The release of Kirby Fighters 2 was a bit of a surprise. Stealthily dropped shortly after it was discovered on a page on the Nintendo site, the pink puffball’s latest hasn’t had the rollout you’d expect from a game with any expectations from the publisher. Of course, there are silver linings for this approach! Players don’t have any expectations either, so there’s no high bar to reach. It can just be the game it is. Usually, this is a tactic we see when the game didn’t turn out as well as hoped, but occasionally, you’ll find a gem.
Is Kirby Fighters 2 a gem? Really, it depends on who you are.
The second collaboration between HAL Laboratory and Dillon’s Rolling Western franchise developer Vanpool, Kirby Fighters 2 follows Super Kirby Clash as a Nintendo Switch follow-up to an enhanced 3DS minigame. It is, in simplest terms, a lot like Super Smash Bros. and other platform fighters. Of course, Kirby is in those games already, so it’s up to Kirby Fighters 2 to offer something different.
And it tries! While Super Smash Bros. often feels torn between the competitive scene and a more casual experience, Kirby Fighters 2 doubles down on the casual. There’s no “For Glory” here: Kirby’s all fun. The game has gimmick stages with silly hazards, like spring hands and pixelated bosses from old games. Items are on and integral to combat balance. The end product is something that feels more like the Smash competitors of old, such as DreamMix TV World Fighters, than it does esports-focused games like Rivals of Aether.
It’s also all about teams. Two-on-two is the default way to play Kirby Fighters 2, both in the story mode and in local and online multiplayer. It’s not just to be different: move sets are relatively simple, but they’re balanced and interesting in the context of the partner with which you pair them. Maybe your Beam is best at ranged charge attacks, so you need an up-close, crowd-control partner like Sword to keep you safe. Maybe you want to focus on vertical attacks with Spear, so you need a buddy who can handle that strategy too. The computer-controlled partners aren’t the brightest, but they can generally handle keeping opponents busy, and the balance in single-player might lead you to pick different roles than if you’d joined a human teammate.
Teams also let Kirby Fighters 2 be all about the smoochin’. While recent games have featured Kirby sharing health and abilities with pals, it’s usually been sort of nonspecific about the whole thing. Not this game! Kirby Fighters 2 is explicit: that’s a smooch right there. Kirby likes to smooch all friends and some rivals. Kirby’s a smooch fiend.
You’ll want to smooch, too, because duplicating power-ups and sharing health boosts is a great way to win. As is tradition in the long-running forgiving franchise (well, since Kirby’s Dream Land 2, anyway), Kirby Fighters 2 keeps you alive as much as it can. If you go down, you soon return as a ghost. Dealing damage with the ghost allows you to revive yourself and keep in the fight. The time it takes to return increases and you revive with little health, so it’s not a total given that you can win, but it ultimately leads to a more welcoming battle with many more smooch opportunities.
The “main” mode of Kirby Fighters 2, if there is one, is Story Mode. There isn’t exactly a “story” here either, but it’s a campaign of successive battles as you ascend a tower to take on the teamed-up King Dedede and Meta Knight. This mode is something of a roguelike. You and a friend (either human or CPU) will start with only base-level abilities and little health, but between each match, you’re given a choice of a random selection of upgrades. Do you want more attack power? Are you seeking a boost against certain types of foes? Do you just need the one-time health recovery? You’ll stack these up as you head up the tower, and it generally feels very good to find your optimal build in the chaos.
Each “chapter” of the mode presents an increasingly higher number of stages, meaning tougher foes but also more opportunities to upgrade. You can stop anytime and save, and you can even retry levels if you fall. It’s forgiving and understanding in those ways, as you’d expect from Kirby, but getting through without a complete defeat rewards you with higher scores, more level-up progress and a special gold icon to indicate your success. (The post-credits “final chapter” offers a higher challenge and no retries, if you’re looking to really test yourself.)
While you can play locally with up to four players, Kirby Fighters 2 also offers a surprisingly competent online mode. It’s simple matchmaking: with friends or with anyone, and team-based or free-for-all. Getting thrown in with a random partner can go either really well or really poorly, in our experience, and the online community for the game is already largely hyper-competent. So get your bearings before you try that! Or be ready to almost never pull off a move. No matter how you play, it’s clear that a pal or three is a nice way to play, and that Kirby Fighters makes more sense on Switch than it did 3DS as a result.
With the middling response to Super Kirby Clash, we wonder whether Kirby Fighters 2 was at one point also a free-to-play game. As a paid title, it’s mostly better: unlocking everything quickly through play is pleasant, and the alternate costumes for certain fighters are fun and whimsical. One downside: a smaller player base, and fewer friends to join you for play. Still, it feels like the right move for the game, even if some touches (like the alternate costumes) suggest it wasn’t always the plan.
So why would you play Kirby Fighters 2 over Super Smash Bros.? It’s small and focused. It’s clearly on the same page with an all-fun play session. Gooey is in it. HAL and Vanpool clearly hope at least one of those will resonate with you.
And if all else fails, they hope you like the smoochin’.
Kirby Fighters 2 is available now on the Nintendo Switch eShop for $19.99.