To say that Kirby’s transition to the 3D space has been a slow one would be a massive understatement. The pink puffball has been running, jumping, and floating from left to right for 30 years now. While many famous video game mascots made their jump to three-dimensional worlds in the fifth console generation, Kirby stayed content in his little corner of Dream Land with Kirby 64: Crystal Shards. Even during the Nintendo Switch era, Kirby boarded the console with a rather underwhelming entry. Kirby: Star Allies was not a bad game by any means, but it lacked the usual creativity in its stage design and felt incomplete until the release of its free DLC. Given that the previous two 3DS games were so much more atmospheric and unique, Star Allies felt more like a celebration of Kirby’s cast than anything else. One thing was becoming clear: it was time for a change.
HAL Laboratories hasn’t been completely avoiding the 3D gameplay that Kirby’s fandom so desperately craved. Kirby Air Ride tinkered with the idea, putting Kirby against 3 others collecting stat boosts for racing vehicles in the famed City Trial mode. Kirby Battle Royale opted for a top-down perspective, and granted Kirby access to his famous Copy Abilities. Kirby: Planet Robobot included a 3D platforming subgame around the same time, which would later see a sequel in the form of Kirby: Blowout Blast. These two games brought little Pinky closer than ever to a fully 3D adventure, but opted for sets of score-based linear stages rather than open levels. Everything was slowly coming together, and HAL had been dropping hints that a reboot of sorts could be on the way.
Now in 2022, our favorite puffball has finally broken new ground with Kirby and the Forgotten Land. This title has a lot going for it, but also a fair amount of pressure. Where the previous spinoffs and subgames experimented with separate parts of Kirby’s playstyle, this one has to juggle all of them at once. Kirby can now inhale, spit, float, and use Copy Abilities all together in a 3D title for the first time. Only one question remains: is this Forgotten Land worth being remembered?
The game opens on a sunny day on Planet Popstar. Kirby is enjoying his usual routine of flying around with the Warp Star. Unfortunately, a perfect day in Dream Land is almost always a recipe for disaster. Not long after, Kirby finds himself sucked into a strange portal that appears in the sky. Along with Kirby (whose body is affected by the portal), a ton of the adorable Waddle Dees and a bunch of objects from Dream Land also make the unexpected journey.
When our hero awakens, he’s been spit out on the beach of a world he’s never seen before. Thus begins Kirby’s journey to discover where he is, and how to get home. Along the way, he encounters the missing Waddle Dees, who have been captured by a group of creatures called the Beast Pack. Being the kindhearted blob that he is, Kirby makes it his mission to rescue the Waddle Dees as he travels through the world.
Simple, right? Perhaps, maybe even to a fault. As far as basic storytelling goes, Forgotten Land is a bit lacking in the writing department. Once your adventure begins, the plot is nonexistent. Yes, you have Waddle Dees to save, but it’s unclear why the Beast Pack is kidnapping them in the first place. Your only companion besides Bandana Waddle Dee is a new friend named Elfilin, and even he doesn’t say much.
The true depth of a Kirby game’s story usually lies in the endgame, and Forgotten Land is no different. There won’t be any spoilers here, but it’s worth noting that the final stage has a very interesting twist. In fact, it’s so unexpected that it creates a bit of tonal whiplash. Granted, the past few modern games have a similar structure, but even Planet Robobot dropped a few cutscenes halfway through the game. The endgame and postgame hit a new high for the franchise’s world-building. Following the fanservice-filled celebration of Kirby’s history that was Star Allies, Forgotten Land opens the door to a bunch of new lore for longtime fans to chew on. It may not be as meaty as the previous games, but it brings a lot of potential for Kirby’s future adventures.
Outside of being in 3D, this adventure is still a standard Kirby fare. You’ll be running through linear stages, attacking enemies, finding secrets, and collecting goodies similar to previous games. The big difference is that you’re now running through wide-open spaces instead of running left and right. So, how did HAL Labs change Kirby’s gameplay to accommodate for this new dimension of gameplay?
Let’s Get Moving
Fortunately for longtime fans, Kirby’s standard movement feels great and even familiar in 3D. For starters, running controls have been completely reworked. In previous games, players had to double-tap a direction on the D-pad to run. But since we’re working with a 3D space now, Kirby will run automatically as long as you tilt in a direction all the way. It may seem like a small change, but this means that Kirby is always moving at full speed, keeping the flow brisk and smooth.
Kirby also has his usual jump, guard, and slide, all of which feel pretty much equal to how they do in 2D. Inhaling objects and enemies is still as easy as ever, only now you can hold the button once you’ve inhaled something and aim with your stick before shooting. It’s another feature from Blowout Blast that is incredibly useful here, especially when shooting inhaled Drop Stars back at the bigger bosses of the game.
