In a world riddled with darkness, Kirby and the Forgotten Land is a source of pure joy and light. And no, not just because the protagonist can sometimes envelop, and therefore turn into, a lightbulb. I don’t think anyone could deny it’s already been a big year (/few years/century, but let’s focus on 2022 for now) in so many ways. Big for world events, big for game releases, just… big – and Kirby, the little pink puffball that could, is the breath of fresh air I needed amongst it all. In this latest adventure, Kirby sets off to rescue his friends the Waddle Dees with the help of new friend Elfilin, and honestly, every moment of it is adorable.
When I first learned, as we all did, about the main feature of this game – something that was to be called “Mouthful Mode” – I experienced the full spectrum of emotions (curiosity, awe, existential confusion) and readied myself to write the inevitable innuendo-filled review that would have to follow. How could I talk about bonus levels whose names included words like “mouth treasure” and not go down that path? How could I see Kirby, filled with determination, wrapping his whole gob around a giant ‘O’ and not make jokes about holes? It seemed impossible. But honestly, after about an hour with this game, I knew I couldn’t do it. Instead, I found myself filled with a sense of childlike wonder and awe that I hadn’t experienced in a game in a really long time, finding pure joy in little things like Kirby’s expressions or the little dance he does with his friends when you finish a level. It’s genuinely adorable. There were very few moments I spent playing this game and not smiling.
It’s Kirby’s 30th anniversary this year, but to be honest, I haven’t played too many Kirby games in the past, mostly because platformers aren’t usually my thing. This latest entry, however, which brings Kirby’s classic gameplay into a 3D world, feels different. For Nintendo fans, the best way I can describe this is to say that it’s Kirby’s version of Super Mario 3D World, only instead of donning suits, Kirby just sucks whole entire living beings inside him and steals their identity, which we all have to pretend isn’t creepy, or at the very least, kinda distressing. And yes – I know I said that this game was pure wholesome joy, and I meant it. Because when Kirby is running around waving at his friends the Waddle Dees, or innocently fishing in the lake, it’s extremely easy to forget that this game is based on fundamentally disturbing ideas about Kirby’s biology.
To put aside the horror for a moment, the actual gist is that Kirby can “copy” the abilities of his enemies by inhaling them and taking on their powers. If he sucks in an enemy who could breathe fire, for example, suddenly he can breathe fire too, which he can then use to fight other enemies, but also to do things like light lanterns. He can only hold one ability at a time, but there are lots of opportunities throughout the levels to change powers, and it’s usually pretty obvious when you’ll need to switch it up. Seeing a big section of dirt near an enemy you know can dig underground, for example, is a sure sign that you should ditch your current ability and absorb that one instead. It stops the gameplay from feeling boring, and while you’re often given a choice of which power you want to use for a section – like just before taking on a boss battle – you’ll pretty quickly learn which ones are your favourites. I like using the ice powers because of the way they turn Kirby into a beautiful ice princess and allow him to glide gracefully across the ground, but it’s also really satisfying to use the sword power to rapidly slash at enemies, or the drill to surprise them from below.
And then you have Mouthful Mode.
Mouthful Mode is what happens when Kirby tries to inhale objects that are a little big for him to copy, and instead he somehow morphs his physiology so that he can wrap around them and use them to interact with the world. It’s like his body becomes a rubbery casing that he stretches over them (honestly, don’t think too hard about how it works, it really highlights the fact that he seems to have no internal organs, and it’s not worth going down that rabbit hole). He can stretch over a car and race around, or a vending machine and somehow shoot drink cans from his mouth(?), or a lightbulb so that he can light his way in the darkness. It does add a cool element to the gameplay and helps to introduce some environmental puzzles, but it is logistically… problematic. While in Mouthful Mode, Kirby will keep whatever copy ability he has equipped, so you don’t lose anything by adopting these new forms, which I definitely appreciated.
In between worlds (or when you need a breather between levels), Kirby can travel back to Waddle Dee Town, where there’s a whole lot of extra stuff to do. The more Waddle Dees you rescue, the more the town can rebuild, so as you progress through the story you’ll unlock some extra content. From the get-go, your friend the blacksmith (conveniently one of the first rescued) can use blueprints you’ll collect on your adventures to upgrade your copy abilities, which can turn them from nifty tricks into truly badass powers. If you’re feeling tired, you can rest at Kirby’s house to regain health, or you can take the time to play one of a selection of mini games like a tilt maze or a sort of food truck simulator. The mini games are all pretty simple, but they’re fun to play for a while, especially if you’re playing alongside a friend – which you can do for most of the game.
If you want to play co-op with a buddy, they can take on the role of Bandana Waddle Dee, a cute little sidekick who can hover through the air and throw spears at enemies. Bandana Waddle Dee can’t use Kirby’s copy abilities or Mouthful Mode, so is somewhat limited in what they can do, but they can be super useful in fights and can play minigames the same way Kirby can. They can also share health, so if one of you picks up a healing item, the two can high-five and both will gain the boost. I imagine sometimes the second player could become frustrated by their limitations in the levels, and they’re very clearly a ‘player two’, but they can do a lot more than past Nintendo games have allowed a second player to do (I’m looking at you, Super Mario Galaxy).
The other areas that can only be taken on single player are bonus treasure levels, which are time trials that test your skills with the various copy abilities or Mouthful Modes. They force you to become at least vaguely comfortable with each type of ability, and can be a little frantic even if you’ve got a handle on how each one works, but I had fun with them. Learning the most effective ways to use the various Mouthful Modes proved particularly useful during my time back in the levels.
At its heart, I can see how Kirby is a game that’s perfect for children. There’s a whole generation that can see this as one of their first big games, and I’m excited that this is the gaming world they’re coming into. There are a lot of opportunities here for parents to play alongside their kids, or for kids to mess around with Kirby’s abilities in practice areas until they’re good enough to take on levels alone. But really, there’s a surprising amount of fun to be had for adults here, too. They’ve really nailed that balance. The world Kirby is journeying through is strangely reminiscent of The Last of Us, with nature taking over previously occupied buildings and structures, leaving the world feel almost eerily abandoned. There are some truly cinematic shots that really foster a sense of adventure and scale, and a score that knows just when to ramp up the energy to build that feeling of wonder. This game is bright, and polished, and clean, and though it isn’t perfect, it’s a truly impressive feat.
I didn’t expect the absolute childlike wonder this game made me feel, but in a world where things can be pretty dark and grim, this hit extra hard in the best possible way. I think it’s the dose of pure joy we all need, mixed with a hint of existentially concerning elements that act as a nice distraction from that real world existential dread that a lot of us are feeling. It’s a comfort game through and through, one that stays fun and doesn’t outstay its welcome. Despite the name, it isn’t one I’m going to be forgetting any time soon.
If you want to try out Kirby and the Forgotten Land for yourself before it releases, you can download a free demo now from the Nintendo eShop.
Player 2 reviewed Kirby and the Forgotten Land on Nintendo Switch with a code kindly provided by Nintendo Australia.