enlarge † Don’t be fooled by this image: Kirby’s 3D adventure is far from an open world game. Kirby and the Forgotten Land was the first game I played for review after spending tens of hours in Elden Ring. That’s a bit like jumping from an ice bath straight into a pool heated to exactly your body temperature.
Like a warm pool, Kirby’s first full 3D adventure is so inviting you’ll hardly notice you’re playing a game at all. In true franchise tradition, the game offers little resistance and plenty of guidance through a real theme park filled to the brim with a wide variety of pleasurable distractions and secrets to discover.
In a way, it’s the anti-Elden Ring, a perfect palate cleanser for those who’ve overdosed on video game punishment lately.
A new dimension
From the start, the most striking thing about Forgotten Land is the contrast between the candy-covered characters and the dilapidated, semi-realistic setting. There’s a sense of surrealism as you see a pink blob fighting a giant hammer-wielding monkey amid crumbling, moss-covered buildings. Somehow the incongruity works though, and the game remains fun to watch the whole time.
While previous Kirby games have used 3D polygons to add some depth to their presentation, the franchise’s gameplay is generally limited to a single 2D plane (except for mini-games like Kirby 3D Rumble). Forgotten Land is a big step for the franchise that has been waiting decades for its Super Mario 64-style full-3D moment.
enlarge † Haven’t you always wanted to explore the dilapidated ruins of a shopping center with Kirby?
However, despite the added dimension, don’t expect a Super Mario Odyssey-style open world here. Nearly every level is still a mostly straight path from point A to point B, with very little room for unguided exploration or going back. You may encounter a short hidden branch along the way that leads back to the main path, but for the most part this is a decidedly Crash Bandicoot-esque take on 3D level design.
The player can’t even control the camera directly, because there is only one perspective that makes sense: the one that points forward. The game uses this quirk to its advantage and hides a lot of secrets in ways that are hard to spot from the fixed perspective.
enlarge † Levels that seem wide open are usually anything but.
Searching for those hidden bits in the busy landscape provides much of the optional challenge in the game. There is a seemingly endless number of collectibles to find, and while some are behind timer-based challenges, most simply have to be picked from the environment. In a way, that part of Forgotten Land is a bit reminiscent of a simple hidden object game.
Mo’ mouthful, mo’ trouble
Despite the game’s 3D expansion, Kirby’s signature ability to copy moves from certain swallowed enemies still stands out, at times offering multiple ways to defeat a boss or take on a challenge. For the most part, though, the “correct” ability is obvious and offered nearby – you’ll need the digging skill to dig under a fence, for example, or the ice ability to skate over lava.
This time, those skills can be permanently upgraded – bombs become homing bombs, a sword becomes a giant sword, and so on. Occasionally, these upgrades present trade-offs between power and speed that must be taken into account. Usually, though, they bolster Kirby to the point where some of the most overpowering abilities make it trivial to roll carelessly through entire screens of enemies.
enlarge † Screenshots you can hear.
To earn the items needed to unlock these skill upgrades, you’ll need to work your way through dozens of short, thematic “treasure trail” phases that run parallel to the main game. These levels essentially serve as comprehensive tutorials that explain advanced techniques while providing an additional time-based challenge for players looking to test their reflexes.
In Forgotten Land, Kirby’s abilities expand (pun intended) with the eerily named ‘mouthful mode’. Instead of stealing powers from enemies, Kirby can now wrap his jelly-like body around specific objects in the environment, while taking on a new shape and themed moves. These “mouthful” objects range from the straightforward (a car that powers racing minigames) to the mundane (a traffic cone that can tip over to squeeze through cracks in the ground) or the bizarre (a giant staircase that can waddle around and fall over). crush enemies).