Kirby’s trademark floating has seen the biggest change, although fans of both Blowout Blast and Battle Royals will likely recognize it. Unlike the 2D games, Kirby cannot hover infinitely like he used to. He will tire out after a short time and slowly float downwards. He also will stop floating after reaching a certain height. This is a sensible change, but it definitely feels a little limiting at times. Fortunately, floating is still useful for saving Kirby from pits and spikes.
Along with his standard moveset, Kirby has a new move in the form of a dodge roll. It’s similar to the slide, only he does a somersault and dodges attacks with added leniency. As an added bonus, time will slow down and give Kirby a short window to counterattack if he dodges an enemy at the very last second. This one move is basically essential for boss battles, so mastering it early on will pay off during the endgame and beyond. Overall, Kirby’s moveset feels right at home in Forgotten Land, and the new additions and tweaks add that perfect amount of versatility without feeling overbearing.
What’s a Kirby game without Copy Abilities? Our hero has 12 in total this time, which is certainly a lesser number compared to recent games. This is for a few reasons, though, and the lower number works to the game’s benefit. Classic abilities like Sword and Bomb make a return, and two new abilities enter the ring: Drill and Ranger (yes, it’s literally Kirby with a gun). Both of these new abilities take full advantage of the 3D space, with Drill letting you burrow underground and Ranger shooting faraway objects and enemies. The classics were adapted as well, and a few abilities have new moves to compensate for the new freedom of movement. Kirby can now roll up enemies Katamari-style with Needle, and set the very ground ablaze with Fire.
Each ability has been vastly simplified to accommodate the new dimension. The pause menu no longer features each ability’s list of moves, which is a double-edged sword. On one hand, you’re greatly encouraged to learn the new movesets for yourself. Abilities like Sword have more moves that require button combos to achieve. The Treasure Road challenges will see you experimenting with these advanced moves, and most are required to reach the target times. On the other hand, this means that it will likely take new players (and even veterans) a long time to learn everything the abilities can do. This wouldn’t feel like such a missed opportunity if Kirby games hadn’t had this feature for the past decade. You can view some helpful descriptions in Waddle Dee’s Weapons Shop, but even these won’t tell you everything.
Speaking of which, the Weapons Shop includes another useful feature: upgrading Copy Abilities! For the first time ever, Kirby can use Star Coins and Rare Stones to evolve his powers. Not only do the Abilities get stat boosts, but they also give Kirby a new fancy hat to go with them. Some even gain new moves and functionality, making it easier to take down bosses. You can return to the Weapons Shop at any time to change an Ability back to a previous form, so there’s no harm in experimenting and picking your favorites.
A Mouthful of New Powers
There’s another reason for fewer Copy Abilities this time around. Kirby has a brand new type of ability dubbed “Mouthful Mode”, and it’s just as weird as it sounds. When Kirby approaches any large glowing object too big to swallow, he’ll wrap his mouth around it instead. This allows him to take control of the object to perform actions standard Kirby can’t. Not only does this new power feel very a-la Super Mario Odyssey’s Capture mechanic, but it also opens up level exploration in vastly new ways. He can inhale a Car to zip through walls and shoot soda cans at enemies with a Soda Machine.
Thanks to these objects, Kirby has an additional 14 abilities to play around with. While the Mouthful powers are limited to certain sections of each stage, they still add a great variety to the gameplay. To top it off, Kirby just looks charmingly ridiculous as he waddles around with them. The best part is that Kirby keeps whatever Copy Ability he’s holding when he inhales a Mouthful Mode. This allows some puzzles to make use of both Copy Abilities and Mouthfuls in tandem, making for a great collection of fun and practical power-ups.
Despite all the new additions, Kirby’s latest adventure has a very similar structure to previous titles. There are 6 areas to tackle, with 4 stages each and a boss fight to finish the world. To put it simply: this is not the open-world adventure some players may be expecting. This is by no means a detriment to the gameplay, as each stage is tightly designed around Kirby’s moves and powers. What we have here is a linear game, with levels similarly structured to that of Super Mario 3D World. Unlike said game though, there’s no timer constantly pushing you to hurry along. In addition, levels here feel much more natural and lived-in than 3D World’s.
Unfortunately, the game seems to favor some rather traditional area themes. The first area is grassy, the second a beach, and so on. The geographical themes could have been a bit more creative, that’s for sure. However, the game makes good use of the overarching apocalyptic wasteland theme and the setpieces in it. One minute you’re exploring an abandoned mall overrun by enemies, the next you’re ice-skating through a frozen subway tunnel. The addition of Mouthful Mode segments helps add some variety to keep players invested.
Another factor keeping the stages interesting is the aforementioned Waddle Dees. You’ll save three of them for every stage completed, but the real meat lies in saving the hidden ones in every stage. The Waddle Dee challenges are essentially the game’s missions, offering optional content with worthwhile rewards. These Waddle Dee challenges can involve almost anything, from finding lost baby ducks to taking down “Wanted” posters of Kirby himself. It’s not quite as simple as getting from Point A to Point B, which gives the exploration just a bit more depth. Why a Waddle Dee is saved when Kirby saves some baby ducks is anyone’s guess, but the missions are still fun to complete nonetheless. A handful of the little guys are required to open the way to the boss in each world, so it’s worth it to seek out at least a few on your journey.
