Kirby Star Allies is not a difficult game. The Kirby titles haven't been all that hard for some time, with Nintendo aiming them towards a younger crowd of players along with the Yoshi series. Star Allies' unique mechanics actually make the game even easier than some of those recent entries. What it is though is fun, adorable, and relentlessly cute.
Every Kirby game has to vastly reinvent itself these days and Kirby Star Allies' new spin is being able to mix-and-match powers with the help of a squad of companions. This idea was introduced way back in Kirby's Dream Land 2 with the animal friends, but here it's blown up in a major way. Players can still suck in and consume certain enemies in order to gain their powers, but Kirby can also hit them with Friend Hearts, which turn those enemies into allies.
The list of enemies you can consume or befriend is largely in line with past entries, including classic foes like Knuckle Joe, Blade Knight, Poppy Bros. Jr., and Broom Hatter. Consuming them will generally give you their essence in the form of abilities, like Knuckle Joe's street fighting prowess, Chilly's frost powers, or Como's ability to tie up enemies in webs. They also retain these abilities when you befriend them, dishing out the pain to your enemies automatically. What's different here is that you can have up to three AI-controlled friends on your side at all times.
That's a lot of damage flying around the screen at any one time. I actually found part of the difficulty in Kirby Star Allies is being able to get to an enemy I wanted to copy or befriend before my AI companions could destroy it. With the right friends on your side, you can actually avoid combat and many of the boss fights, letting your companions do most of the work.
Being able to mix-and-match copy abilities returns in Kirby Star Allies through this system of friends. By holding up on the analog stick, your current companion will attempt to use their abilities on Kirby. Some of the combinations are pretty straightforward: if you're using a weapon ability like Sword, Bomb, or Hammer, your elementally-inclined friends can bless that weapon with electric, wind, fire, or ice. Other combos are more situational, like being able to bring together NESP's Psychic Powers and Rocky's Stone, which floats a heavy stone statue overhead to bust through blocks and depress switches.
You'll need to use these combinations to solve simple puzzles and exploit enemy weaknesses. Of course, Kirby Star Allies is for everyone, so it's very forgiving in terms of making sure you actually have the needed combinations available to you. Enemies respawn just by scrolling the screen to the left or right of where they first appeared and the game throws in reset areas, followed quickly by a set of two or three enemies. Kirby Star Allies all but yells at you, "THESE ARE THE FRIENDS YOU'LL WANT SOON!"
There are also random situational friend combinations that have everyone working together, regardless of who's in the party. These include Friend Circle, which is a giant rolling wheel that destroys everything in its path; Friend Star, which turns the game into a side-scrolling shooter; and Friend Train, which has your crew plowing through everything in their path, including gravity.
One wonderful addition to Kirby Star Allies is while your companions are normally AI-controlled, that doesn't have to be the case. At any time, a friend (or two or three) can pick up a Joy-Con or Pro Controller and join you in Dream Land. I played on a Pro Controller, but I was able to have my roommate join in by tapping a few buttons on one of my Joy-Cons. I probably won't get much use out of it since I'm a Gollum-like shut-in, but it's a nice addition for friends and families. I can certainly see parents playing Kirby Star Allies with their children.
And kids will get a kick out of everything in Kirby Star Allies. It doesn't have that loving texture that Kirby's Epic Yarn did, but everything in Star Allies pops. It's all bright, shiny, day-go color in Kirby's world, even in the darkest of places. Floating around the world map with your current team on a star is just so damned cute that you want to smile.
All in all, I've enjoyed the part of Kirby Star Allies that I can talk about in this preview. It's just, being the odd person I am, I can't help but think about the implications of Kirby's growing abilities. It's one thing that he can consume his enemies to steal their very beings and powers, which is already a bit messed up if you think about it. But now Kirby does not even let them have their own minds! With his new ability, he converts all to his dark path.
Consumption and brainwashing in one cute, pink puff ball. Is Nintendo trying to warn us about the perils of capitalism, regardless of the packaging and presentation? Don't let the exterior fool you, Kirby is Dream Land's dictator and none stand before him. Kirby Star Allies is really "Kirby uber alles".
Kirby Star Allies is coming to Nintendo Switch on March 16, 2018. There is currently a demo available on the Nintendo eShop if you're in Europe. Sorry, folks in North America.