Review: Kirby: Planet Robobot

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Kirby: Planet Robobot fulfils its objectives as a fun, accessible, but ultimately fleeting, 3DS platformer. With many of its preferred development teams idle in the eyes of the public, while NX remains a distant mystery, most of Nintendo’s recent releases have been the work of third parties imitating the unique, upbeat style. It’s nice to have the original developer, Hal Laboratory, at the helm of the latest instalment in the series it has steered since the NES.

With the backing of its genuine developer, and the stark reality 3DS is eyeing off Pokémon Sun and Moon as its swan-song, the scene is set for Planet Robobot to garner more fanfare than most Kirby games when it’s released in Australia tomorrow. Its predecessor, Kirby: Triple Deluxe, launched two years ago to positive reviews and decent sales, but Kirby won’t enter the conversation when the 3DS retrospectives start rolling in. It’s about time the little puffball gets his time in the limelight, without a bigger Nintendo star preparing to pounce.

Like most of Kirby’s exploits, there’s little cohesion between the stages. It’s a concoction of clever, cutesy side-scrolling levels. Aside from a small increase in difficulty, which kicks in mid-way through the second Area when what feels like an elongated tutorial suddenly subsides, they could be swapped around nonchalantly without making any difference.

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As such, there isn’t much flow in the types of enemies, and therefore power-ups, you’ll encounter; probably for the best, as it creates a semblance of variety amidst a well-used small roster of minions. While perhaps best know as the Smash Bros mimic, Kirby is actually one of Nintendo’s most unassailable heroes. His ability to inhale and absorb the powers of most enemies temporally restricts you to a narrow range of abilities, while simultaneously keeping your options wide open, so long as you’re willing to sacrifice the current power-up for another, without knowing when it might become available again. Kirby has a couple of new power-ups, which I daren’t spoil, that make him even more of an opposing threat, and let’s not pretend his core move (simply sucking up a baddie) doesn’t make him severely overpowered.

Shooting fireballs one minute, attacking with a giant sword the next and finishing off a boss with an aggressive rock-stomp is classic Kirby, but the pocket rocket has finally decided to take things up a notch. Imagine Kirby meets Titanfall.

Okay, not really. But mechs add an element of flair into otherwise familiar platforming. They range from walkers, to (basically) fighter jets and tanks, which are also able to absorb abilities, with their own unique twist. The robot craft are used to access eras where even a floating Kirby cannot venture, and wreak havoc on a grand scale. Hal has been careful not to oversaturate the gameplay with its new hook, so don’t expect to spend the entire game behind the wheel. In fact, a majority of Planet Robobot conforms to what has come before it. If there’s a complaint with introduction of robobots, it’s that their overall impact is minimal, leaving few long-lasting fresh ideas.

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Still, giant robots inevitably inject an element of the unknown, but they do make already easy combat even easier. There are a couple of bosses that pose a threat, but otherwise there’s little to match the might of such brutal killing machines. That’s, presumably, why the robot suits are so restricted, as to ensure they’re deployed first and foremost during puzzle segments. Kirby is on his own for most of the combat; and when I say “on his own”, I mean with whichever poor sap he last ingested.

What it lacks in challenge, Kirby makes up in sheer delight. The fun-loving settings, ranging from a giant ice cream to a suburban town and a spaceship, succeed in putting a relaxed smile on your face. When Nintendo says “all ages” it really means it for most franchises, but there’s no denying Kirby skews towards the under-10 market. However, that isn’t to say a man of, say, 25 won’t find something to his liking. It’s ideal to play when unwinding train ride home, or for a couple of minutes before dinner. It isn’t taxing, but it isn’t trying to be, and merely wants to provide a burst of entertainment.

The cleverness of the themes combines with foreground and background play to open up optional puzzles for collectible hunters. Jumping between the two is aided by enabling 3D functionality – but it’s not necessary – and despite largely being a hater of a gimmick, Planet Robobot is the only 3DS game I can remember actively choosing to play with 3D turned on. On New 3DS XL of course, where 3D actually works properly.

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After breezing through the story, there are a selection of mini-games built upon a dash of Super Mario World and The Legend of Zelda. 3D Rumble has the Kirbster swallowing and spitting enemies as weapons in an isometric arena, while trying to earn multipliers. It’s serviceable, without being anything worth investing time into. Kirby Team Dash can be played by up to four-players over wi-fi. Armed with Link’s signature spin-attack, Kirby plus mates tackle a series of bosses, mixed with some very light RPG elements. It’s too basic to be any good, but I’m not one for half-hearted multiplayer modes just for the sake of it. There are also a couple of Meta Knight challenges that only become available once the story is done and dusted.

In all, there’s a surprising amount of content, but it’s only the story mode that’s worth playing. It’s fun, charming and predictably easy. Don’t go in expecting the trials of Donkey Kong Country (all three of the SNES games are now on the 3DS eShop, by the way!) and it’s hard to be disappointed with a Kirby game designed for young kids that’s still charming enough for casual adults. However, adding robots doesn’t make as big of a difference as Nintendo might have us believe. The more you play, the less they’re used, resulting in a fun, but safe, platformer that slowly becomes more like every Kirby game that has come before it.

Kirby: Planet Robobot was reviewed using a promotional digital copy of the game on New 3DS, as provided by the publisher.

Review:Kirby: Planet Robobot
8 out of 10

The good

  • Easy to pick-up and play
  • Charming, upbeat levels
  • Excellent use of foreground/background puzzles and 3D
  • Awesome mix of abilities

The bad

  • It’ll be too easy for many players
  • Robots don’t add as much as they could have
  • Side modes aren’t very good

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