Challenges At Home and Abroad
As you complete stages and upgrade your Copy Abilities, Kirby will discover Treasure Road stages. These short challenge levels hide an elusive Rare Stone for Kirby to find, using his moveset and Abilities in order to finish them in record time. Finishing a stage within the target time rewards extra Star Coins, and teaches players how to master Kirby’s most advanced moves.
The boss stages are a spectacle to behold. Each one sets Kirby in a large arena for him to tackle his largest opponents yet. While the camera auto-locks onto the boss, Kirby has to dodge attacks and make his way to a comfortable spot to fight back. This is where the dodge roll comes in handy, as the bosses here will truly put your skills to the test. After Star Allies presented some of the weakest bosses in the series, it’s refreshing to see foes that require a little strategy to defeat.
In between stages, Kirby can return to Waddle Dee Town at any time. This mini hub-world of sorts is incredibly pleasant and serves as Kirby’s home away from home. All the Waddle Dees you save are transported here, and they’ll build new structures for you as you rescue more. The fact that they build a cinema for watching cutscenes first is amusing, but some of the buildings here are genuinely useful. Not only can you access the Weapons Shop here, but you’ll also unlock a variety of minigames. Most of these are once-and-done, but they’re a nice distraction from the core gameplay. Kirby can also take on the Coliseum here, a rebranded True Arena with a surprising difficulty curve.
Thanks to another outstanding effort from HAL Laboratories, Kirby and the Forgotten Land is a beautiful game. The game reaches the expected 720p in Handheld and 1080p in Docked, with framerates capped at 30fps. While 60fps would have been nice, Forgotten Land makes the most of the Switch’s power. The naturally designed stages have some impressive lighting, and the colors really pop no matter how you’re playing. Since you have limited control over the camera, the developers were able to focus on making everything in front of Kirby look natural and dynamic.
What really stands out here is the animations. Every character, location, and enemy is lively and adds to the overall charm. Kirby himself is more expressive than ever (fun fact: he has different greetings using the D-pad!) and his new victory dance is absolutely adorable. He can even wave at the Waddle Dees in town, and they wave right back! The presentation here is full of personality, making the journey through this new world a total delight.
The only issue of note here is how the game handles faraway objects and enemies. In some areas where you can see further than usual, you might notice some elements have a lower framerate. This is presumably to keep the game running smoothly, and it isn’t too distracting in the long run. While this raises some questions about the underwhelming power of the Switch, it doesn’t affect gameplay.
Another game, another wonderful soundtrack. Kirby and the Forgotten Land has some great tunes to accompany the new adventure. It’s not as memorably digital as Planet Robobot or varied as Star Allies, but there are plenty of outstanding pieces. The main theme and its vocal variant (yes, even Kirby games can have lyrics now) are extremely catchy. Sound effects are just as impressive as expected: attacking enemies is satisfying as ever with the combined sounds and HD Rumble working together.
If you’re looking for extra things to do, the Forgotten Land is more than happy to oblige. The aforementioned mini-games in Waddle Dee Town are a delight to play, each one having a noticeable end goal to properly reward your persistence. The other side objective to complete in the game is the Figurines. Unlike the Waddle Dees, the Capsules you find the Figurines in are completely optional. They can be found hidden in stages, or purchased at Toy Vendors in town cleverly called “Gotcha Machines”. These not only serve as cute mementos of your adventure, but also have descriptions that give some more world-building and even Copy Ability tips.
Another feature to admire here is co-op mode, where Bandana Waddle Dee joins Kirby as Player Two. He’s rather unique here, as he’s the only one who can use the Spear ability. Unfortunately, Kirby still has full camera control, and Bandana will teleport back to him if he gets too far away. He also can’t use Mouthful Modes, but can ride on Kirby’s back instead and throw spears for extra coverage.
One final note: for a $60 game, Kirby and the Forgotten Land is a little on the short side. Even going for completion will likely result in a 25 hour playthrough. Don’t let this number fool you though: there’s not an ounce of filler in that runtime. Where an open-world game may have more freedom in exploration, Forgotten Land makes up for linearity in lots of variety.
Kirby finally made his official 3D debut, and it only took him 30 years! It’s definitely not the “Kirby’s Odyssey” that longtime fans may have expected, but it still has quality gameplay in spades. The combined additions of Mouthful Mode, evolving Copy Abilities, and the pure joy of moving around in 3D make this an exciting title for multiple reasons. Yes, it’s a big step for Kirby now, but it’s an even bigger step for future entries. This new groundwork means that Kirby can now explore 3D and 2D worlds, setting a new standard for the franchise. Even as a standalone adventure, this game feels like a grand homecoming for a 30-year series. Despite its title, this game is one unforgettable experience.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land gets a 10/10.