The Kirby franchise has been going through an identity crisis. The original entries in the series were simple yet enjoyable platformers. However, in recent years, it felt like Nintendo wasn’t sure what they wanted to do with the pink puffball. Compare that to their other marquee platformers. The Super Mario franchise continues to be a runaway success, revolutionizing not just the genre but gaming entirely. Donkey Kong Country returned to its roots under Retro Studios, delivering challenging yet rewarding platforming experiences.
Nintendo takes the series back to its roots with Kirby and the Forgotten Land. While this is a direction the franchise took back in the early to mid-2010s, Forgotten Land feels like the step forward that was desperately needed. It’s a revolutionary title that offers everything I’ve ever wanted out of a Kirby game. Forgotten Land provides an impressive range of accessibility, challenge, and scope that I didn’t think was possible.
Kirby has finally made his 3D platforming debut in a similar style as Super Mario 3D World. While it may not be a fully open-world game akin to Mario Odyssey, this is a choice that fully pays off. By constraining the camera to fixed points, the creative level design is allowed to shine. Kirby has always been at its best when it doesn’t require pinpoint precision or perfect platforming. After all, he can float through the air and trivialize any challenge.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land Lets You Play the Way You Want to Play
Instead, players are tasked with exploring every nook and cranny a level has to offer. In addition, hidden objectives are constantly waiting to be discovered. Now, you could be like me and attempt to breeze through each stage, forgoing most, if not all, of the bonus objectives. Or, you could be like my wife and painstakingly spend hours trying to 100% everything. There’s a good chance that most people will fall somewhere in the middle.
That’s part of the beauty of Forgotten Land; the game is as challenging as you make it out to be. Simply completing each stage and moving on to the following one results in an enjoyable, albeit short and simple, experience. There’s a lot more to Forgotten Land than meets the eye. In addition to those hidden objectives and secrets, Treasure Road stages act as platforming time trials. These are the literal definition of easy to learn yet hard to master.
The Treasure Road stages work due to the satisfying gameplay in Kirby and the Forgotten Land. Nintendo has taken the foundation of what makes Kirby games excellent and brought in lessons learned from other franchises. I already mentioned it, but it bears repeating. There are a lot of similarities between Forgotten Land and Super Mario 3D World to the point where Kirby has perfected the platforming formula. Kirby offers some of the most clever, delightful, and satisfying gameplay I have ever experienced.
It all comes together with the game’s showpiece mechanic, Mouthful Mode. In addition to swallowing and copying enemy abilities, Kirby can also do the same with various pieces of the environment. This is far more than a cute mechanic that allows Kirby to become a giant car. In reality, it’s an essential aspect of puzzle-solving and platforming. Without spoiling the many surprises that await, Forgotten Land strikes a beautiful balance between constantly adding new ideas for Mouthful Mode and delivering excellent puzzles for players to solve. When you think the new Mouthful Mode options start to run dry, clever new concepts are introduced.
One aspect of the game that doesn’t feel fresh is the game’s mini-bosses. It’s a shame since each stage’s final bosses are an absolute delight in terms of variation, design, and challenge. The mini-bosses, however, feel shallow, easy, and unimaginative. It’s a stark departure from everything else the game has to offer. I’m not expecting these mini-bosses to be difficult, but at the same time, I’m also not expecting to be constantly fighting reskins essentially.
Forgotten Land Delivers a Larger Than Life Experience
In a game that nails gameplay and level design, the best part about Kirby and the Forgotten Land might be its scope. There’s a sense of wonder that exceeds even the likes of Super Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild. Kirby knows when to be intimate, when to be light-hearted, and when to be serious. The environment design, orchestral score, and level layout work in harmony.
Kirby is right there with you as you explore your surroundings, taking in the awe-inspiring vistas or plotting your course through a stage. The player and character take everything in together. It’s almost like a bond between Kirby and the player. You obtain new abilities, absorb new Mouthful Mode options, and solve puzzles. All result in a fantastic sense of accomplishment. None of them compare, however, to saving Waddle Dees.
The game’s story revolves around rescuing kidnapped Waddle Dees. The more you save, the more you unlock to power up and enhance your experience. Within Waddle Dee Town lies the option to upgrade abilities, unlock collectibles, and even carry a backup health item for dire moments. It’s not all business here, though. There are plenty of chances to relax, unwind, or kill some time.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land is filled with plenty of ways to mess around and have fun. Between Waddle Dee Town, the Treasure Road stages, and collecting everything the game offers, time can disappear in the blink of an eye. This is greatly welcomed, considering the short nature of the game’s campaign. Adding in length via hidden objectives can only go so far. There’s no dancing around the fact that this is a shorter game than its peers. Sure, the game eggs you in like Crash Bandicoot after a stage, telling you everything you missed, but I can’t help but want more.
The Definitive Kirby Experience Is a Near-Perfect Game
Kirby and the Forgotten Land does so many things well that it’s a miracle I haven’t spent this entire review just gushing about how much I love this game. It’s not without fault, but Forgotten Land does so many things well. Kirby’s platforming has always had a unique spin. Forgotten Land taps back into what makes Kirby such a great game and embraces the DNA of the series, expanding and innovating every step of the way.
This is more than just a love letter to the Kirby games of old. It’s an acknowledgment of how to move the franchise forward. Nintendo has been on an absolute roll with everything not named Pokemon as of late. Kirby and the Forgotten Land continues that trend.