A game that is full of good intentions and charm, but whose heart is just not quite in it
Kirby: Triple Deluxe did what numerous games created for the Nintendo 3DS could not achieve: it used the system’s tridimensional effects, once hailed as a grand innovation and its flagship feature, as something more than just visual fireworks. Although playing the game did not require that the 3-D slider be turned all the way up, or even be activated for that matter, Triple Deluxe thrived in toying with the depth of its scenarios, building most of its finest moments around traps, enemies, and obstacles that used the extra dimension as its trampoline.
Arriving around two years after that game, Kirby: Planet Robobot is smart enough to realize what a great source of inventive ideas the sandbox explored by its predecessor was. It borrows Triple Deluxe’s engine and most of its art style, and sets out to place Kirby in the midst of yet another quest to save Planet Popstar from a new looming threat. Unfortunately, where Triple Deluxe was surprising in an astoundingly constant way, throwing new impressive tricks at the screen with every stage that popped up; Planet Robobot feels like a game produced on autopilot, as if developers did not bother to fill it up with enough remarkable novelties to justify its existence.
Truth be told, Planet Robobot does try to shift things around with enough intensity to give its adventure a unique vibe, the problem is that its commendable shot at building a strong Kirby game never quite takes off. It all begins when a sudden and unexpected menace from outer space hits Dreamland: a mechanized ark filled with sentient robots attacks the place, disarms both King Dedede and Meta Knight, and – like a giant metal spider – plants five enormous legs on different regions of the planet in order to exploit its resources and terrorize its inhabitants. From that point, Kirby’s goal is clear: head to the five affected regions and clear a bunch of stages on his way to defeating the area’s boss and doing away with the threat.
The invasion by modern-looking machines gives Planet Robobot the distinction of merging the traditionally organic environments of the Kirby franchise with mechanical motifs. Therefore, its six worlds, which include the hero’s incursion into the cybernetic ark, are thematically clever. Patched Plains is packed with grasslands that have been corrupted by pipes and machinery; Resolution Road is a bustling downtown with loads of traffic lights; Overload Ocean feels like a contemporary port; Gigabyte Grounds blends an arid landscape with factories; and Rhythm Route is a futuristic city. Moreover, the game has loads of machines that serve as traps, tools, visual assets, and enemies, like buzz-saws, batteries, drills, lasers, and others.
In Triple Deluxe, besides being able to – as usual – steal the powers of his enemies and use them to wreak havoc around the levels, Kirby had one super ability that unlocked new gameplay possibilities and made him borderline invincible: the mighty Hypernova. As it tightly follows on the footsteps of that game, Planet Robobot does the same; the usual abilities stolen from regular enemies (including the brand new ones Doctor, Poison, and ESP) are complemented by an ultimate power: a gigantic robot that Kirby can hop into during specific portions of the stages.
Like the Hypernova, the titular Robobot Armor opens up new level design possibilities, as it can carry gigantic blocks around, interact with platform-moving levers, unscrew steel doors, and more. Unlike the Hypernova, the Robobot Armor is rather flexible; it can absorb specific foes’ powers, thereby allowing players to turn it into an enormous sword-wielding killing machine, a bomb launching weapon of destruction, an impressive flamethrower, and even a flying ship and a speedy car, with the last two, respectively, supporting fun flying shoot ’em up and racing segments.
Despite that added flexibility, though, the Robobot Armor’s use never reaches the creative and exaggerated levels achieved by Triple Deluxe’s amusing Hypernova challenges. There is some degree of fun to be found in being utterly powerful and punching through everything in sight; however, in the end, truly awe-inspiring moments are scarce. The same applies to the levels, bosses, and tridimensional tricks as a whole: creativity does appear every once in a while, but Planet Robobot clearly does not have enough ideas to power its adventure all the way to the end. Its smartest tricks are either reused too often for their own good (like the cars and buses that travel towards the screen when the street lights are green), or never reach their full potential (like the battery-powered buzz-saws); and some stages and boss battles come and go without leaving a mark.
With that being said, the low but decent difficulty of Kirby: Planet Robobot is a reminder of who the target audience of the franchise is: children. And as far as they are concerned, the game should hit its mark just fine in spite of its generally unmemorable nature, as it is colorful, controls perfectly, features a bunch of charming characters, packs a load of cartoonish charm – including some amazing cutscenes, and holds a nice amount of exciting tunes. To top it all off, as a treat to those looking either for more challenge or for extra gameplay time, Planet Robobot has two sets of collectibles: CodeCubes that open hidden stages when fully collected in a world, with three of them being found in each level; and stickers, with a rare golden one hidden in every level plus a bunch of random blue ones that sadly need to be grinded for if players feel like completing their collection.
Finally, as it is the rule in Kirby games, Planet Robobot features a handful of extra modes that work like great diversions. Besides the usual Time Attack that happens on harder versions of the regular stages with players controlling Meta Knight (Meta Knightmare Returns) and Boss Rush (The Arena and The Real Arena, which is the harder version), two new mini-games are available. Kirby 3D Rumble places the pink puffball in Bomberman-like 3-D arenas so that he can defeat all enemies and collect loot; and Team Kirby Clash, a role-playing adventure where a team of four Kirbys – belonging to classes selected by the players – traverse short levels and defeat bosses, gaining experience and improving their stats on the way. The only complaint that could possibly be made about those two final modes is that they eventually end. Both are actually so entertaining and engaging that one can easily see how they could be turned into little Kirby downloadable titles if more deeply explored.
Like pretty much all games of the franchise, Kirby: Planet Robobot is rock-solid. Differently from most of the series’ latest releases, though, it simply fails to be truly remarkable. The mechanical theme that permeates the worlds, enemies, traps, bosses, and levels is intriguing, and the reutilization of the tridimensional visual tricks of Triple Deluxe is commendable given how creative that game was. However, the recipe never truly clicks, giving birth to an adventure that is usually plain and rarely flooring. HAL Laboratory ends up turning in a game that is full of good intentions and charm, but whose heart is just not quite in it.