A great review. Thanks.
The Kirby series has, in recent years, split off in two distinct directions. The traditional simple platformer has continued with small adjustments, but Nintendo have also been happy to experiment with new concepts within the franchise, safe in the knowledge that the beloved character alone can almost guarantee worthy sales. Whether it’s all about the gameplay, as in early DS title Kirby: Power Paintbrush, or playing with new art styles, such as Kirby’s Epic Yarn’s woollen world, it’s all fair game.
Kirby Mass Attack falls under the first banner, turning the standard platforming on its head with a title that owes as much to Pikmin as it does to the pink wonder’s past. After Kirby is decupled into a horde of miniature heroes by - what else? - an evil mystic, the ever-cute balloon must prove that ten heads are better than one and restore order to the world.
Each of the worlds starts players off with just a single tiny weak Kirby, but by chomping down fruit in his traditional style, Kirby can round up another part of himself to trot along and help out. Levels can only be entered when the required number of Kirbys have been built up through this method; thankfully, it’s pretty easy to accumulate a full bunch of air balls, so you’re rarely stuck repeating levels to enter the next.
Just as Kirbys can be gained, they’re also losable without due care. An injured Kirby - assaulted by an enemy, for example - will turn a pale blue, with a subsequent strike turning them into a grey angel. At this point it’s possible to send another, still-living Kirby to grab them back and return them to your command before they disappear for good, just as long as they don’t float up, off and away. Opportunities to use the glittery pink healing bands to restore each adventurer to full strength should not be missed...
Though the art style and level structure may be familiar to fans of the Kirby games - gorgeously animated sprites traverse rather easy small sections of platforming, always separated by star-studded door portals - Kirby Mass Attack takes liberties with the franchise’s standards outside of the group control. It’s entirely touch-screen controlled, and your petite pink patrol will march along to whatever point you tap, automatically clambering over obstacles of an appropriate height, or leaping en masse onto any enemy that stands in their path. Double tapping will set the squad speeding into a sprint, too - critical for a quick retreat and regroup when up against overwhelming odds.
Mass Attack is not all about traditional Kirby movement through touch alone, though. Taking hefty pointers from Kirby: Power Paintbrush, holding the stylus down upon the group will envelope them in a bright barrier, enabling a rainbow track to be drawn for a limited amount of time, which the bubble will then follow. This brings a new layer of strategy to the series’ usual formula: tall, unclimbable walls can be circumnavigated with a drag and drop, movement can be purposely slowed to back away from danger and time pushes forward better, or Kirbys can be guided straight on top of an enemy without their knowledge.
That Pikmin mention, then. As well as tapping and scribbling, Kirby can also be moved with a click and flick in any direction you desire, in a similar manner to Captain Olimar’s relentless plant hurling. Just as in the garden-based strategy game, throwing your troops to land from above proves useful in taking down foes big or small. The mechanic, as intuitive as the rest of the control, is also essential to make the Kirbys break obstructing blocks, grip onto hanging levers to open up new routes, begin tap-frenzied tugs of war with giant antagonists, or save those ascending angels. Given that this integral gameplay device is combined with the idea of a crew of Kirbys, it is surprising that Kirby Mass Attack has no origination as a 2D Pikmin game; indeed, Nintendo’s Mari Shirakawa, director of the game, has apparently never played Pikmin.
Alternate routes run through the levels, often only accessible with a full complement of Kirbys, which hide medals. Each stage has several of these trophies to collect, some in plain sight, others requiring more dedicated exploration. As well as offering incentive to return to levels, these medals also unlock numerous mini-games, such as an inventive take on a vertical shoot ‘em up and a pachinko machine. Some of these might even keep you from playing the main game for a short while - they’re great extras. One world actually successfully integrates several similar mini-games as main stages without leaving players feeling cheated.
Nevermind Zelda’s 25th anniversary - 2011 has been the year of Kirby, with not one, not two, but three fantastic entries into the franchise. Mass Attack is not the strongest of the Kirby titles released this year, edged out by Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Kirby’s Adventure Wii, but that does not negate its brilliance; it’s another instance of Nintendo joyfully playing around with the series’ tradition to great effect. Since it is sure to be one of Nintendo DS’ last big titles, Kirby Mass Attack’s wonderful touch-based gameplay serves as a fitting tribute to the handheld that has entertained so many millions over the last six and a half years.
Mixing tradition with invention ably, Kirby Mass Attack is another great example of the innovative side of the series.
Some of the best sprite work on DS. The expressive, brilliantly animated characters are the highlight, but it’s glorious as a whole.
The hilarious chorus title music sets the tone for the adventure well, and the rest of the soundtrack does not disappoint.
As you’d expect of a Kirby game, Mass Attack is very easy to charge through, the challenge only ramping up towards the end. Several entertaining mini-games, and the connected desire to gather all the levels’ medals, add length.
It seems fitting that Kirby Mass Attack should arrive at the conclusion of Nintendo DS’ lifespan as one of Nintendo’s last major first party titles on the system. Together with Kirby: Power Paintbrush, which was among the first games to ignite the potential of touch control, it bookends the handheld’s time on the market with a pair of excellent, innovative takes on one of the company’s major franchises. Just like Power Paintbrush, Kirby Mass Attack is in the upper echelons of DS’ library, proving that you can always teach an old pink puffball new tricks.
A great review. Thanks.
I'd never even heard of this game before but it sounds really good!
Nice review, too.
Taught me a new word there, Mike! Decupled - something broken into ten pieces. Nice, very apt!
It's a 9/10 for me, but I'm 1.) always more lenient than you, 2.) not as big a fan of Power Paintbrush.
So many awesome games, so little time! TWO Kirby games I need to add to my backlog on July 2012...