Unlike many platforming greats, everyone’s favorite pink puffball has stuck firmly to his 2D roots in his 30+ year run. Save for racing spinoff Kirby Air Ride, every title (mainline or otherwise) has stayed a 2D or 2.5D playing field over the years. So while it may have taken some time, HAL Laboratory, Inc., has finally blessed us with the first fully 3D adventure in the form of Kirby and The Forgotten Land.
As with any Kirby game, the plot is light and simply a means of giving the puffball an excuse to suck up monsters and pummel oversized birds. In this latest installment, Kirby finds himself far from his home planet of Popstar in a universe known as “The New World,” thanks to a vortex. Unfortunately, it’s not long before he discovers that he’s not the only resident of Planet Popstar that got sucked up. The equally loveable Waddle Dees have been captured by a gang of monsters known as The Beast. Cue is starting on a grand journey to save them all with the help of a new friend!
Upon first inspection, players might learn to believe that Forgotten Land is an open-world adventure much like Breath of the Wild or Super Mario Odyssey. In reality, this latest installment borrows the structure and level design philosophies of Super Mario 3D World. Although some will undoubtedly be upset by the linearity and course-based nature, I think this was a wise decision in retrospect. There’s no shame in walking before you run, especially with a prolific and adored franchise.
Despite the drawn-back scope, HAL has managed to present these courses in a way that truly evokes a sense of wonder and mystery. Upon starting many of the stages, you’re given a lovely wide shot of the area you’re about to enter. This isn’t something I see many games in this genre do- you’re usually just greeted with a scrolling preview at best. Much like Retro Studios was able to do with Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, each level truly feels like its own adventure despite the linear structure.
Kirby controls like a dream in these 3D environments, and I’d go as far as to say that this is the best he’s handled in any mainline installment. Although still bouncy and floaty by nature, HAL has tightened things up just enough to assure you’ll never blame your mistakes on the controls. Running, jumping, slide kicking, and (of course) floating about in the air are as snappy and responsive as it ever has been. However, it’s worth noting that there is a cap on just how much you can use Kirby’s floating ability, as he’ll become strained and descend to the ground after some time. This addresses one of the most significant issues I’ve had with this series- the ability to say “screw it” to entire sections by cheesing them with the power of infinite flight.
That’s not to say The Forgotten Land is a paradigm shift for the series in terms of difficulty. Things are kept light and easy for younger players and the less experienced, just as they always have been with the franchise. However, unlike Kirby Star Allies, there’s just enough going on to keep series lovers or platforming veterans engaged. Each stage has its unique missions and hidden Waddle Dees to discover, and some of them will require you to beat certain monsters without getting hit or finding cleverly hidden items. Even those aren’t going to test most players, nor will the Sunshine-inspired trial stages you’ll unlock by poking around the main map, but they still managed to be entertaining since you don’t have AI partners doing all of the work for you.
The trial stages aren’t the only new wrinkle added to the formula. Through Waddle Dee Town, which prospers through the ordinary course of gameplay as you continue to save the little guys. Here, you’ll be able to evolve Kirby’s copy abilities with coins and the treasure found through completing trials. There’s nothing quite like taking the same old fire ability that’s maintained the same properties for three decades and enhancing it so that Kirby can transform into a whole phoenix when using it in the air. There’s also the mandatory Arena to take down (although it’s admittedly a bit disappointing compared to those found in past Kirby games) and a set of post-game stages that take a page from Crash 4‘s “N Verted” levels to look into it as well.
If there’s one legitimate gripe I have with Forgotten Land aside from its Arena not being up to snuff, the devs made some compromises on the technical and presentation front. Although the world of Kirby is as cute and visually pleasing as always, there are some frame rate issues to bring up. Most noticeably, enemies further away from the field of view will have fewer animation frames and flutter about as if they were in a stop motion film. Unfortunately, the flaw occurs just enough to where it’s noticeable throughout the 5-6 hour main quest. In addition, I did experience some stuttering in some of the more intense game sections in terms of enemy counts.
Still, a lacking combat arena and some technical quirks shouldn’t keep you from experiencing this one whether you’re a long-time Kirby fan, a fan of casual platformers, or want a chance to break into the series. It controls like a dream, the level design has plenty going for it despite the relative ease, and there is enough post-game content to justify the asking price.