Review: ‘Kirby and the Forgotten Land’ is an all round good time

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There are no bad Kirby games – only games ranging from good to excellent. “Kirby and the Forgotten Land,” the franchise’s first major 3D entry, is further proof that Kirby games never suck.

Although this isn’t the pink puffball’s first foray into 3D, the Kirby series is typically known for 2D beat-em-up platformers with puzzles and power-ups galore. Previous Kirby spin-offs have been stepping stones toward a full 3D adventure, including the iconic City Trial mode from “Kirby Air Ride” and the budget puzzle platformer “Kirby’s Blowout Blast.” However, “Forgotten Land” marks Kirby’s first AAA 3D platformer, on par with mainline 2D installments.

This entry drags Kirby and the inhabitants of Planet Pop Star into a parallel dimension, featuring abandoned modern cities overrun by flora and fauna – primarily the latter, if the Beast Pack is any evidence. This army of superpowered animals kidnaps hundreds of Waddle Dees, and it’s up to Kirby to rescue them with his new companion, Elfilin. Along the way, the two uncover the secrets behind this long-lost civilization.

Side note: I realized while writing this that the titular setting is an elaborate pun that deserves its own paragraph. The game adds a new dimension not only to the gameplay, but to the franchise’s locations. If you count Halcandra, another dimension from “Kirby’s Return to Dream Land,” then this is the third dimension that Kirby has visited. Well played, HAL Labs.

Contributed by Nintendo.

Speaking of that 3D gameplay, “Forgotten Land” is a fantastic transition from its 2D predecessors, no doubt helped by prior experience from the aforementioned spin-offs. The camera is one of the hardest things for 2D franchises to nail in their first 3D games, but by having fixed camera angles, this game feels much more focused. Kirby’s simple controls also make navigating this new dimension easier in more than one sense.

Kirby’s defining trait (other than being shaped like a friend) is having Copy Abilities, which grant special powers and a cool hat when he inhales certain enemies. While recent 2D entries used the controls from “Kirby Super Star,” which gave every Copy Ability a diverse array of attacks and combos, “Forgotten Land” adapts the simplified Copy Abilities from early Kirby games, with each Copy Ability having two or three attacks.

I prefer the complex Copy Abilities; deep down, I hoped HAL Labs could translate 2D Kirby’s beat-em-up elements into an Platinum Games-style character action game. I want a Kirby game someday that plays like an E-rated “Bayonetta,” and I will die on this hill. However, I understand why simpler controls were necessary for this first major attempt. When looking past my ridiculous fantasies, I appreciated how effective this decision was.

The level design focuses more on each Copy Ability for puzzle solving, using limited controls in several different ways. Because there were more puzzles and less combat, I found myself swapping between Copy Abilities more often than in 2D Kirby games, in which I usually swap between a couple favorites like Mirror or Beetle. The two new Copy Abilities, Ranger and Drill, feel specifically designed for the new 3D gameplay.

While there are only two new Copy Abilities, “Forgotten Land” compensates with two excellent additions. Each Copy Ability can be upgraded into Evolved Copy Abilities, which have different attacks (and more importantly, extra hats). Kirby can also enter Mouthful Mode by inhaling large objects that he can’t fully digest, morphing him into hilarious shapes like a half-eaten car or a comically oversized light bulb.

Players who just want a relaxed 3D platformer will have a fun time breezing through “Forgotten Land,” whereas returning fans can tackle tightly designed optional challenges. Each level has secret objectives to rescue more Waddle Dees, which encourages replaying levels in new ways. For those who want to earn more upgrades, special levels in Treasure Road test players’ knowledge on specific Copy Abilities and Mouthful Mode powers.

Based on its common world themes like deserts, volcanoes and beaches, you’d assume this game is as visually creative as the ironically named New Super Mario Bros. series, but “Forgotten Land” is anything but. It elevates generic themes by giving each world different manmade architecture. For example, the Winter Horns levels are London after an ice age, and the abandoned Alivel Mall is a loving tribute to urban exploration.

The Beast Pack, however, felt unusually subpar compared to Kirby’s rogues gallery. Most of the bosses were exactly what you picture in your head when I say “large muscular gorilla,” “acrobatic cheetah” or “lion commander.” The exception here is Sillydillo, a charming and challenging boss fight who exudes personality; he picks up the slack along with stellar boss fights against returning characters, including Meta Knight and King DeDeDe.

Kirby soundtracks, like the games themselves, have never been bad. It took me a few playthroughs to really appreciate some of the songs, but the music of “Forgotten Land” quickly grew on me like the vegetation growing over its abandoned cities. Highlights include “A Trip to Alivel Mall,” “Metro on Ice,” “Sword of the Surviving Guardian” and the showstopping final boss theme, “Two Planets Approach the Roche Limit.”

As the exciting name for its final boss theme suggests, “Forgotten Land” has an absolutely insane climax. Newcomers who expected a wholesome game will likely be shocked by the eldritch horror final boss and ending. For longtime Kirby fans, however, this is an average Tuesday.

Is fighting off unfathomable creatures for the fate of the multiverse not your thing? You can always relax in Waddle Dee Town, where your Waddle Dee friends live after they’re rescued. Play fun minigames, listen to the game’s headbanging tunes, fall into crippling debt by getting addicted to gachapon figure collecting, go fishing or take a snooze at Kirby’s new house.

Regarding the figures, collecting these toys will give you tidbits of the deeper lore behind this new dimension and its characters. It was a bit disappointing not seeing these lore paragraphs on the pause screen during boss fights as previous games have had, and it can be tedious collecting them when you can get duplicates. It’s a fine change of pace, however, for the franchise’s usual flavor text.

I still want to see new 2D Kirby games in the future, and the excellent Wii and 3DS entries deserve a Switch port so newcomers can enjoy some of Kirby’s best games. However, I recognize how immensely promising “Forgotten Land” is, and 3D Kirby games can only get better from here. Besides a couple rough edges that prevent this from being a perfect sphere, this is another unforgettable Kirby game.

“Kirby and the Forgotten Land” is available for Nintendo Switch.

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Opinions Editor | + posts

Sean Mullins (she/they) is the opinions editor and webmaster for the Journal. She is a media studies major and professional writing minor at Webster University, but she's participated in student journalism since high school, having previously been a games columnist, blogger and cartoonist for the Webster Groves Echo at Webster Groves High School. Her passion is writing and editing stories about video games and other entertainment mediums. Outside of writing, Sean is also the treasurer for Webster Literature Club. She enjoys playing games, spending time with friends, LGBTQ+ and disability advocacy, streaming, making terrible puns and listening to music.