Kirby And The Forgotten Land Has A Mouthful Of Charm
Since the Nintendo franchise has been around for 30 years, it’s surprising that Kirby is only now making the transition to 3D platforming with Kirby and the Forgotten Land. The Nintendo Switch exclusive releases on March 25th, and judging by the game’s first world, longtime Kirby fans have a lot to look forward to. Kirby and the Forgotten Land is essentially Puffball spinning in Super Mario 3D World/Land. And with new humorous abilities, Mouthful Forgotten Land promises to be one of the most diverse platformers in the history of the series.
Gameplay footage released so far isn’t entirely clear, but Kirby and the Forgotten Land follows a traditional level-based structure. The stages are mostly linear, with little exploration off the beaten path other than solving puzzles here and there. Even the automatic camera angles nudge you in the right direction, and while you can turn the camera slightly, you don’t have free control. If you missed something and need to go back, you’ll see Kirby running towards the camera – it doesn’t turn with you. This setup makes Forgotten Land feel like a 3D side-scroller at times, but the extra freedom of movement here still enhances Kirby’s unique set of abilities.
As the name suggests, Kirby is no longer in Dream Land. On a quest to save Waddle Dee from a mysterious entity called the Beast Pack, Kirby joins a cute little elephant-eared chinchilla who can fly, though not much is known about the dude. This Beast Pack uses adorable fox creatures as minions, which is just gross in my opinion. The story still feels like the standard good versus evil we’ve seen in past Kirby games, but that’s not bad considering Kirby has always focused on the action-platformer cycle.
Forgotten Land plunged me straight into the action in the introductory stage called Point of Arrival. Serving as a quick tutorial, Point of Arrival re-introduces players to Kirby’s copying abilities and lets you literally try the Rich Mouth mode. Watching Kirby inhale the car, covering the entire car in his stretchy skin, is as funny as it sounds, especially since his eyes basically serve as flashing headlights. Racing through the entry level and running into the bad guys was pretty fun, and I could almost see the car gameplay turning into a full-blown racing game at some point.
However, Mouthful Mode is more than just a dumb new way to smash baddies. Over the course of five levels in World 1, I used Mouthful’s many abilities to solve puzzles, rescue hidden Waddle Dees, and complete side missions in each of the larger levels. Cone Mouth – in which Kirby inhales an orange traffic cone – allows you to destroy weak spots in the ground. I even used it to break a water pipe to create a geyser to get to an inaccessible place. The vending machine mouth is my current favorite as it turns Kirby into a gun that can quickly shoot soda cans. All Mouthful Mode objects flicker, but not all of them are used as dynamically as others. For example, Storage and Dome Mouths simply opened hidden objects or clues to puzzles in World 1.
Sometimes you need to use both the copy ability and Mouthful Mode to solve a puzzle. In one case, I had to become Stair Mouth – a set of giant ladders – to create a passageway to reach a ledge. I then ignited the rope, belching fire, and hurried up the ladder into the cannon before the fuse went off. You retain your copy ability after spitting items out of your mouth, but to be clear, you can’t be a giant ladder that also breathes fire, although that would be cool.
So far, developer HAL Laboratory has done a brilliant job of balancing the new Mouthful mechanics with tried and true copy capabilities. While Mouthful Mode is new, the copy capabilities are still vital for both puzzle and combat, including the World 1 giant gorilla boss that tries to flatten Kirby with its huge body. And for the first time, copying capabilities can be improved. Upgrades can be purchased from the weapon shop in Waddle Dee Town, which gradually grows throughout your adventure. These evolutions turn abilities like Cutter, Sword, and Fire into more powerful attacks. The use of an improved Cutter allowed for a wider projectile that cut down enemies faster.
While I didn’t see any possibilities in World 1, I hope the advanced copy abilities will be used for more than just taking down enemies big and small even faster. If you were hoping for a more complex Kirby game, World 1 doesn’t suggest that Forgotten Land will be different from its predecessors in this regard. Kirby has been Nintendo’s most accessible platform game for a long time, and you have two difficulty options to choose from: Wild or Spring-Breeze. Wild is clearly not wild yet: normal enemies are practically no threat, and the boss of World 1 falls in less than 30 seconds. I also tried the Spring-Breeze mode and it reminded me of the Mellow difficulty from Yoshi’s Crafted World which was a great feature for my daughter who was just getting into gaming at the time.
In addition to the main stages, you unlock Treasure Road levels by rescuing Waddle Dee in each world. Treasure Road stages are time trials built around a specific copyable ability. In one of the stages, I used the Cutter to collect gems while avoiding enemies. In another, I rolled bombs over hills like bowling balls. While you have more than enough time to complete these challenges, each of them has an optional goal to complete the level very quickly, and some of them required some repetition to set the record. Treasure Road is part of the Copiable Ability Improvement System, as the gems you earn are needed to acquire evolving abilities.
The world of Forgotten Land is already shaping up to be one of the most interesting places in the history of the series. Natural Plains mostly has the grassy look we’ve come to expect from the first set of stages in every Kirby (and Mario) game, but it overlays that into an abandoned city. World 1 is home to a level set in an old mall with escalators, shops in the background, and yes, a vending machine. This standout stage included puzzles that required me to observe my surroundings in order to find the right path to collectibles and trapped Waddle Dees. Overall, it felt like one of the most inventive and creative phases of Kirby in the history of the series.
I spent about two hours in World 1, completing all five main levels, seven Treasure Road challenges, and checking off all side objectives. I also completed several levels in co-op mode with my daughter. One player has to play Bandana Waddle Dee, so they miss out on copying opportunities and Mouthfull mode. However, the initial levels of Kirby and the Forgotten Land are delightfully charming, whether you go solo or with a partner. But yes, please give Kirby to your child because Kirby is way cooler.