Kirby and the Forgotten Land is a 3D platformer with light collect-a-thon elements for the Nintendo Switch. I’ll admit that when I saw the trailer, like many others, I had hopes that this would be the Super Mario Odyssey of Kirby games. So I was a little bummed when I started playing and realized it’s more like the Super Mario 3D World of Kirby games. But the more I played it, the more I started getting over that feeling and enjoying the game for what it is rather than what it isn’t. After all, sometimes not getting what you wanted leads you to something you didn’t even know you wanted until you had it. So let’s forget our expectations and join Kirby on his journey to this new land.
The game starts out innocently enough on planet Popstar where things seem to be business as usual… until a giant portal opens up and swallows up a whole bunch of the land’s inhabitants, including Kirby. I guess you could say he’s getting a taste of his own medicine, but at least he comes out the other side in one piece, unlike his unfortunate foes. Anyway, Kirby’s awakening is on the shores of an unknown land. He finds his way from the beach into a wooded area where you learn some of your basic controls. Kirby can run, jump, and even fly for a short distance by puffing up in the air. He can also duck, slide, guard, and dodge roll. Here you’ll also be introduced to Kirby’s iconic copy abilities. By inhaling certain enemies and swallowing them you can gain their powers like breathing fire or swinging a sword. You can also choose to spit out inhaled enemies and objects as powerful projectiles instead. Watch yourself. Not only do you have a health bar to think about, but sometimes taking a hit will knock the copy ability right out of ya.
Eventually you’ll emerge from the forest to find an overgrown, abandoned city. Here you come across a new addition to the series after trying to inhale an entire car. Sometimes Kirby sucks up more than he can swallow, and thus we are introduced to mouthful mode. This basically wraps Kirby around large objects like a pink skin and allows him to take advantage of the object’s properties. For example, in this car mode you’ll be able to drive quickly and perform turbo boosts to blast through enemies and obstacles at high speed. There are a handful of mouthful mode abilities throughout the game as well. You’ll still want to be careful with these though. You might not get knocked out of them when hit but you can still take damage and die. These also seem to generally not work in bodies of water or on ladders, so you’ll often need to ditch them to progress.
The plot thickens as we find this land’s creatures caging up the poor displaced Waddle Dees. They also cage up a strange unfamiliar creature. Kirby makes a quick rescue and befriends Elfilin. who acts as the player’s guide throughout the game. You’ll get most translations and tips from him along the way as you work together to save all of the captured Waddle Dees. Take to warp star to the world map and you’ll have a new level to play. Most levels are generally linear with a few secrets. The camera is fairly fixed but you do have full 3D movement. In each level there are some hidden Waddle Dees that you’ll need to find off of the beaten path. There are also mission Waddle Dees that remain a mystery until you complete or start to complete the objective, like breaking a certain number or plants or defeating an enemy in a particular way among many others. And you’ll get three Waddle Dees for completing the level, along with uncovering the objective to one of the unsolved mission Waddle Dees.
Each world’s final level will be locked by a minimum Waddle Dee requirement to help you break down the entrance and reveal the boss lair. Once you defeat the boss you’ll open the next world, each with their own theme like the beach or an amusement park. Between levels you’ll occasionally unlock or find treasure roads on the world map. These are special timed levels that restrict you to one copy ability or mouthful mode to complete the entire course. Doing so will net you a rare stone. These can be used back in Waddle Dee Town, an area that opens up early in the game and serves as a hub for an increasing amount of activities. Along with launching out to the overworld map, you can unlock a variety of minigames to play for rare stones, special figures, and coins. The coins are also found throughout the levels and act as general currency for shops. They can also be spent on the vending machine full of collectible figures in the town. Most can be obtained by random drops in levels or randomly from attempts at the machine, but some have special requirements to obtain. You can display up to three of them in your house, which is where you can also go to sleep and recover your health. You can buy some powerups from the shops. There’s a colosseum where you can battle through a series of encounters in a row with some healing in between for prizes as well. As you save more Waddle Dees, more and more sections will open up, along with unlocking more movies in the theater if you want to replay cutscenes and a Waddle Dee band to play any of the game’s songs for you anytime!
The main place you’ll likely be visiting a lot is the blacksmith, which holds access to all twelve of the game’s copy abilities. Most of these have multiple moves and applications throughout the game, but if you find blueprints in the levels you can take them back to the blacksmith and, along with some rare stones and coins, you can upgrade your abilities into new forms that have higher power, faster fire rate, and/or alternate quirks to their usage. For example, the second level of the sword ability with give you a large, very powerful sword that attacks much more slowly and has a shield that improves your guard. Don’t worry, you can set each one to whichever level of the ability here if you find a previous version works better for you than the new one. Some treasure roads will require the higher levels of the abilities to access.
