Kirby games these past years have been split between experimental releases that defy franchise conventions and periodic returns to the original formula that first made Kirby an important Nintendo property. I absolutely love strange and unique Kirby games like Mass Attack or Epic Yarn, since these games show Nintendo taking a mascot and adapting it to fit any muse that strikes them.
Meanwhile, games like Kirby Canvas Curse make me think that calls for new Nintendo IP are misguided. Just look at this unorthodox game released under one of Nintendo’s oldest labels! Kirby has proven that creativity and new gameplay ideas can manifest without a new character to represent them.
However, Kirby Triple Deluxe does not feature new gameplay ideas. It follows that same Kirby formula that’s existed since the Game Boy. It’s not a terrible formula, really, but I think it’s one of Nintendo’s weakest. It just never comes together the way great side-scrolling action games do. Kirby can fly indefinitely which takes the teeth out of platforming challenges. Levels end up generic because they need to be playable with any of the movesets in the game rather than being specifically designed around the mobility and weaknesses of just one. There are special puzzle rooms and collectable challenges that require use and mastery of specific powers, but long stretches of the main levels can be homogenous.
Think for a moment about other ‘90s side-scrolling classics. The great games that have stood the test of time featured levels that were very specifically built around the clumsy mechanics at the player’s disposal. Castlevania III’s levels would be child’s play to navigate through as one of the more mobile protagonists from recent iterations, but because the player can’t alter jump arcs or attack at angles, those levels are compelling and difficult. Kirby games have never had that interplay between mechanical limitations and obstacles and neither does Triple Deluxe.
That having been said, for what it’s worth, Kirby games are designed to be children’s games. They’re always fairly easy, they always clearly signpost objectives, and they always look and sound inviting. They’re quality, polished fun for the very young and there’s something to be said for a quality children’s game. For all that videogames are stigmatized as toys, most games are terrible for young players. Unnecessarily violent content, caustic online communities, complicated control schemes and a severe lack of positive role models are all standard in this industry.
So, even if a new Kirby formula game doesn’t excite me the way iterations in other old school franchises can, it has a place and I’m glad it exists. Somebody needs to make games for children that aren’t licensed from Nickelodeon. And admittedly, despite my complaints, I had fun with Kirby: Triple Deluxe anyway. This game may look like Kirby: Yet Another Return to Dreamland but it actually has as much in common with those strange touch-controlled adventures I liked so much on Nintendo’s last handheld.
See, Nintendo has a unique development pattern they follow. When the hardware division releases a new system, the software teams go to work finding ways to adapt Nintendo’s properties to maximize the new system’s unique features. When HAL Laboratories tried to fit Kirby to the Nintendo DS touch screen, they twice decided to build entirely new game systems rather than try and shoehorn touch gimmicks into the tried and true formula. This was probably for the best. But faced with the 3DS, HAL has been able to create a Kirby game that takes full advantage of the hardware features without straying from floating and monster swallowing.
The specific Nintendo 3DS features that Kirby Triple Deluxe leverages are the 3D top screen, the internal gyroscope, and StreetPassing. HAL has used the 3D very effectively with a wide array of foreground/background stage designs. Sometimes this is as simple as enemies and their projectiles flying forwards and backwards between the two, but often things get more involved. Platforms might be visible only in a mirror on the background, tanks chase Kirby while firing projectiles into the foreground, and weights and counterweights need to be balanced between both. In every level there’s something of this nature in play and it adds an extra layer of depth to the game.
The internal gyroscope isn’t used as often, but it’s used more effectively than most 3DS games to date. The game smoothly fades the 3D effect out any time Kirby enters a room with a tilt function tool, which resolves potential screen issues before they even arise. The tilt puzzles on display aren’t mind-blowing but they work well within the levels, the technology works flawlessly, and tilt sequences never overstay their welcome.
Finally, the StreetPass use, like the rest of the hardware specific features, is pleasant despite being insubstantial. There are keychain collectables hidden around the levels that take the form of nostalgic and recent Kirby sprites. It’s a very Smash Bros. kind of collectable right down to the keychain viewer where you can go to view your keychains. I don’t think too many people are going to be invested in getting every bizarre Kirby transformation and baddie, but it’s satisfying to watch the display case fill up and you can StreetPass to pick up rare keychains that are tough to track down otherwise.
So, even though Kirby Triple Deluxe looks as generic as these games come in screenshots and trailers, I’ve discovered it to be thoughtfully designed to get the most out of the 3DS. I might be sad that the gameplay fundamentals in Triple Deluxe didn’t change to fit the system like they did on the DS, but what HAL created here makes a lot of sense. Even though this isn’t necessarily a game made for me, it’s been made so well that it found a place in my heart anyway.
Food for thought:
1. The Super Smash Bros. similarities don’t end at the keychain collection. Kirby’s picked up a block and air dodge move on the shoulder buttons that’s extremely similar to smash brothers. There’s also a side mode that features some of Kirby’s more fleshed out move sets as permanent characters that plays like Smash, features a single player mode straight out of Smash 64, and I swear playing as sword Kirby in that mode is just playing Link in Smash Bros.
2. I tested playing with the 3D slider off and it would definitely be possible to play Kirby Triple Deluxe on a 2DS, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Few games benefit more from keeping that 3D slider cranked up.
3. Kirby Triple Deluxe follows in the recent footsteps of Kirby: Return to Dreamland and Kirby’s Epic Yarn in having an introductory movie that’s way nicer than a game like this really needs. I appreciate HAL putting in the extra context, since I really felt like all three of these movies did a good job of setting the tone for their respective games. However nothing here is as classic as “‘This grass feels funny,’ Kirby thought. ‘It feels like… pants.’”