Kirby and the Forgotten Land review
Mario and Link tend to be the stars of Nintendo’s very best games, but you have to give it to Kirby for outlasting countless other video game heroes.
Ninty’s smiling pink blob has been blobbing around since 1992’s Kirby’s Dream Land on the Game Boy, which means this year marks the character’s 30th anniversary. Much like Kirby himself, the series taken many different forms over the years, but his first Switch outing is also the first fully 3D mainline Kirby game ever, and longtime developer HAL Laboratory has pulled out all the stops for its mascot’s big bash.
Kirby is undoubtedly one of Nintendo’s more kid-focused franchises, but Kirby and the Forgotten Land is an inventive, irresistibly upbeat and often very funny platform adventure that anyone with a Switch can enjoy.
Suck it up
Kirby and the Forgotten Land kicks off with the perfectly round puffball having his day ruined when he’s sucked into a vortex, suddenly finding himself a long way from home in a (mostly) abandoned post-apocalyptic world where nature and the man(or, whatever)-made have merged. Think The Last of Us, minus the zombies and the unrelenting bleakness, and you’re halfway there. The Waddle Dees (the native species of Kirby’s home planet) have been captured and it’s up to Kirby to rescue them and find a way home. You know the drill.
On the face of it Kirby doesn’t appear to have much heroic potential. He waddles rather than runs, doesn’t have a weapon, and definitely can’t butt-stomp like a certain plumber. But if you’ve played any Kirby game in the past you’ll know that his secret weapon is his Copy Ability. Kirby can inhale enemies and in doing so take on their unique talents. Suck up a sword-wielding enemy and he becomes a swordsman. Gobble down a mole and he can suddenly drill through the ground. Eat a fire enemy and he harnesses their geothermal energy to spew lava at anyone in his way.
Swallowing different enemies to gain their abilities is key to both progressing through the levels, solving environmental puzzles, uncovering secrets and taking down unreasonably large bosses. And once you’ve unlocked one, you’ll start to find hidden blueprints that when given to a blacksmith in Waddle Dee Town (Kirby and the Forgotten Land’s ever-evolving base) can be used to make them even more powerful. When upgraded, the sword hilariously balloons in size to something that wouldn’t look out of place in Elden Ring, while the bomb ability will chain bombs together so you can deal far more damage. The first blueprint for the ice-blowing ability sees Kirby’s freezing cold breath form snowmen that can be launched towards baddies.
Upgrading your abilities and seeing Kirby turn into an increasingly formidable blob (complete with some truly excellent outfits) is extremely fun, so you’ll want to work your way through Treasure Road, a series of timed mini-levels that pop up as you progress, as the stones given as rewards for completing these are what you use to pay for your blueprint scrolls to be activated. Each one focuses on a specific ability, and later in the game they can get surprisingly challenging.
What a Mouthful
Kirby’s copy-cat skillset doesn’t end with the power to inhabit his foes. As revealed in a trailer during the February Nintendo Direct, new for this game is Mouthful Mode, which allows Kirby to swallow far larger items and obstacles than is sensible and effectively become them.
Inhale a car and Kirby turns into a jumping car. Swallow a vending machine and Kirby is a walking vending machine that fires fizzy drink cans as projectiles. Activate Mouthful Mode next to a pipe and he becomes a giant water balloon. In a few brilliant sequences he briefly transforms into a plane of sorts, but our favourite is simply called Ring Mouth, and that’s exactly what it sounds like.
Seeing this adorable pink ball freakishly mutate throughout the game never stops being funny, and every time we saw something new glowing in the world indicating it was Mouthful-ready we felt quite excited. “So you’re saying we can turn Kirby into a barrel, roll down that slope and smash through the wall??” Yep. It’s gloriously silly stuff.
HAL Laboratory should be applauded for consistently coming up with new Mouthful puzzles that are imaginative without ever being particularly taxing. The game wants you to see everything it has to offer, but you’ll still feel smart for noticing when the environment can be manipulated by whatever Kirby has just shoved into his pink gob. With the other half of our available gaming time currently dedicated to FromSoftware’s discourse-dominating masterpiece, Kirby and the Forgotten Land’s commitment to making sure you are only ever having a nice time makes it the perfect accompaniment. If we’re being greedy, we wish there were just a few more Mouthful moments.
Kirb your enthusiasm
Kirby and the Forgotten Land’s early trailers seemed to hint at Super Mario Odyssey-style open levels to explore, but in reality this is more like a Super Mario 3D World, with mostly linear courses littered with secrets that reward player curiosity. It makes for a very easy-going platformer that younger players will have a great time with, but only those who take their time and master each Copy Ability will reach the end of a level with every hidden objective ticked off.
This is not a difficult game. Kirby’s ability to fly means that walking him carelessly off the edge of the level is an easily rescuable error, while you can hold a button to block at any time, greatly reducing damage. But that’s not to say some of the more epic multi-stage boss fights won’t test you at all. You’ll face off against angry ballerina ducks who attack you like a tornado, a tiger with claws like knives and a screen-filling gorilla, to name just a few.
We had to get familiar with Kirby’s slow-mo dodge roll to avoid getting stomped, especially later in the game. That said, once Kirby starts rolling into boss battles with fully upgraded abilities he’s a force to be reckoned with, and some of them are so ludicrously powerful that it does take away some of the spectacle.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land is another Nintendo Switch game that both shines a slightly unpleasant light on the console’s now aging hardware, and shows how vibrant world design can soon make you forgive any technical shortcomings. On your journey through the Forgotten Land you’ll visit abandoned shopping malls where vegetation runs wild, an eerily empty carnival and a sun-scorched desert wasteland. Some low-res textures here and there don’t seem to matter when a level opens with a gorgeous wide shot that you’d happily display on your wall. In its best moments Kirby and the Forgotten Land does some really nice things with lighting and camera angles, and its visuals really pop on the Switch OLED. The music is moreishly hummable throughout, too.
We can’t talk about the very end of the game, but when you factor in all the optional levels, Kirby’s latest adventure is a surprisingly meaty one. And as you rescue Waddle Dees their town will grow in size, unlocking new mini-games, shops, a cinema, and eventually a colosseum where you can take on any previously beaten bosses in sequence. Longtime Kirby fans will run into a familiar face here, too. There’s plenty of content to enjoy once the credits roll, and while we weren’t able to test it during review, there is also a co-op mode that lets two players experience the game together.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land verdict
If you like your platformers to test your limits then you’re better off with Donkey Kong or Mario than Kirby’s big 3D outing. While not a total walk in the park, Kirby and the Forgotten Land is about as breezy as Nintendo games get, and all the better for it.
The joy of this game is upgrading Kirby’s abilities and seeing an adorable pink creature gradually transform into an unstoppable swiss army knife of destruction that makes quick work of anything in his way. Mouthful Mode, meanwhile, is Nintendo at its weird and wonderful best.
If you’ve got young children we’d struggle to think of a better first game to let them have at, but Nintendo fans of all ages will be grinning from start to finish.
Not particularly challenging, but Kirby’s first Switch outing is very easy to love
Imaginative abilities that improve as the game goes on
Mouthful Mode is hilarious
Some really nice design
You soon become very overpowered
Not a graphical showcase
Mostly very easy