Before Kirby Star Allies was released, I wasn’t sure if I was really going to buy it or not. Kirby has always been one of my favourite Nintendo mascots, but the last three main-series Kirby games have been basically the same game with a new gimmick and different sub-games. And honestly, you can say that about most of the series in general. But Star Allies’ big hook is that it is a multiplayer-focused game (very similar to Return to Dream Land), and me being more of a lone wolf, I didn’t see a ton of appeal there.
Obviously, I did end up buying the game in the end, because that’s what I do. And I turned out to be pleasantly surprised with the result! While the core gameplay remains faithful to what you’d expect from the Kirby series, HAL turned the formula on its ear just enough to make Star Allies feel like a fresh take on Kirby. So today, I want to take a quick look at five of the things that surprised me the most about Kirby Star Allies.
#6 – Stage structure
This one is relatively small, but I really like how they tweaked the stage layouts for Star Allies. Every main Kirby game since Kirby’s Adventure has followed a similar structure: the game is broken into six or eight worlds with five to eight stages each, followed by a boss. You follow each in a linear path until the end. Sometimes you get to wander around a hub for each world, and sometimes it’s just a linear menu. This is how 90% of stage-based video games work, so not remarkable either way.
In Star Allies, however, the first thing you notice is that the first world, Dream Land, takes place on a 3D map that you can move around on freely. Once you’ve beaten the boss here, the scope zooms out and the next world is the whole of Popstar. Next is the Jambastion fortress, and then finally a whole galaxy is open to you to explore on a warpstar. There isn’t much to find outside of some extra star bits, but I really like how each “world” section scales bigger and bigger. It doesn’t completely break the mold, but rather just tweaks the formula enough to feel unique.
It’s also a nice little side-note that bosses are sprinkled around much more liberally, rather than just being the final challenge for each world.
#5 – The Ultimate Choice
Ever since Kirby Super Star, Kirby games have culminated in an unlockable mode called The Arena, a boss rush mode that pits you against every boss and mini-boss in any given game (and even in games that don’t feature The Arena, there is usually a very basic Boss Endurance mode). As of Kirby Super Star Ultra, there has also been a True Arena that unlocks afterward, where you face a more difficult challenge and maybe even a secret boss or two. Even in these “baby-easy” Kirby games, the True Arenas are often too hard for me to beat.
Star Allies mixes it up by renaming the mode The Ultimate Choice, and this has dual meanings: not only do you get to select your character from the massive roster of Kirby and his friends, but you also get to choose your intensity level. Each time you scale up, you have to face more bosses, and you’re given fewer healing items. On the two hardest settings, your life bar is cut by 25% and then 50% respectively. Again, this is just a twist on a long-standing feature, but I like that they’re shaking things up a little to make it more interesting.
#4 – Guest Star ???? Star Allies Go!
Another longstanding tradition in Kirby games is to give you a “hard mode” after you beat the game. Typically this was the exact same, except Kirby had half a health bar and maybe there were some new enemy sprites. Nightmare in Dream Land retooled this mode by letting you play as Meta-Knight instead, and challenged you to complete the entire game in a single sitting. It also recorded your top times, which made for a great speedrun mode. Later games would use a similar template (but without bumping up the difficulty), and Triple Deluxe even let you play as King Dedede in this mode.
I wasn’t sure how Star Allies would handle such a thing, but it completely surpassed my expectations. Guest Star ???? Star Allies Go! is still a mode where you’re challenged to get to the end of the game as fast as you can, but you get to choose from all of the ally characters (which seems obvious in retrospect). The game even gives you different challenges and stages based on what powers your chosen character has, and there are several unique stages for the special Dream Allies. The other special gimmick of this one is that you begin each stage with half the usual health, power, and speed, but you can level up each stat by finding special hearts hidden around the stages. So do you go for the best time and ignore the hearts? Or will you take the extra time to look for secrets and power yourself up? It’s a whole new level of depth!
Plus, man, that name. So gloriously ridiculous.
