Kirby Fighters 2 has somewhat of an adorable identity crisis on its puffy, pink hands. It initially comes across as a gateway fighting game, an entry step even before the widely-loved Super Smash Bros. series. Approachable in both controls and tone, Kirby Fighters 2 is a mostly pleasant brawler bursting with charm. A slender content offering and some bizarre difficult spikes notwithstanding, Kirby's latest spinoff is a capable combatant.
There are no stage knockouts or lives here, just a scrap until someone gets knocked out. Also, most of the characters are Kirby--well, a variety of Kirbys equipped with different copy abilities, alongside some other familiar characters who aren't Kirby to round out the roster. Among the pink puffballs of pain are series classics such as the Link-wannabe Sword Kirby, Artist Kirby who draws minions to cause damage, and Bomb Kirby, who does exactly what you think. My personal favourite is Wrestler Kirby, thanks to his stylish little lucha libre-inspired mask and utterly brutal throws.
One of Kirby Fighters 2's strengths is how easy it is to jump in and start belting the tar out of cute characters. Between jumping, attacking, and inhaling, you'll only need to get your head around three buttons for attacking and a fourth for blocking. Kirby's range of identities provide a surprising amount of variety, with characters such as Fighter Kirby suited to close-quarters combat and Yo-Yo Kirby adept at keeping foes at a distance. Each Kirby wields unique combos and attacks and each is relatively simple to learn--most only need a combination of a single button press paired with a directional input.
Compared to other fighting games, everything about Kirby Fighters 2 is compact--the stages are small, fights are quick, and the moment-to-moment gameplay is tightly confined. Each stage conjures up a different obstacle or quirk to navigate, including a runaway train, lava pillars, and enemies who don't discriminate against who they attack. Because of the tightly crafted nature of these stages, there's just enough room to dodge obstacles and opponents' attacks, while always keeping you involved in the combat and reducing any potential lulls in the action. Additionally, Kirby Fighters 2's revival mechanic means you're always in with a chance of winning--getting knocked out turns you into a ghost, at which point you can try and land a hit to return to the fight with a sliver of HP--as long as your teammate is still conscious or at least one character is still standing in a free-for-all bout. While you can disable revivals, it's entertaining and chaotic knowing everyone has a chance to win until all foes are KO'd. Most importantly, in team fights, characters on the same side can smooch to recover HP in battle--just like in real life.
Kirby Fighters 2's story mode is a more uneven experience. This mode sees you play as a Kirby of your choosing alongside either a second player or a reasonably intelligent AI partner, ascending a tower to lay the smackdown on King Dedede and Meta Knight. Even by Kirby game standards, the plot here is thin, told through slides of text to provide a bare minimum amount of context before fighting floors of enemies. Between each successive battle, upgrades can be equipped before each fight to increase health or attack power, while some enhance the effectiveness of restorative pickups or augment your damage output against bosses. It's an interesting system that adds a gentle layer of strategy in between fights, but it can lead to frustration during later chapters, namely during boss fights.
The boss fights in Kirby Fighters 2's remove much of what makes combat so dynamic. When pit against adversaries your own size, fights are more kinetically responsive, as grapples and special moves cause interruptions, while battling the big boss brutes is like hitting a static punching bag with a health bar. They move around and unleash moves that keep you on your feet, but the push-and-pull elements that make combat interesting are significantly reduced here. The difficulty of these bosses is predominantly linked to their exorbitant amount of health and a restrictive time limit to beat them in. Only by having a certain set of upgrades do you stand a chance, something that is significantly less important in all other fights. Having to overcome bosses who act as annoying difficulty spikes is a maddening decision that betrays the happy-go-lucky nature of Kirby games.
The final story mode chapter stands out as Kirby Fighters 2's most baffling design choice. All previous chapters allow you to retry after any defeat at the cost of some points towards your end score. However, the 50-floor final chapter slaps on a three-retry limit completely out of the blue. This wouldn't be nearly as frustrating if it had been playing to this rule all along and setting your expectations accordingly. I managed to beat the final chapter in a dramatic last-retry fashion, but I spent most of the last few floors lamenting how I'd have to start from scratch if I made any errors instead of actually enjoying the challenge.
Aside from the story, there aren't many compelling modes for longer play sessions. The lightweight Single-Handed mode sees you fight to complete waves of battles as quickly as possible. Other than this, you can play up to four-player battles with or against others locally on the same system or via local wireless connection. Unfortunately, not much in the way of interesting customization is available for these modes, just the tweaking of parameters such as items and hazards. Online multiplayer is also barren at the time of writing, with battles against random players restricted to two-on-two, while slightly more flexibility is allowed for online friend battles. I played a few rounds against a friend online and was pleased with how smooth the connection was, but there weren't any other avenues to mix things up once we were ready to move on. If you're going to play Kirby Fighters 2's multiplayer, doing so on the same system is your best bet--at least then you and another person can play story mode together too.
One method Kirby Fighters 2 uses to try and hold interest is the Fighters Rank system. Every battle across all game modes nets you points towards increasing this rank, with rewards tied to each tier. Rewards include extra playable Kirby fighters, additional stages to choose from, more powerful story mode upgrades, and stylish hats to jazz up your Kirby. For a while, it's nice continually unlocking goodies just for playing, but with a few exceptions, it doesn't really inspire you to engage with all the game modes in interesting ways. For example, unlocking every playable character happens quickly just by playing story mode, but there's no incentive to try and improve your performance or replay with different characters. With each subsequent Fighters Rank, the points requirement increases, which makes unlocking later rewards a grind--especially considering the diminishing attractiveness of the upcoming rewards.
Visually, Kirby Fighters 2 is a beautiful game. It perfectly captures the whimsical and kaleidoscopic heart of the Kirby series, bursting with color and personality. Plenty of stages not only pay homage to Kirby's previous adventures with recreations of iconic settings, but also include additional flourishes to transport you back to that era. These flourishes include mixing 8-bit and 16-bit graphical touches alongside 3D renders on stages such as Butter Building and Gourmet Go Go, where the stylized environment or character sprites pop alongside the modern visuals. Or the likes of Coo's Forest, which looks like you're playing in front of a freshly drawn-on easel--there are so many wonderful details to absorb. Even the bold Smash-like menus are adorned with gorgeous artwork at every step. Of course, this is all backed up by an equally delightful soundtrack, and hearing reimagined classics like Gourmet Race and King Dedede's Theme is always a joy.
Comprehensively adorable and approachable, Kirby Fighters 2 is a solid entry point into the fighting genre. It's phenomenally beautiful and plays tightly, but the story's difficulty spikes and limited game modes see Kirby's latest outing falling short of stardom.