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Kirby and the Forgotten Land - Maximato's Back On The Menu

SPOILER WARNING - This piece contains spoilers for Kirby and the Forgotten Land, if that sort of thing matters to you.


2022 has proven to be impressively front-loaded with major game releases, as I already mentioned in my previous article (and with the recent release date reveal for Analgesic Productions’s upcoming Sephonie, my poor bank account isn’t out of the woods yet). A lot of those games are fairly stock AAA open-world titles, as one might expect, but we’re also seeing something fairly interesting taking place with some of Nintendo’s most recent offerings. Pokémon Legends: Arceus sought to reimagine the franchise’s creature-collector format as a modern open-world title. Legends Arceus took the increasingly tired formula of traditional JRPG-style Pokémon and breathed new life into the series. That was in January; and just recently, in March, we saw the release of Kirby and the Forgotten Land, a game which did a similar thing: take an admittedly stale Nintendo series and put a new spin on the formula. The question is: was Forgotten Land successful?


I’ll tell it to you straight: I friggin’ love Kirby. As a child of the DS and Wii era, I got to experience some of the series’s highest highs as they came out. On my old DS Lite, I had the opportunity to play DS titles like the endlessly enjoyable Kirby SuperStar Ultra, or I could take advantage of backwards compatibility to play GBA titles like the masterful NES remake Kirby’s Nightmare in Dreamland or the Metroidvania-adjacent Kirby and the Amazing Mirror. On my Wii, I had access to the great couch co-op fun of Kirby’s Return to Dreamland and the low-key but constantly endearing Kirby’s EpicYarn. All of these games (yes, even Epic Yarn) are still great titles today, and while they don’t electrify me in the same way some especially heartfelt indie titles might, I can always bank on my good pal Kirby to take me on a fun adventure through well-designed levels.


However, I really haven’t felt all that much of a need to keep up with the series output consistently since the beginning of the 3DS era. Though Kirby games are consistently enjoyable, they’ve largely been iterating on the same general formula since all the way back with 1993’s Kirby’s Adventure. Though most games managed to still add something into the mix that kept the gameplay generally fresh, a noticeable sense of feature creep started to permeate the more contemporary series offerings. Copy abilities started picking up untenably large movesets that asked the player to input absurd fighting-game combos; Gimmicks like Triple Deluxe’s Hypernova failed to impress and just felt like filler setpieces; and the same level gimmicks kept cropping up across titles, as the developers seemed to struggle finding new concepts to build 2D action platformer stages around. It was clearly time for a change.


HAL didn’t quite go for broke with the Switch’s first outing with the pink puffball in Star Allies, but with Forgotten Land, we’re finally seeing something that fans have been clamoring for since the N64 era: a true 3D Kirby adventure! Yes, it’s taken a good 30 years, but Kirby has finally escaped the Cartesian plane and joins us in the world of cubes, spheres, and assorted prisms. The question is: Does he make a grand entrance, or are we about to discover why we’d yet to see a Kirby adventure with a Z-Axis?


ANCIENT HIGHWAYS, DESERT DUST, DIAMOND LIT SKY


Forgotten Land spices up the traditional Kirby aesthetic by taking place in a sort of post-post apocalyptic landscape. Desolate skyscrapers and long-abandoned amusement park rides make up the level geometry, but most of the ruins have been totally reclaimed by nature. It’s a surprisingly effective backdrop for the action, and I’d certainly chalk Forgotten Land up as one of the most visually appealing Switch games I’ve played (though, admittedly, after Legends Arceus, my standards are fairly low). Forgotten Land’s post-apocalyptic aesthetic is, realistically, played out in the wider AAA games space, especially considering that Nintendo already kind of pulled this card with the art direction of Breath of the Wild 5 years back, but the intricately detailed backdrops and level architecture both fit the feel of Kirby quite well and look generally stunning.


So, the levels look good, but what really matters is how they play. This is the area that it’s likely to have concerns over: Few franchises managed to transition from 2D to 3D especially artfully. Luckily, though, Forgotten Land levels feel like an almost ideal transition for the series. Forgotten Land doesn’t focus much on the platforming – which makes sense, since Kirby was never really about the platforming to begin with – and instead focuses on making every stage feel fresh and innovative. Not since Epic Yarn have I seen stages in a Kirby title that were so constantly exciting. Every single stage stands on its own, rarely if ever recycling mechanics from older ones. They clearly went for a quality over quantity philosophy here, with most worlds only consisting of 4 levels and a boss, but each of those levels last long enough to feel substantial. It feels like a lot of effort was put into every stage during every phase of the design process. The level design is, overall, a clear highlight of the title. It’s recognizably Kirby, but it also has a constant creative energy that most of the 2D outings never really possessed.


