A very fun twist on the Kirby formula

User Rating: 8 | Kirby: Planet Robobot 3DS

The thing about the Kirby series is that they can often feel like platforming lite. After all, one of Kirby’s primary abilities is floating indefinitely, which should defeat a lot of the purpose of the platforming genre. Despite that, most of the games in the series are very enjoyable, mostly due to how much raw creative energy is poured into them. Every game is a colorful menagerie of ideas that make for a fun play despite their lack of challenge. This continues in Planet Robobot, which puts a mech based spin on the Kirby formula, and does so with resounding success.

The situation this time around is that a giant spider like UFO has descended from space and latched onto Kirby’s homeworld of Dreamland. What these aliens want is initially unclear, but to be honest, there’s very little plot development, and most of it feels obligatory. But that’s okay, because the story provides a framework for the fun gameplay to hang on.

Due to this sci- fi twist, much of Dreamland has been mechanized. Familiar enemies like Waddle Doos have been given cybernetic parts. It’s a small change to the fun art style of the series, but it works in selling the premise. Plus, this gave the character designers some fun opportunities to revamp classic Kirby bosses. For instance, Whispy Woods is now Clanky Woods, a robotic tree that walks around on mechanical roots. Suffice it to say, this game continues the series standard of looking great. This also applies to the technical aspects. Everything animates fluidly, and the frame rate remains consistent even when there’s a lot of stuff flying around screen, which happens quite often.

After only a short while in the game, Kirby gains access to Planet Robobot’s gimmick: a giant mech that he can pilot, complete with the ability to copy enemies’ attacks. While this might ultimately be an extension of the regular gameplay than a true innovation, piloting this mech is a lot of fun thanks to its destructive and powerful abilities. Much like Kirby, you can inhale an enemy to gain their attacks, which changes the mech’s form. Old abilities like Sword or Stone are given new life when you’re using the mech. For instance, the Stone Armor allows Kirby to punch objects within the environment and move them around, handy when solving the puzzles scattered around the levels.

Within each level are three code cubes. These are similar in idea to the Star Coins from the New Super Mario Bros series, in that you often have to explore or go out of your way to find them. In this game, collecting all the code cubes isn’t necessary, but you will have to collect a certain amount in each world in order to get to that world’s boss. The upside of collecting all of them is that you can gain access to a hidden level in a world after gaining all other code cubes. Each bonus level is a greatest hits of sorts for that world’s main ideas. The code cubes are never terribly challenging to obtain, save one or two, but they’re fun to hunt down and provide more gameplay.

They wouldn’t be as fun to hunt down if the levels weren’t fun, though, and this game is constantly delivering new twists to gameplay. On level might have you moving between the foreground and the background of an underwater cave to avoid sharks, while another might have you fight on a high speed train. Some of the most fun levels, though, come from the ones that allow you to change your mech completely. At certain times, your mech might be able to copy a Jet enemy, or a Wheel enemy. With the former, your mech becomes a fighter jet, and the game turns into a 2D shoot em up. The latter turns the game into a high speed racing platformer, where you must maintain speed while jumping between the foreground and background. The game does a great job at maintaining level variety, meaning you never know what’s waiting around the corner.

The fun levels are topped off by epic confrontations with bosses. These typically offer a bit more challenge than the rest of the game, in part due to their creativity and the way they use the 3DS to their advantage. One boss fight takes place in a circular arena, and the boss can move anywhere around it since you can only move from side to side, positioning and timing is crucial to success. Another is a mechanized fight against a very old foe, complete with cool robotic armor and revamped moves. This game also has what is likely the most epic final battle in the series. Without giving too much away, it utilizes the mech very well and is full of pure spectacle and colorful mayhem through its multiple phases. I can’t think of another fight in the series that matches the scale of the final showdown in this game.

There are a few extras that open up after beating the main game that have come to be expected by fans, but that’s not a bad thing, as it gives players more challenge to sink their teeth into. There’s Meta Knightmare Returns, where you play through the game as everyone’s favorite blue clad swordsman, and the Arena, a boss rush mode that is actually quite challenging. Despite these extras, this isn’t the longest game around. Most of the value comes from the sheer creativity on display in every facet of the game as opposed to the amount of content. This is also pretty standard for the series, but some might think it’s not worth the full forty dollars of admission.

Even though this game delivers more or less what fans have come to expect from the series at this point, the strength of the designers’ imaginations shines through and shows that some old formulas just work. Putting a mech into the Kirby universe was a fun move, and leads to a lot of exciting and engaging scenarios. It might not blow anyone’s minds, but it’s worth a look for fans or newcomers to the series thanks to its use of the new mech and level variety. I personally would love to see these gameplay ideas brought back for a direct sequel and expanded on even more, but what is here is an undeniably enjoyable adventure through Kirby’s mechanized home world.

Pros:

+ Looks great, artistically and technically

+ Creative and varied level design means you never know what to expect

+ The mech is a great addition and leads to some surprising moments

+ Bonus modes provide some extra value and challenge

+ Has what is perhaps the most epic final boss in series history

+ Collecting code cubes is addicting and leads to more levels

Cons:

- A bit on the easy side

- Not terribly long