I’m not a Kirby fan. That’s not a diss on the pink puff – I had just not played a single Kirby game until Star Allies on the Switch, and most of that I played on and off with my son. I never understood what the appeal was, if I’m being honest. A blob that can eat things and fly around incredibly slowly. Of course, I had just yet to experience Kirby properly. I’m now all in, with an absolute mouthful of Kirby goodness in Kirby and the Forgotten Land on Switch. Kirby has gone full-3D platformer at last, and Nintendo has delivered quite the tasty treat.
As has been the way in Kirby games since before you were born (if you’re under 30 years old), Kirby is a pink blob who eats things to “copy” their abilities. Eat/vacuum up an enemy with a sword, and you’ll be sword Kirby; consume a snowman and you’ll become ice Kirby; down a fire enemy and you’ll become... yes, fire Kirby. It’s a simple mechanic, but it works, and gives you plenty of options to rotate through or slight puzzles to solve where you need to use the correct copy ability to reach a hidden item or area.
Now, Kirby fans (Kirbians?), you can do all that in full 3D – not 2.5D side scrolling with 3D backgrounds, or isometric grid-like areas to explore, but full 3D levels. This isn’t, as I first thought from the reveal trailer, a sprawling adventure with huge areas like Mario Odyssey, but large 3D platforming levels that are more like the stages in Super Mario 3D World. Each one has multiple things to find off the beaten path, multiple collectibles, and a checklist of tasks to complete – some of which are initially kept secret.
Kirby can fly around (slowly, as mentioned), but the core gameplay here is the combat and platforming. Spray fire on a foe, nip about to avoid some lava, freeze some burning blocks to break them, jump across some platforms. There’s nothing revolutionary about this, but it’s tied to such a charming character and world that you won’t mind one bit. There’s plenty of neat touches thrown in, areas to stumble upon, and one brand-new gameplay mechanic that always raises a smile: mouthful mode.
Kirby has got a big gob, as we’ve seen over the last 30 years, but in Forgotten Land he pushes this further than we’ve ever seen before. Here he is able to envelop large objects and take on special abilities. Get those lips (does Kirby have lips?) around a car, and boom – you’re driving a car around, boosting through obstacles, and jumping over holes. Feast on a traffic cone and you can slam the pointy end down to smash through fragile ground or take out enemies. Slurp down some steps and become... a way to reach higher ground.
There are more, such as ring that powers a boat via air blasts (this one is tenuous, I agree), an archway that becomes a glider, and a massive pipe that rolls through the level, taking out all that gets in its way. Plus the water pipe, which you don’t eat as much as you drink from. Fill Kirby up with water and he becomes a wobbly water balloon, able to spray water out to clear a path and dispatch enemies immune to other attacks. These mouthful moments start off signposted, but as you progress there are plenty that could be walked past if you aren’t paying attention.
Collecting Waddle Dees (Kirby’s friends that are imprisoned and put in random, out-of -reach locations) from each level adds to a total number of Waddle Dees overall, which then unlocks new areas of Waddle Dee Town. These areas are home to shops, a fishing mini game, a boss battle mode, movie viewer, and a copy ability upgrade station – plus more in the late game. Upgrades, such as turning your wooden hammer into a larger more powerful stone axe-like monstrosity, cost coins (easy to earn) and special stars that are earned through Treasure Roads.
These Treasure Roads are special stages dotted about the game overworld map, each one testing your ability to use a certain copy ability (or mouthful item) to reach the end, ideally within a certain time. These all share the same stripped-down presentation and can generally be completed in under two minutes, and they are essential if you want to play the game with anything other than the bog-standard copy abilities.
Forgotten Land isn’t an especially tricky game. It wasn’t until quite near the end that I actually failed a level and had to start it again – and if you struggle at any point, the game suggests lowering the difficulty, but there are other options if you don’t want to do that. An unlockable shop sells items that boost your speed, maximum health, or attack power. On one boss I struggled with towards the end, I bought a health-doubler and then breezed through the fight with a levelled-up hammer.
I want to be clear that I really enjoyed Kirby and the Forgotten Land, but there are parts of it that I sort of glazed over – moving through the levels just to get them done rather than taking it all in. There’s a real mix of world designs on offer, and I definitely preferred the look and feel of some of the early stages to the latter worlds, the tone shifting from pure joy to emo-grunge, and not for the better. These stages still have plenty to do in them, but I feel towards them the same way I feel about Mario Odyssey’s Luncheon Kingdom – in that I’m sure some people will enjoy them, but I’m not vibing with them at all.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land is a little safe at points to make it a proper all-timer, but I’m not sure that was ever the intention. It’s a game that is easy to like, can be played by everyone, and sits nicely alongside other Switch exclusives from Nintendo. If Kirby becoming a car is everything you want in life, good for you and welcome to your new favorite game of all time. For me, Kirby remains just below A-tier, which is still a great place to be. It’s often where some of the tastiest snacks are.