Ten times the Kirbies, ten times the cuteness, ten times the fun
For quite a while – more specifically, ever since Kirby’s Adventure – Nintendo’s charming pink marshmallow ball had built his legacy on games that centered around his enemy-swallowing power-absorbing skills. Unsurprisingly, though, those quirks would eventually lose their luster; and what was once more than enough to fill his adventures with notable moments started being the recipe for products that were merely adequate. During the days of the DS and Wii, however, Kirby suddenly transformed from the star of bland platformers and broken racing games into some sort of wacky laboratory where Nintendo experimented outlandish concepts that could only have been created, and made extremely fun, by the company’s delightful and straightforward approach to game design.
Sadly, to Kirby fans that lean towards the preservation of traditions, the achievement of such greatness went through the constant stripping off the character’s signature powers. In the DS’ Kirby Canvas Curse, where it all began, Kirby became a helpless ball that was guided by the drawing of lines via touch controls; meanwhile, in Kirby’s Epic Yarn, the character – turned into the titular fabric – was forced to use a whip to interact with the world around him.
Kirby Mass Attack keeps the ball rolling in that same uncharacteristic direction, as it builds an adventure where Kirby could have been easily replaced by any other character given the fact he neither swallows his foes nor steals their abilities. However, such a replacement would have come with the cost of losing not only the charm that is inherent to the character and his world, but also the hilariously amusing sight of watching ten Kirbies run around the screen.
Historically, Kirby has had one weird knack for attracting evil sorcerers who want to destroy his life in one way or another, something that is hard to believe since when somebody spots the little pink guy chances are they will actually want to hug him instead of bestowing an evil spell upon him. But as these evil wizards seem to accidentally trigger great gameplay mechanics with their curses, nobody is complaining.
And that is what happens when one day, strolling around, Kirby is hit with a wizardry that breaks him apart into ten smaller versions of himself, nine of which are promptly killed by the wizard Necrodeus. Knowing that he cannot do much by himself, the lone tiny puffball sets out to venture through Popstar and recover his fallen versions, which will hopefully give him enough power to beat down Necrodeus as a squadron of ten. That is when the simple platforming of Kirby games meets a Pikmin-style army gameplay.
As it was the case in Canvas Curse, everything in Mass Attack is done via touch controls. By touching a spot on the screen, the army of Kirbies will readily move in that direction; by tapping an enemy, they will mount an attack; and by touching one of the pink soldiers and doing a quick sliding motion, they will be flung into a higher ledge or into a wall that needs to be broken. That is pretty much all there is to it, and it couldn’t have possibly been simpler, more intuitive and – consequently – more exciting to play.
At the beginning of each world, players’ Kirby army will only have one member. In order to make it grow to up to ten characters, they will have to eat as many pieces of fruit as possible, because for each 100 points acquired one new Kirby will spring to life. At first, all Kirbies will be pink-colored, but when hit by an enemy or harmed by one of the stages’ traps, they will turn blue; with one more hit, they will die and become angels that slowly fly to heaven, giving players time to bring them back to life before they soar out of the screen. The color-coded damage level is a clever design choice, for it makes it easy to notice which Kirbies are hurt, therefore enabling effective army management that can be performed on the fly.
Handling an army solely with touch controls can seem a little bit on the tough side when one thinks about the concept, but Kirby Mass Attack takes things slowly enough for less-skilled players to get the hang of it naturally. The game is very easy throughout its first world; so easy, in fact, that a lot of screen-mashing can get one through it without any big problems. However, by the time the second world is reached things start picking up really fast, as enemies create defenses that will require a lot of attention from players as to when to execute their attacks; and the stages get a lot harder, occasionally featuring situations that if players are not fast enough to react to, they will lose their entire squad and have to start again from the beginning of the level. What is most surprising about Kirby Mass Attack is that it is one of the most difficult Kirby games; it doesn’t get close to being frustrating or hard, but there is some genuine challenge tucked in there.
Featuring nearly 45 stages total, Kirby Mass Attack takes some big liberties and explores many different platforming scenarios, some of which are traditional such as quicksand-ridden levels, platforms that move up or down on pits full of enemies, swimming sections, and some stages with automatic scrolling. At the same time, it features puzzles and situations that were only made possible by the amount of characters that appear simultaneously on the screen.
Even when the game takes a more traditional platforming path, it manages to be unconventional due to its very unique gameplay, and during the ten or so playing hours that it has to offer, gamers will experience a little bit of everything and occasionally be surprised with the puzzles and clever situations the developers were able to come up with. It is an interesting bland of traditions and breaking new ground, and one that makes the game what it is.
After going through five worlds, deserts, forests, icy plains, volcanoes, beaches, cemeteries, creative bosses, and mini-bosses, players who fall in love with Kirby Mass Attack – a number that will certainly be huge – will be happy to find out that the fun does not stop there. As it happens with other Kirby games, this one has a lot of extra content. All stages have a set number of hidden medals to locate, some of which are easy to spot and others whose difficult locations will have gamers replaying the stages many times; besides, there is a good number of tough achievements, high scores, and addictive mini-games where some will spend more than a few hours trying to beat their best record or simply having fun.
Saying that a Kirby game is cute is like raving about how wet water is: it goes without saying, but that is truly the best adjective to describe the game’s presentation. It goes beyond the colorful cheerful graphics, which take a surprisingly darker turn in some stages; or the cheery songs that accompany the little pink army through its adventure. If one Kirby facing enemies, being hit, getting into complicated situations, and making faces and expressions is already rather entertaining, it is easy to imagine how hilarious and heart-lifting it is to watch 10 Kirbies being shaken off by an enemy only to fall dizzy to the ground, or witness as a water vortex sucks desperate pink creatures into doom. The game finds a point between cute and funny and explores it during the whole adventure, making Kirby more adorable than he has ever been.
It is impossible not to recommend Kirby Mass Attack for everybody who likes simple platforming. It has a great difficulty curve, a whole lot of creativity, cuteness, extras, challenge, humor and much more all packed into one tiny cartridge. It is a game that will leave players wanting more, even after the 15 to 20 hours it is possible to spend with it when one is looking for all its secrets. As far as Kirby is concerned, more does seem to be merrier.