It may not be immediately obvious on a surface level, but Nintendo’s Kirby franchise has one of the most passionate fanbases in gaming. You don’t have to look far to find it, either; merely paying attention to YouTube comments, average-joe gaming blogs, and the heartfelt, sometimes heated replies found beneath coverage of Smash Bros. and Kirby games are the most common and persistent telltale signs.
I love Kirby, but I’ll admit I gave up playing every single Kirby release sometime around the Squeak Squad era. In more recent years beginning on the Wii, some players (including myself) felt the series lost something in its transition to 2.5D. To my delight, what I saw and played of HAL’s Planet Robobot recently may just rectify that, and it didn’t have to resort to Rainbow Curse claymation to do so either. Not that I don’t adore claymation.
If you haven’t heard, the main ruse of Planet Robobot is Kirby’s, well, giant
Robot Robobot, and I’m pleased to say that piloting it does bring the proper amount of Nintendo shenanigans to Kirby’s tried-and-true jumping, flying, and general baddie-busting mechanics. The first level of my demo consisted of standard Kirby fare mechanically, but what surprised me was the aesthetic of the game.
We’re still dealing with 2.5D, but HAL has managed to finally recapture the 2D Kirby spirit. Colors acuminate with lovely vibrancy, surfaces boast appropriate environmental texture, sheen, or ruggedness, and the general look and feel of the stages I played seem to capture a sense of place that is not always guaranteed in the series. These are not absolutely required to make Kirby good, but for it to be great, they sure are important. When it comes to visual pleasantries I was thoroughly pleased, and the stereoscopic 3D effect isn’t half-bad either.
After mucking about with the familiar sword, flame, and beam abilities (and managing them via Kirby’s highly convenient belly-UI on the bottom screen), it was time to pilot a giant mech. Giant mechs were apparently a theme at PAX this year, and I can say without hesitation that Kirby’s attitude toward metal bipeds is just as raucously enjoyable as the rest.
As you might expect, copy abilities are still fully functional while piloting a ‘bot, and as such, rediscovering your favorite power-ups from inside the cockpit ends up providing half the fun. I quickly became partial to the flamethrower ability, which allowed me the raise hell and raze the earth as I sent poor defenseless Waddle Dees skittering to their adorable “crackle-pop!” deaths. The sword ability makes for a flashy robo experience as well, amplifying Sword Knight’s standard swipe into something far more formidable (and presumably razor-sharp).
My one issue with the giant mech—movement speed—is presumably present to keep normal Kirby from appearing boring in comparison. This seems fair, and without constant mech access throughout the game, I’m crossing my fingers for what appears to be a balanced Kirby experience as of now.
There are also mini-games attached to the Planet Robobot experience, and though I didn’t try them out at PAX, I do wish the main game followed suit with co-op and multiplayer options. Kirby enthusiasts with intimate knowledge of all things Dreamland may roll their eyes, but it’s true that most folks equate the pinnacle of Kirby with HAL’s stellar Superstar on the SNES. Bringing back some of that title’s frenetic teamwork can never hurt, and single player is always an option for those without access to helper-pals at any given time. Still, the Team Kirby Clash mode will likely be a barrel of fun all its own, so I suppose I can’t complain too much.
Wii U’s Kirby and the Rainbow Curse won me over with its unique visual charm, but entries in the “traditional” Kirby line haven’t piqued my interest in quite a long time. With an elegant coat of paint, giant robots, and the core tenets of Kirby in its arsenal, Kirby: Planet Robobot may find a way to do just that after all. Throw in some Optimus Prime DLC and a collaboration with the developers of Goliath, and you can color me sold.