Another aspect of the game that feels fairly traditional but slightly improved in its execution is the mouthful mode gimmick. Similar to the super copy abilities from Return to Dreamland or the robot suit from Planet Robobot, particular regions of stages are sectioned off for specific, spectacle-driven segments based on these abilities. However, I generally think that the gimmick was implemented especially well here due to how naturally it fits in the game. Though it’s obvious which areas were roped off for some mouthful mayhem, the fact that you can go in and out of mouthful mode means that it feels less like you’re in a scripted setpiece and more like you’re using what the game gives you in a more organic manner. There’s a wide variety of mouthful mode abilities, most of which keep the gameplay fairly traditional, but some which completely mix it up, like with the hang-gliding arch mouth or the roller coaster segments. Rather than feeling like an annoying platformer gimmick, these sections fit perfectly alongside the naturally the constantly varied levels the game already featured. It’s another aspect of the game that’s really recognizably classic Kirby, but one that feels more compellingly executed than the series standard.


Like most Kirby titles, Forgotten Land also features a wide range of side content. The traditional boss rush mode and timing-based minigames are here, but what I’d like to talk about here is the inclusion of Return to Dreamland style copy ability mastery challenges, which have been upgraded from optional side content to something closer to the critical path. Treasure Roads are short challenge levels themed around specific copy abilities or mouthful modes, and there’s a surprisingly massive number of them, at least double the number per world as traditional levels. The reward for completing these is a currency required for upgrading copy abilities, making completing them a fairly necessary (or, at least, strongly encouraged) part of your playthrough. These stages are generally short and painless, but I did find myself getting pretty sick of them the longer the game went on. The short challenge level concept started feeling increasingly played out, and grinding out treasure roads felt more and more like work as the game continued. This isn’t, like, a 40 hour long Ubisoft open-world title, so the repetitive side content doesn’t become completely mentally exhausting, but I kind of wish they scaled back on the treasure roads. It feels like there’s such a large number of them because they were fairly quick and easy content to add to the game, which is fine, but this is one of the areas where the game goes for more of a quantity-over-quality philosophy that doesn't track with the rest of the package.


Since Forgotten Land plays with a new perspective, it isn’t as obligated to fall to the same trappings of feature creep that plagued some of the prior 2D Kirby installments. The number of copy abilities has been scaled back significantly, and their movesets have become significantly more streamlined. I appreciate this change, since realistically, I only ended up using all of the more off-the-wall copy ability moves by accident, and keeping the skillsets more purposeful and streamlined helps each one stand out a little more. We’re also introduced to the idea of upgrading copy abilities, which slightly changes their functionality and makes them generally more powerful. The upgraded abilities are a fun new feature that really wouldn’t have worked with a glut of repetitive skills, and I’m glad they chose the former over the latter. I hope the streamlined approach was actually a purposeful design decision, and not just the result of lacking the resources to build new 3D movesets for the back catalog of lame copy abilities, and that they stick with this format in the future.


I’d like to talk a little bit about the game’s ending now, for those of you who refused to heed the spoiler warning. And I don’t really know what else to say about it but this: holy shit. Kirby games love their over-the-top climactic final boss fights, and Forgotten Land absolutely knocks it out of the park with the grueling, multi-stage brawl you’re locked into, featuring duels against King DeDeDe, the leader of the Beast Pack, and two separate fights against the mysterious alien antagonist which is apparently responsible for this world’s ruin – the first of which resembling a Resident Evil boss as you’re chased down an endless hallway by a grotesque blob monster, and the second an intense and fairly challenging duel against an angelic, spear-wielding figure with a combat rhythm more reminiscent of Dark Souls than traditional Kirby (that isn’t a comparison I’m making in jest – fighting that boss seriously reminds me of fighting the more humanoid enemies in Dark Souls III). It’s such an absurd and thrilling ending that completely took me off guard, and I’m really happy to see that a series I’ve gone through the vast majority of titles in can still surprise me with something completely fresh and unexpected. That’s what I really love about Forgotten Land: it’s a game that proves that there are still new adventures to be had in a series that had started to lose some of its magic.


MAXIMATO’S BACK ON THE MENU


So, overall, I think it’s safe to say that Kirby and the Forgotten Land is a huge winner in the early 2022 graduating class. It’s still recognizably Kirby, but not only does it play with the series tropes more elegantly than some of its peers, but it also breathes new life into the series with an elegant transition into the third dimension. I’m really happy with what we got with Forgotten Land. It feels almost like the Platonic ideal of what a 3D Kirby game “should” be, and it’s great to see the series take some risks after it started to get increasingly close to total stagnation. Kirby and the Forgotten Land is just a damn good time, which is all you can ask for from a Nintendo title. For those of you that have fallen off the series in recent years, Forgotten Land is a great place to get back into the swing of things – at least it was for me.


What are your thoughts on Kirby and the Forgotten Land? Feel free to comment below. You’ll probably see another article from me soon, with the upcoming release of Sephonie, so don’t touch that dial!


<3,

-Edric.

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