Kirby has always felt like a marquee Nintendo franchise that was yearning for something more. The sheer gameplay variety afforded by Kirby's inherent verticality and ability to suck in enemies is parallelled only by Super Mario Odyssey's Cappy - but a stringent loyalty to 2D platforming meant it never quite met its potential. Especially in the Switch era, the pink blob has been confined mostly to free-to-play games, or more-of-the-same platformers like Kirby Star Allies. That's why I'm so pleased to report that Kirby and the Forgotten Land is one of the best games on Switch.
Yes, HAL Laboratories took quite the risk on Forgotten Land, with a brand-new perspective that totally throws the classic Kirby formula off-kilter. However, it was the sort of shot in the arm the series needed, giving it a breath of fresh air thanks to its modernisation of the Kirby mechanics we all know and love. Aside from a slightly disengaging story and unbalanced co-op, it's proof not only of how well-suited Kirby is to 3D platforming, but a game to rival the likes of Super Mario Odyssey at the peak of first-party Switch output.
If you've never played a Kirby game before, then it's a perfectly accommodating way into the franchise that gives you plenty of opportunity to fall in love with the character. For diehard fans, it's a chance to finally see the floating pink hero reach his full potential, in a style that makes the series' future seem even more exciting. Despite its name, Kirby and the Forgotten Land is an entry you won't be forgetting any time soon.
A Story To… Forget?
As hinted at, the story of Kirby and the Forgotten Land is a little bare-bones, but it more than gets the job done. Simply minding his own business on Planet Popstar, Kirby is suddenly sucked into a vortex that spits him back out in a world that looks more like The Last of Us than typical Nintendo fare. From dilapidated skyscrapers to streets strewn with overgrown shrubbery, this New World is a place devoid of almost all life, and it's up to Kirby to discover exactly what happened.
That's easier said than done though, because he has to travel across plenty of individual worlds to get to the bottom of the eponymous forgotten land. HAL Laboratories does a great job of varying the biomes you'll explore, with some desert levels playing host to dangerous underground moles, and fiery volcano levels where every jump needs to be precise. The game is quite hands-off with its storytelling, instead leaving you to piece together the history behind these abandoned shopping malls, freaky boss monsters, and so on.
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That failure to properly flesh out its story is one of Kirby and the Forgotten Land's few missteps. The first two acts are almost entirely devoid of explicit storytelling, aside from the general narrative thrust of Kirby needing to battle through each biome to save missing Waddle-Dees. It all ramps up to eleven towards the end, as you reach the final few boss fights and are faced with plenty of exposition.
The most disappointing thing is that those story beats, which I won't spoil here, are actually quite interesting. They delve into the psyche behind some of the villains, and the overarching prophecies that feed into Kirby continuity. It's just a shame that it feels shoehorned in at the last minute, to the point where it ultimately feels quite forgettable. Kirby and the Forgotten Lands is almost always flawless, but its shallow narrative and clunky storytelling are certainly a shame.
Luckily, pretty much everything else in the game more than makes up for some slightly rushed plotting. The game is a classic 2D Kirby experience transposed to a 3D plane, as you roam around decent-sized hub worlds battling a range of cute foes, finding missing Waddle-Dees, and sucking up objects to transform the pink hero.
Yes, the primary focus of pre-release hype for this game was the much-anticipated Mouthful Mode - and it does not disappoint. There's an astounding amount of objects that Kirby can suck up and then embody to take on their powers. Few are as instantly memeable as the car, which lets you zip around more open areas in some really fun time-trial courses. There are also cones that let you stab cracked ground to unveil new areas, stairs to help you access hidden areas, and even more that appear organically as you progress through the game. It's an ingenious way to evolve Kirby's abilities, and it's now hard to envision a new game in the franchise not taking these abilities even further. Far more than just a gimmick to allow for slightly more varied platforming, it's a true game-changer for the future of the series.
The good news is that the platforming in Kirby and the Forgotten Land is equally great, and some of the best you'll find on Switch. Puzzles are cleverly hidden and require you to plot out which Mouthful Mode ability you may need Equally, the side objective in each level, to find the hidden Waddle-Dees, often requires you to think outside of the box, exploring areas neatly tucked away or using your abilities in ways the game doesn't spoon-feed to you. Combine that with some high-octane fights against swarms of enemies, and it makes for a gameplay loop that's consistently fast-paced and entertaining.
The Switch At Its Best
The Switch isn't renowned for its graphical fidelity or processing power, but Kirby and the Forgotten Land makes brilliant use of the hardware. In fact, it's one of the best-looking games on the system, with colours popping and vast landscapes shimmering in both handheld and docked modes. There were several occasions where, as a level starts and you slowly pan up to the area you're about to explore, I was left agape by just how pretty these worlds can look. Recent Switch games like Rune Factory 5 have shown how the Switch is occasionally not up to the task of running graphically intensive games, but Kirby handles it well.
It's not all perfect though, especially when areas start getting crowded with enemies. The frame rate is often very consistent at 60 FPS, but enemies and moving objects like windmills very frequently drop in performance when shown in the distance. A monster moving in the far distance occasionally hits single-digits in terms of frames, and while it's not game-breaking by any means, it's certainly distracting. That's a minor gripe though, in an otherwise stellar showcase of how the Switch can still run top games five years after its launch.
Bouncing With A Friend
What's also quite impressive is how you and a friend can play the entirety of Kirby and the Forgotten Land together. After completing a few early missions, you unlock the ability to play locally with a pal, one of you controlling Kirby and the other a Waddle-Dee. Playing co-op provides some of the game's most exciting moments, as you coordinate boss battle strategy and try to jointly navigate obstacles in synchronicity.
The only downside is that the co-op is very much unbalanced, and as expected, quite Kirby-centric. Despite getting to play with a friend, only one of you can harness Kirby's Mouthful Mode powers, using weapons like swords, hammers, and boomerangs. Your teammate, however? They're stuck as a lowly Waddle-Dee, who gets none of that excitement aside from a spear. That means no becoming a car, no embodying a cone, and no sucking up new abilities as and when they appear. It's definitely a missed opportunity, and makes the game that bit less exciting for whoever's lumped with being the Waddle-Dee.
Verdict - 8/10
None of those minor gripes are enough to deter from the sheer joy of playing Kirby and the Forgotten Land. It's one of the best 3D platformers in recent memory, and charts brand-new territory for the franchise to expand upon in the future. While the story is a little haphazard, the charming delight of the gameplay, world design, and characters more than make up for its misgivings elsewhere. If you're looking for a colourful adventure romp, there aren't many better than this.
After years of always feeling like he's never quite reached his potential, Kirby and the Forgotten Land is the sort of series-defining triumph worthy of Nintendo's flagship blob. Kirby finally has his Super Mario Galaxy, his Sonic Mania, his Star Fox 64. And I for one, am delighted by that.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch. A code was provided by the publisher.