I know this is hard to take, Nintendo fans. For all intents and purposes, the house of Mario has delivered yet another 2D platformer to the 3DS-toting masses who made the system the best-selling hardware of 2013. With a growing install base and countless must-play titles for 3DS, you might not care that 2014 is shaping up to feature fewer options for new genres on the handheld, but I didn’t look forward to retreading tired mechanics, albeit with HAL Laboratories and Kirby as opposed to Mario and Luigi.
At first glance, Kirby: Triple Deluxe smacked of a Nintendo title that seemed to have given up on new ideas. “Who hasn’t had a platforming game on 3DS yet?” Yoshi got his babysitting on, Luigi just finished an entire self-serving year of victory laps on both Nintendo platforms, and Mario has bounced on so many Goombas his back looks worse than a Notre Dame bell-ringer. Thankfully for fans of Kirby, among which I count myself, combat, speed, and a daring division of depth keep Kirby from falling flat on his (yes, it's a he) chubby, pink face.
Why not start with the myriad of abilities Kirby can get from enemies in-game. Hit the B button to suck an enemy in and push down to swallow and more often than not you’ll gain a slick new ability set with which to fight off monsters, solve puzzles, and explore hidden areas. Here’s a list I kept that comes nowhere close to detailing every single ability in Triple Deluxe:
- Ice: Allows Kirby to skate, freeze, and kick enemies at other baddies, and protect himself with a chilly forcefield.
- Wing: Gives Kirby increased flying ability, sharp feathers to shoot, and a powerful flying attack against airborne enemies.
- Rock: Allows Kirby to transform into a variety of heavy objects including a statue of a strong man posing. Using the ability with a dash turns Kirby into a spinning stone fist to crush enemies.
- Ninja: Turns Kirby into a Naruto-cosplayer with a sword dash and quickly-thrown ninja stars.
- Parasol: Gives Kirby an umbrella to hit enemies with. This was one of the more boring powers, admittedly, despite being a throwback to the moves first appearance in Kirby’s Adventure.
- Fighter: Gives Kirby a Karate Kid-headband with the ability to unleash a flurry of punches, combo kicks in the air, and a spin kick.
- Bell: Kirby can hit enemies with a, uh, bell.
No matter which enemy you swallow, you’re practically guaranteed to feel more powerful, more capable of taking on challenging enemies and bosses, and you'll usually be surprised at what Kirby can do. Maybe not bell-ringing of course, but you get the picture. Trying different powers makes for the best gameplay in Triple Deluxe, though I can’t blame you if you want to stick with certain sets throughout entire levels.
For your first run, that would leave you at a disadvantage for many of the enemy encounters and puzzles spread throughout the game’s half-dozen worlds. For the most part, HAL wants you to switch ability sets in order to progress smoothly, so learn to abandon powers based on enemy placement and the like. It can sometimes feel like handholding; worse, playing like this makes the adventure invariably short. I finished the main story in nearly one sitting, though the completion percentage only read 56%. There are tons of collectibles and more, but you might feel a little underserved in light of how much Kirby gets to gobble up.
One power frequently reappears throughout the adventure for set pieces. Hypernova turns Kirby into a glowing rainbow vortex of bottomless proportions and allows you to manipulate extremely heavy objects or suck up whole bosses. Later in the game, Kirby uses this to tear through a sequence I won’t spoil, but Hypernova often slows gameplay down to create an ebb and flow to the level design.
For example, double-tapping in a direction sends Kirby dashing this way and that but many powers also include dash abilities which can cut a level times in half if you know what’s coming just off-screen. I loved the speed and sense of power in Triple Deluxe, especially as it pervades the game in a way that Nintendo seems to have avoided in other recent titles like Yoshi’s New Island. Hypernova grinds the combat gameplay down, but not without some charm of its own.
Kirby can literally suck the scenery and swallow it, just so he can fire himself out of a cannon and into a new dimension. In fact, Kirby even fights off a hammer-wielding gorilla and then embarks on a barrel-blasting adventure. Occasionally, Hypernova feels like it detracts from the excitement in a level by dumbing things down to the point where you feel a little empty despite devouring so much, but then you move onto the next challenge.
Minibosses give you different ability sets as well, but the fights can feel pointless as they require a lot of button-mashing or spamming of special abilities. You can just as easily abandon your power set to blast away with stars as you did in older Kirby games, though some ability sets interact with that ammunition too. Experimentation is the name of the game, no matter what type of encounter you and Kirby are up against.
I did feel a little sorry for the little brown enemies that waddle around in levels, knowing nothing of the unending appetite headed their way. These guys even share health items with Kirby, but you’ll inhale more than a few through crazy straws just to progress through a level. They didn’t do anything to you, Kirby! Stop eating people! Kirby: Triple Deluxe feels distinctly Japanese in ways other Nintendo titles have seemed fearful of. Characters, background music, various enemies, and even the cat power where Kirby wears a red cowboy hat and whips enemies like a dominating madam embrace an ignorance of demographics and the camps that segment modern gaming.
While there are plenty of collectible goodies, my favorite aspect of Kirby: Triple Deluxe is the way HAL has deftly played with depth to create a duality of planes. There are several levels where Kirby’s foreground and background are connected, though not necessarily reflective of each other. Using both sides of your brain to navigate traps in this way feels incredibly satisfying as do levels where Kirby carries an electric bar that stretches into the background and clears blocks that hold back treasure or extra lives. Sometimes graphical fog weakens the visual power of sliding 3D to full blast, but there’s a healthy amount of activity and clarity in all depths. The intelligent use of 3D as a mechanic in Triple Deluxe is on the level of Super Mario 3D Land.
Triple Deluxe represents a feature-complete package with a fighting mini-game that lets you try out different powers on either the computer or other 3DS owners, while even King Dedede gets a mini-game centered on jumping with the right timing to collect the most coins. The fighting mechanics are deep enough to make Kirby Fighters an entertaining distraction, but I didn’t really like Dedede’s Drum Dash because its rhythm is so different from the main game. Still, there are other surprises that I won’t spoil.
Old bosses return, some in new forms or with new attacks. Kracko, one of my favorites from the original Kirby’s Dream Land, returns in a formidable way where players need to switch between background and foreground in order to avoid a variety of attacks. While a few pre-rendered cutscenes look worse than standard gameplay, especially with 3D on, the game’s finale will properly challenge you with a few unique gameplay twists.
Thankfully, Triple Deluxe doesn’t save the best for last and instead sprinkles it throughout the adventure like a good Dream Star should. If you’ve been following the franchise for years, you’ll love this title and if this is your first shot at Kirby’s brand of suck, don’t be scared. While this review may have been a mouthful, breathing enemies in and out will come naturally.
Code provided by publisher. Exclusive to Nintendo 3DS.