins into the gatcha machine…if I wanted to play Animal Crossing, I’d just pick that up. I fully recognize these are fun and create more of an investment for some players, but those are distinctly not me.
Also, circling back to the difficulty, Kirby and the Forgotten Land just can’t seem to get the teeth that some players are looking for. Switching between Spring-Breeze Mode and Wild Mode are very different (easier enemies, more food, less damage), but it’s like choosing between playing kickball with Kindergarteners or 3rd graders. One group will be more competent than the others, but you’re still bigger, faster, and stronger than either group. Repeating levels to get achievements isn’t a challenge, it’s an exercise in chores that, while some are fun, just make you roll your eyes at missing them (oh, I was supposed to run in-between the bosses legs, silly me). This is LEAGUES better than the hand-holding that we experienced with Kirby Star Allies, but the challenge aspect was a really slow burn, eventually culminating into some moderately complex levels and bosses that helped to keep me locked-in without boring me to death.
Yet it should be noted that, should players get through the entire game and end up at the final boss, the difficulty does spike to a ridiculous level. Keeping in vein with the multi-stage approach of the previous bosses, this last boss (trying not to spoil anything here) is an absolute pain in the ass of massive damage dumps, self-healing, and periods of insanely quick movement. It was the only part of the game that required a lot of redos, and it brought forward a new emotion in a Kirby game: rage. If you insist on playing this game with children (because of course you would if you have them), now is a great time to introduce deep breathing techniques and mindfulness lessons, like not throwing controllers or the whole damn console.
When all is said and done, though, Kirby and the Forgotten Land hangs its hat on a single peg: cuteness. I cannot ever get over how cute Kirby games can be, and Kirby and the Forgotten Land is the cutest yet. Most of the enemies are adorable, even when they’re trying to be fierce. Kirby just oozes cuteness from every pore, be it inhaling an enemy and expanding with his full tummy or accidentally sucking up a sleeping enemy and taking a nap himself. When you jump into water, he wears an inner tube. He dances at the end of each stage. He uses comically large eyes when something surprising happens. He turned into a giant traffic cone, but kept his hat on the very peak of his head. There wasn’t a single moment that wasn’t delightful, and that alone is why the Kirby games work. Blending great gameplay with actual cuteness, not forced saccharine moments, allows the game to keep players on board from start to finish.
For massive Kirby enthusiasts, you already have this game, or you’ll be getting it soon for a holiday or something. If you’re on the fence, I can see the threads that keep it from being an instant buy: low challenge, some repetition, and a co-op mode that’s far too overpowered (player two is a badass Waddle-Dee with a damn spear, it’s bestial). Yet I really think players considering it should give it a shot. Kirby has had his ups and downs, mostly because of his flying ability, but this is a seriously high note for the pink sucker. All the frill and filler is optional; you’ve got an amazing world to explore and plenty to play and see. It’s got smarts, it’s got heart, but mostly, it’s got guts. If you want to see Kirby with a good dash of wonder mixed in, then Kirby and the Forgotten Land will transport you to someplace truly wonderful.
Nintendo plays it close to the vest with a variety of cute but simple characters and designs.
Everything that makes Kirby great, dialed up to 11 and injected with more whimsy and silliness.
A dynamic score that captures the wild, magical feeling of this bold, new world.
One of the best recent adventures on the Switch; excellent solo or with a friend.
Final Verdict: 8.5
Kirby and the Forgotten Land is available now on Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Kirby and the Forgotten Land was provided by the publisher.