It’s hard to believe that when Kirby was first introduced to the world in 1992, he didn’t even have the power to use copy-abilities. I must have beaten the original Dream Land and its New Game+ mode hundreds of times on family road trips, completely oblivious of the storied and lengthy history the series would one day have.
While fans beg for years to get a single Metroid spinoff, Kirby games are a god-given right, and our cup overfloweth with pink fluff. Somehow, that’s not a bad thing.
Kirby: Planet Robobot (3DS)
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Released: June 10, 2016
No no, don’t get your hopes up — Planet Robobot is still a remixed Kirby game. Instead of giant super abilities like Return to Dream Land, or [insert your chosen gimmick here], Kirby can don robot suits that have their own (limited) set of copy powers. Yes, the narrative still involves the same old gang, it’s still on Planet Popstar (albeit remixed in a digitized fashion), and the same simplistic platforming core is intact. As Gob Bluth and Tony Wonder would agree — same!
Not that it’s a bad thing. The hardworking HAL Laboratory has always said that Kirby is meant to be one of the most accessible franchises around, and that remains the case. The reason why these games haven’t had to change much is because they work, damn it. Floating around and absorbing powers that act similar to the ones enemies are demonstrating right in front of you is intuitive and fun to play.
The new powers Doctor, Poison, and ESP, like the additions in Triple Deluxe, all impact the formula in their own way. The former holds some really neat technical tricks (like saving a randomized attack for use at a later time), Poison is great for intense boss fights and some of the better puzzles in the game involving placing toxic puddles or gas clouds in strategic locations, and ESP is a nice throwback to a classic Nintendo character that I won’t spoil here, no matter how obvious it is.
The Robot idea, despite being a new coat of paint, is cute. Most levels admirably commit to the theme, and the suit itself can “inhale” (analyze, really) a smaller subset of powers that wield cool-looking character models. Ultimately though it is a power-up with a limited reigned-in impact — which is even more apparent for the on-rail vehicular sections. During certain points Kirby will need to morph into either a plane or a car for shmup and racing sections respectively, and they’re so by-the-numbers that they don’t fit the rest of the game.
With much of the same soundtrack, collectibles to find, and a canon goal game to play at the end of every level, Robobot plays it very safe, but I didn’t really find many dull moments in the campaign outside of the aforementioned robot bits. I loved uncovering the nuances of his powers, even old ones like the Archer. The team really has everything figured out at this point, and even though I could have worked my way through without consulting the in-game movelists and charts and learning new combos, I had a blast doing it.
The extras, often the best part of Kirby titles, also elevate Robobot a ‘lil bit. There’s a brief solo soiree called “3D Rumble,” which is an arena-like diversion. “Kirby Clash” is a boss rush of sorts that supports up to four players (with download play!), with a level-up system and multiple classes to master. Three additional meaty modes also unlock after completing the story (two more arenas and one time trial rush with Meta Knight) that are worth playing through at least once. Oh, and there’s nominal amiibo support if you care about that. I don’t think they’ll be getting their own games like the heavy-hitters in Triple Deluxe, but they’re worthwhile all the same.
While the robot motif comes in half-cocked, Planet Robobot is still a safe, serviceable Kirby game. After beating the story and reflecting on it, many elements felt like just going through the motions, but those motions haven’t gotten stale yet after nearly 25 years.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher. This piece was originally published on May 25, 2016.]