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Kirby is no stranger to reinvention. His ability to transform himself into all sorts of shapes and sizes aside, the games he’s in often experiment with new settings and gimmicks as well – whether it’s rolling a limbless Kirby with the DS stylus in Canvas Curse, piloting mechs in Planet Robobot, or fundamentally changing how he transforms in Epic Yarn. Kirby and the Forgotten Land might seem like another addition to that list at first glance, this time warping the traditionally 2D structure into 3D levels. But in reality, this platformer feels like the next big step for a more classic Kirby formula rather than an upheaval of it, and it’s one that skillfully translates the things I love about Kirby into a fresh – but still familiar – new perspective.

The Kirby series isn’t one I would have pinned as the type for a trip to a post-apocalyptic setting, but after a wormhole opens above Dream Land, the ruined remains of a seemingly human society are exactly where we find our pink protagonist. Amidst the rusted buildings and pleasantly vibrant overgrowth is a group of Waddle Dees looking to settle down in their new home… or they would be, if they weren’t all immediately kidnapped by monsters. And with that simple but effective setup out of the way, it’s up to Kirby to venture through this dilapidated world to rescue as many as he can and help them to rebuild their town.

Doing so requires you to float your way through a series of linear levels, sucking up enemies to steal their powers and finding secrets along the way. Obviously the shift from 2D changes how exactly you go about doing that, but the movement, combat, and general way alternate paths or items are hidden are all recognizable and satisfying – others have likened it to Mario’s own perspective shift in Super Mario 3D World, and I don’t think it’s an unfair comparison to make. It’s also a joy to track down the Waddle Dees hiding in optional offshoots and secret alcoves, especially since new buildings will spring up in town as its population increases, giving you the opportunity to purchase item buffs, unlock ability upgrades, and even play a few cute little minigames like fishing.

The levels themselves blend platforming puzzles with combat throughout, and the dozen or so copy abilities you get by inhaling certain enemies have amusing roles to play in both. Combat is fairly simple, but the different flavor each ability brings keeps it interesting whether you’re burning baddies with fire or shooting them with a literal gun. On the platforming side, options like the ice ability let you safely skate across hazardous terrain while the sword can cut certain ropes to open new paths. All of these abilities are used in consistently clever ways, with every level pushing you to swap between them as different situations or gated sections arise.

Forgotten Land can be an unexpectedly lovely game.

Forgotten Land isn’t a very challenging game (even on its optimistically named “Wild Mode” difficulty), but it’s far from a mindless one – not like Yoshi’s latest outing in Crafted World, for example, which was fun but had some levels where you could essentially just hold the stick to the right until you reached the goal. Here, harder enemies push you to move around and make the most of each ability’s limited move set, especially during the handful of creatively constructed boss fights, and secrets can range from being hidden practically in plain sight to being surprisingly well tucked away. I only died once or twice in my roughly 10-hour playthrough, but after the first couple of stages it was rare for me to 100% a level on my initial run through it, and I was frequently tempted back in to dig up everything I had missed. That said, it can sometimes be a little unclear when something is a secret path or just a gap in the terrain decorations with an annoying invisible wall, but that was only an occasional inconvenience.

Those decorations and some of the mechanics around them are distinguished by the themed “worlds” every stage is sorted into, including settings like a water-focused beach area, a snowy landscape with buildings inspired more by British architecture, and an illuminated carnival ground. Forgotten Land can be an unexpectedly pretty game, especially during its personality-filled cutscenes, with a great use of color throughout and some elaborate locations at times – be those complex circus rides or rundown mall interiors. But while each world is enjoyably varied, the post-apocalyptic setting as a whole isn’t necessarily the most thrilling one. Kirby inevitably ends up jumping across different flavors of rusty rooftop or crumbling city street in every world, and this wasteland just isn’t as cool as any of the fantastical places he’s visited in his own universe.

That extends somewhat to the new “Mouthful” abilities he can use, which includes the now-notorious car transformation. These are everyday objects that Kirby can’t quite swallow, instead altering his body while his mouth is wrapped around them (gross) to let you navigate a specific area ahead of you. Call me old fashioned, but Kirby mostly turning into a vending machine would be more odd than it was clever if it weren’t for the fun way these Mouthful powers are used and revisited throughout the campaign. The car lets you drive fast through some exciting tracks designed for speed, the vending machine slows your movement but lets you rapidly fire cans out of your mouth, and one hilarious circular object basically turns Kirby into a giant air blaster that can be used to spin fans, knock over enemies, and even power little boats through the water. I’m not sure how Developer HAL Laboratory did it, but they managed to make traffic cones, scissor lifts, and even large, nondescript metal pipes into genuinely entertaining transformations.

You’re also given additional opportunities to test your expertise with all of Kirby’s powers (Mouthful or not) in the special Treasure Road challenges between levels. These bonus rooms give you a specific ability in a race against time, rewarding you with a special star if you can make it to the end of an obstacle course fast enough and a handful of the coin-based currency if you can do so under a certain target time. The Treasure Roads ended up being some of my favorite parts of Forgotten Land, acting as quick bites of optional challenge that often made the smartest use of what each transformation could do. For example, the fact that the cutter ability’s blade boomerangs back to you might just add a little extra damage during fights in a regular level, but in a Treasure Road mastering that behavior could be the difference between hitting the target time or not. The coin reward for doing so is a fairly insubstantial draw on its own, but that didn’t stop me from frequently trying to refine my movement and push my time below it anyway.

Those stars you get feed into another neat addition too: blueprints hidden in levels (or sometimes just handed to you after big fights) which will unlock upgraded versions of specific abilities that you can buy with stars and coins, like giving your cutter two blades instead of one. That helps keep them fresh all the way through, even if it very rarely changes how you’ll actually think about using them in a given situation. Thanks to my relatively thorough playstyle I always had enough stars and coins to unlock all of them as soon as I found their blueprints until nearly the very end, which means the process of going back to town to pay for an upgrade after finding each blueprint was largely symbolic – but hey, the point is that my fire ability makes me look like a dragon now.

Forgotten Land also has co-op play, but the way that’s been implemented is one of its few letdowns. It’s nice that a second player can hop in at pretty much any time, but doing so feels very much like a “younger sibling” mode. Player two can only play as Bandana Waddle Dee, who wields a spear and disappointingly can’t use any abilities, which past Kirby games have often allowed your partner to do. To make matters worse, the camera remains focused squarely on Kirby with no regard for the second player, frequently causing them to fall off screen and teleport back to you like the world’s shortest yo-yo. It’s still a fun time to run through levels or boss fights in co-op, it’s just a far cry from the best co-op a Kirby game has seen.

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Author: Tom Marks

❤️⬇️ Help Us Grow ⬇️❤️
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