After you beat all of the main worlds of the game, you’ll be treated to a final level to reveal the true plot of the game… but no spoilers so play and find out. BUT know that the game isn’t over yet. If you choose to, you can continue your game and play an all new world that opens up after the credits. Each level in this world is basically a marathon of every level from one world of the main game with a new aesthetic and special collectibles to obtain throughout. You’ll need to get them all to encounter the final final level. Only a few things in the game are actually not required for the 100% completion… and I’ll admit that two things you for sure don’t need to complete the game are beating the extra levels of the ball balancing minigame and getting the target times on all the treasure roads. But you WILL need to beat the bonus world AND the ultimate challenge of the ultimate colosseum cup, which marathons you against all of the remixed bosses and one new ultimate nemesis. Oh, and you don’t need to play it co-op because I had no one to play with anyway so that’s how I know. Sorry I can’t comment on what that experience is like. So now that we know what this game is… why is it good and why do I enjoy it?
Kirby and the Forgotten Land is a very vibrant, colorful, cartoony game to look at. Bold and distinct colors stand out while being wonderfully woven into the different environments. Each world has its own theme and aesthetic, like the amusement park or the snowy land, but still keeps some of that general industrialized world vibe throughout. I also really like that every level has something fun and unique about it so that, while you may forget the names with so many levels, you’ll instantly remember once you start playing a level again just which level it is. That’s something we don’t always get anymore. It’s nice to feel like levels have a bit more personality and leave an impression beyond just being another part of the whatever world. A lot of the stuff in the game is also designed to be fun and kinda clever. You’ll be given a power that you’ll need just up ahead to do a bunch of stuff, and it won’t be particularly hard to do that stuff but it’s really fun and satisfying to do. Some of that is also due to tight controls, neat animations, and satisfying sound design as well. It’s just nice to play a game that’s trying to find new ways to have fun with its mechanics and make a spectacle rather than just trying to make things really difficult. The limited number of copy abilities is definitely remedied by each one having multiple moves and upgrades to give them simple depth. Plus you get all of the mouthful mode transformations which I think are a perfect fit for a Kirby game, even if they aren’t that for his maw. The treasure roads being designed all around each of the abilities and transformations are a great showcase and training opportunity while still being forgiving enough to be fun. It really gives you a reason to use more than just your favorites the whole time, along with some of the level missions. And I really like the light collect-a-thon elements. The way hidden Waddle Dees unlock in order of their appearance in the stage is a nice touch, and I really like how the mission Waddle Dees only uncover their mystery AFTER you’ve had a chance at the level to get them yourself. Some of those challenges can get pretty interesting, like taking no damage or using a certain ability on a boss. I like the way the game remains pretty easy and fun until the postgame content, where there’s still a decent chunk left but that chunk tests your skills. I wouldn’t feel unfulfilled by not being able to beat that stuff at least, but it was fun actually doing so. Really shows off how good the combat system can be when you’re forced to get good at it. Plus, the remixed world levels and bosses at the end makes it feel like you’re not REALLY missing out on a ton if you can’t beat it anyway, which is another great touch to making it FEEL optional. So this game does a lot right.
That being said, it’s not all of it is great. The final colosseum cup is downright brutal your first time through and a long slog to suffer through a second time when you inevitably fail on the first. The postgame isn’t the only difficulty I had. Some of the no damage challenges are tough without the right ability and lots of caution. One level mission is to defeat the two Wild Frosty minibosses in the 2v1 at the end of the snowy bridge level without taking damage. So you have to go through the whole damn level just to get a shot at it every damn time. Pro tip: Just upgrade the fire ability, use that to get the damage over time on ’em, and keep avoiding as best you can until one gets knocked out. The target times on the treasure roads can also sometimes be brutal, but they don’t count towards completion percentage or any special reward. You just get extra coins for them which can easily be farmed elsewhere. The rare stones take a long time to grind in the postgame as well, which isn’t required for completion so… fair enough. I kinda hated how tough the restaurant minigame was for the figure which you DO need for 100%. And speaking of the figures, while the drop rates are pretty generous, I really didn’t like the random machine pulls to get most of them. I mean you COULD get them randomly from levels too, but I would’ve preferred that ALL of them be in set places so that doing everything in the levels and minigames and stuff would get you every one of them guaranteed. The vending machines should’ve just been there as an alternative if the other stuff was too hard to do and you had to roll the dice on getting what you were missing. That or just have the figures purchasable in a shop for high coin amounts. Oh well, at least I’m not complaining about microtransactions, DLC, or amiibo stuff here.
When it comes right down to it, Kirby and the Forgotten Land went from falling short of my expectations to being a fond reminder of things I enjoy in slightly older games. It’s not some huge, open world game with a ton of side missions and a hundred hours of content to chip away at all year long. It’s not some big reinvention of how we look at Kirby games. It’s game that’s long enough to sink your teeth into without overstaying its welcome. It’s a bunch of delightfully fun things to do and see and hear… and just enjoy. It’s not super challenging, but it has some solid challenge in the postgame for those that want it. It’s a low bar for beating and a moderate bar for full completion. It introduces new things that fit in wonderfully with what we know and love about the series. Kirby and the Forgotten Land is just a good time. It’s just a game. And sometimes we need to forget about deep lore and hype trains and all this other noise around the gaming industry and gaming community. Sometimes we just need to sit down and remember what it’s like to just play video games because we enjoy having fun.