Kirby and the Forgotten Lands is a game of big swings, and I’m not just talking about Hammer Kirby. This is the first game in the series to introduce full 3D worlds for the pink puffball to explore. It’s also implemented a new feature called Mouthful Mode that reminds me of Mario’s Cappy from Mario Odyssey. The team at HAL Laboratory is even taking the adventure away from Planet Popstar and dropping Kirby onto a post-apocalyptic new world, fittingly called New World.
It’s a formula that gives the developers tons of room to play around with and leads to some innovative, new ideas for the franchise. That, of course, doesn’t mean everything works perfectly, but I can’t help appreciating a long-time series that’s willing to switch things up and take a few risks.
Mouthful Mode is a tasty treat
My favorite Kirby game is Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards. The love for that game largely comes from the introduction of Power Combos. The ability to mix and match abilities was always a treat, and the game quickly became my most-rented game during the N64 era. When I first saw the Forgotten Lands, I was hopeful that Mouthful Mode would provide similar good times.
Fortunately, the mode is a hit. HAL Labs uses the feature to provide players with several new ways to play Kirby. By now, most have seen Kirby inhale a car and drive around, but the opportunities for fun don’t end there. I won’t spoil too much, but I will say my personal favorite implementation is the levels where Kirby swallows a lightbulb and has to traverse a dark room. These slow down the pace and, in some respects, turn Kirby into a pseudo horror game. You can’t fight, you can’t run, you just have to creep through the dark, hoping an enemy doesn’t see your bright bulb.
Outside of Mouthful Mode, this is relatively standard Kirby, but in a 3D world. That has a big impact on level design as it greatly increases the places developers can hide secrets, and Kirby has a ton of them to find. The core of Forgotten Lands sees you trying to find Waddle Dees and taking them back to Waddle Dee Town to rebuild it. Each level has 10 or so Waddle Dees for you to track down. Some of these you get by simply finishing the level, while others need to be found by uncovering hidden areas or completing objectives.
You won’t know what any of these objectives are heading into a level, and Forgotten Lands only tells you one of the hidden objectives once you complete a level. Since there are three, you’d need to finish each level four times if you aren’t able to puzzle the objectives out on your own. This rewards creative exploration and promotes replayability in a way that keeps things fresh.
On top of that, Kirby’s Copy abilities can be upgraded by finding Blueprints and taking them to Waddle Dee’s Weapon Shop. By the end of the game, your abilities can be upgraded several times, making hopping back into old levels a breeze. Bosses that once took some time (though not much skill, as we’ll get to soon), will melt away quickly. To counteract this power creep, HAL Labs has also added several super levels for the post-game that feature powered-up enemies and mash-up multiple levels into one to give a bigger challenge for your newly-acquired powers.
The game needs these tougher levels because most of the base game is incredibly easy. While the exploration shows off HAL’s ingenuity, the moment-to-moment combat is lackluster. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Forgotten Lands is a great game to play with a non-gamer or kid, but I found it a bit too easy, even on the tougher difficulty setting. It didn’t ruin my good time, but it did make certain aspects — particularly boss battles — feel boring. Why would I want to sit around blocking every attack by holding down one button until I get an opening to attack when I could be out filling my mouth full of all kinds of silly objects and solving inventive environmental puzzles? It’s in these moments that Forgotten Lands starts to lose its fun.
In saying all of that, the game’s biggest issues are mostly technical. Or, to be more accurate, the limitations of the Switch are glaring. The Forgotten Lands often chugs in large-scale fights. Thankfully, these don’t happen too often, but it was certainly noticeable, especially in segments where you need to time jumps as enemies fill up the screen. The slowdown threw me off and made those areas exceedingly frustrating. The game has a beautiful look, but I couldn’t help thinking how much better it would pop even more on better hardware.
Additionally, I also feel like I’ve lost at least a day of my life buttoning through needless cutscenes and dialog bubbles. Look, I’m all for explaining everything to the player, but do I really need to sit through three cutscenes every time I get a Rare Star? Do we really have to have Kirby spend so long at the end of each level dancing and slowly showing me everything I earned and unlocked? It’s like you’re watching an episode of WWE RAW. After every commercial break, the announcers have to explain what just happened just in case someone is coming in late. Sure, everyone is on the same page at this point, but after a few hours, Kirby’s insistence on explaining itself over and over again starts to grate.
Again, none of this is game-breaking, but the annoyances start to add up over Kirby’s 15 or so hour run time. It doesn’t make Forgotten Lands a bad game, but these technical issues and quirky design choices keep it from reaching the heights of other Nintendo games for me. I still think Forgotten Lands is absolutely worth playing. If nothing else, more people need to see the truly bonkers ending this game lands on. Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that the final few boss fights wouldn’t feel out of place in Final Fantasy VII Remake Part 2. Kirby goes full anime, which might not be a surprise for anyone watching Kirby lore videos on YouTube, but it really comes out of nowhere this time. Never did I think I would be looking up the Roche Limit after finishing a Kirby game.
Kirby and the Forgotten Lands is undoubtedly a good game but is held back by the technical shortcomings of its hardware and a few frustrating design choices. Nevertheless, they’ve found a winner in Mouthful Mode and I can’t wait to see what HAL Labs does next with the pink puffball and his companions.
8 / 10
|+||Mouthful Mode is Cappy turned up to 11|
|+||The story is bonkers in the best possible way|
|+||Creative exploration proves 3D was the way to go|
|–||A relatively easy base game, which makes combat a bit boring|
|–||The Switch’s technical shortcomings are on full display|