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Game Review: Kirby Mass Attack

By / Posted on 19 October 2011

Kirby Mass AttackWhen all is said and done, the Nintendo DS will be remembered as one of the greatest videogame platforms in the history of home entertainment. Beyond expanding gaming to whole new demographics with intuitive touch-screen controls and unconventional “non-games” like Brain Age and Nintendogs, the DS had possibly the greatest variety of consistently great major studio games since the Super Nintendo, along with a slew of wild experimental new games that never would have been given a chance on other infrastructure. The hardcore Japanese gaming set had more Square-Enix RPGs on the DS than any other platform, most under the popular titles Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest or Kingdom Hearts (plus the excellently original The World Ends With You). There were a slew of Mario titles, two original Zelda games, even Guitar Hero found its way to the dual-screened populist handheld. And then there was Kirby.

Kirby was originally designed as a portable series, for quick play by young Nintendo gamers, with bright bouncy characters and peppy music that lent itself to the joy of the outdoors more than the home console experience. The original Game Boy (along with its upgrade Game Boy Color) saw an amazing six games under the “Kirby” umbrella between 1992 and 2000 (though most of those were spin-offs like Kirby’s Pinball Land and Kirby’s Block Ball, a breakout/Arkanoid clone). Nintendo just released their fourth Kirby title for the DS, which is also the second of three original Kirby games within a calendar year (give or take a week), Kirby Mass Attack. The lone portable between the Wii’s younger-skewing Kirby’s Epic Yarn and four-player co-op extravaganza Kirby’s Return to Dreamland, Mass Attack does away with traditional button-controls along with directly controlling the iconic pink puff. The reason here is that Dreamland’s hero has been split into ten miniature versions of himself whom are all under the control of your mighty stylus. Tap an area to make all the Kirbys walk there. Tap an enemy for them all to dog-pile onto the opponent (being so small, the li’l Kirbys do not have the massive vacuous centers that allow full-size Kirby to suck in his enemies/obstacles). Flick on individual Kirbys to shoot them off in specific directions to get to hard-to-reach platforms or break through obstacles.

The good news is that, despite being another experiment with design, Mass Attack retains the core of the Kirby experience. Gameplay is easy to grasp but quickly becomes surprisingly daunting as enemies become more powerful. There are hidden collectables, of course, and you’ll need to tackle stages multiple times to gather them all, trying different routes and using the same manner of oblique thinking Kirby games have been implementing since Dreamland 2 to reach a few of them. The bad news is that the game is rather short, at a mere four “worlds,” after which progression is halted so that Kirby must travel back to all of the previous levels and collect any of the hidden rainbow tokens he missed the first time. Even after gathering the rainbow tokens, all that’s left is a quick rehash of the previous four boss fights and one final boss fight that is remarkably quick and unchallenging for a Kirby game (remember Nightmare from Kirby’s Adventure, Marx from Kirby Super Star, or Drawcia from Kirby Canvas Curse? Those were some intense boss fights).

The great news, though, is the collection of minigames that are unlocked as players collect tokens through the main game. Minigames have been a staple of the Kirby franchise since its second installment, 1993′s Kirby’s Adventure, which many people remember more fondly for the egg-swallowing and claw-grabbing minigames than for actually introducing Kirby’s signature ability to copy enemies powers. As a pink ball of fluff, Kirby and the rest of the Dreamland cast lend themselves marvelously to other types of play, which is perhaps why so many games in the franchise have been non-platforming spin-offs like Kirby’s Dream Course (golf), Kirby’s Avalanche (falling-block puzzle) and Kirby Air Ride (racing). There’s a whack-a-mole, count-the-Kirbys, and boss rush, among other games, but the most impressive are “Kirby Brawlball” — a pinball game centered around moving up through four different boss battle pinball tables (Heavy Lobster is a pushover, but Marx is appropriately slow and taxing) — and “Star Patrol EOS” — a top-down vertical shmup (shoot ‘em up) that would have been right at home on the Turbo-Grafix 16 or any 90′s arcade. These minigames are charming, addictive, and all-around fun, almost worth the price of admission alone without the main game.

Like every Nintendo console, the DS is seeing many of its most exciting and interesting games in these waning days of its life. If Mass Attack is to be Kirby’s final adventure on the little two-screened wonder, it is a fittingly joyous affair. The brevity of the main game is more than made up for by the variety of minigames that, in and of themselves, could be a whole ‘nother package of wonderful Kirby gameplay. Highly recommended for any gamer with a stomach for the adorable.

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.