#3 – Spider ability
In Kirby’s long history, he’s racked up quite the arsenal of powers. Acquired by gobbing up enemies or touching a like statue, Kirby has access to a whopping total of 29 different abilities in Star Allies. That’s quite a lot! However, since they needed to hold a lot of those spaces for legacy powers, there are only four new abilities. Festival is a lousy one-use screen-clearer. Artist is more of a support ability than anything, and Stick can do some real cool things but is tough to master. The one that really stood out to me, however, is Spider. He dons a purple top hat instead of red-and-blue tights, but Kirby’s Spider ability is still really amazing.
Functionally, Spider is fairly similar to Ice. Kirby shoots out webbing, which will encase any enemies that get hit. Kirby can then kick them off the screen by knocking into them. Spider also carries a little bit of Suplex DNA though, as you can also grab a webbed up enemy to slam it around and mess up any other enemies that may be too close. Spider also has a web-bounce double-jump move, which is fun, but seems redundant when Kirby can just, you know, fly. Spider’s only weakness is that its friend ability is that same web bounce, which is necessary maybe twice ever, and then completely useless otherwise. Despite that, I found Spider to be one of the most fun abilities in Star Allies, placing second only to my absolute favourite Kirby ability of all, Beetle.
#2 – Void Termina
The final bosses in Kirby games are usually very cool, and are oftentimes ridiculously challenging when compared to how easy the rest of the game has been up to that point. HAL has taken to giving final bosses three or four forms, having each game end with a real gauntlet of challenges. I don’t think anything will ever top the final wave of bosses in Planet Robobot though, where not only do you face off against several throwbacks to classic Kirby games, but the last phase becomes a Star Fox-like space shooter. It’s really quite incredible, and I was filled with nothing but joy while playing through it.
Star Allies comes close to being as good, but doesn’t quite hit the same bar. For one, they’ve dropped most of the callbacks. You can’t throw in that kind of fanservice in every game, or it becomes less special. But the fight against Void Termina is very impressive nonetheless. You’re put in a third-person space shooter again, but it’s more Landmaster than Arwing this time around. The goal is to blast the heck out of the massive Void Termina’s glowing weak points, which will pop open his head so that you can hop inside of him and fight his core. That core, I might add, shifts between looking like Kirby and Dark Matter, so I don’t even know what that’s trying to imply. It’s a really intense fight that maybe isn’t quite as challenging as Queen Sectonia, but it still makes for a great note to end the game on.
#1 – DLC
I know, it may be just as surprising that I’m so happily surprised by DLC, of all things. Nintendo has been embracing the DLC philosophy wholeheartedly as of late, and this will be the first Kirby game to ever benefit from additional content. To sweeten the deal, Kirby Star Allies’ DLC falls into that wonderful category that allows you to expand your game for the low, low price of free. It’s such a nice gesture to just give this stuff away, and truth be told, the announcement of DLC is what actually convinced me to buy Star Allies in the first place.
The first free update to the game came a couple weeks after release, and added three new playable characters to the roster: Rick&Kine&Coo, Gooey, and Marx. This hit me right in the nostalgia spot, as they’re all from Kirby games that I grew up with and consider to be some of my favourites in the series. Marx in particular stood out, as I’ve played Kirby Super Star more than any other Kirby game, and Marx has always been my favourite final boss. Let’s not even get into the discussion of how cool it is that they included a final boss as a playable friend! The DLC guys add even more to the game than their distinctive play styles (Marx is OPAF), as the Guest Star mode has a number of areas that are unique to each one. Data for at least two more DLC character packs have been found in the game’s code, but the developers have also stated that there is going to be plenty more DLC in the future, so who even knows what other awesome things they’ll be adding!
Before we wrap up, I’d also like to give a short mention to the music in Kirby Star Allies. It’s not at all surprising that the soundtrack is great, because Kirby games always have excellent music (see Kirby and The Rainbow Curse specifically). Star Allies adds yet another stellar soundtrack to the mix, with some absolutely beautiful tracks, many of which have an unusually ethereal quality to them. The Planet Frostak theme in particular is a gorgeous rearrangement of the Rainbow Resort theme from Kirby’s Adventure, and may be one of my favourite pieces of music ever.
And so, that about sums that up. While Kirby Star Allies isn’t exactly a revolution for the Kirby series, it does so much right, and puts all sort of fun twists on established features. For a game that I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to play, I am very happy that I did because it was a terrific ride, and I know that I’m going to keep playing it for some time to come. Those 29+ runs of Guest Star mode aren’t just going to complete themselves!