Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Kirby's Adventure Wii

Developer: HAL Laboratory
Format: Wii

Score: 6.7

Kirby’s Adventure Wii is a game of sickening ultraviolence wrapped in the aesthetic of a loveable children’s platformer. At one point our titular pink blob unleashes a machete almost as big as the screen, slicing through harmless-looking sleeping enemies with barely disguised glee. Later on, a devastating flame attack is responsible for the biggest moment of rampant deforestation in videogaming history. This is without mentioning the automatic cannon you frequently stumble upon – held above your head, it decimates everything in your path as you nonchalantly walk ahead, the in-game massacre massaged by trippy, vibrant colours. Kirby’s Adventure Wii is, in these moments, a game of primal, unabashed joy.

Almost six years in the making, HAL Laboratory’s latest treatment of their most iconic character (Epic Yarn, released earlier this year, was a co-production with Good-Feel) is, as the North American title of the game may suggest, a Return To Dream Land. It’s a return to both the classic Kirby feel and design – a 2D platformer, in which the central mechanic remains the power to inhale enemies and, as is often the case, absorb and copy their abilities. These copy abilities are as ever the star of the show, and for the initial hours of play there’s great fun in discovering the latest new power, and the different ways in which they can be used to wreck havoc on the unsuspecting denizens of planet Popstar.

Needle, for example, leaves Kirby looking like an extra from Apocalypto, all vicious spikes and melee attacks, while the sword ability dresses our pink friend in a green Link-style hat. It’s a cute nod to other videogames that is also reflected in the fighter power, which all but turns Kirby into Ryu, replete with dragon punches and fetching bandana. These abilities aren’t all as gratifying to use as the examples above, and once the period of finding new powers finishes it’s likely that you’ll settle on a trusty select few for the majority of your playtime. There’s a great deal of wit in evidence here (see the various poses that Kirby pulls using the stone ability for a good example), with this emphasis on vibrant personality working in tandem with the bold, clean visuals.

Although copy abilities remain the focus of Kirby’s Adventure Wii, the biggest advancement is in the addition of four-player co-operative play. This runs on an instant drop in/drop out system, and pushes the game closer, as an experience, to the knockabout chaos of Super Smash Bros compared to the relatively sedate platform game that the single-player is. There are three other classic Kirby characters for the other players to choose from – Meta Knight, King Dedede and Waddle Dee – but they lack the copy ability power of Kirby. To compensate there is the opportunity for every player to control a Kirby, of varying colours, but by balancing out the character selection in this way the game loses a sense of camaraderie that exists when only one Kirby runs the line, frequently taking control of progress within a level.

That’s not to say it’s all harmonious; one of the highlights is the way Kirby can inhale the other players and fire them at enemies, an interference in their play second only in the hilarity stakes to the way that, in the similar New Super Mario Bros. Wii, you could pick up and throw your friends from the level (one such moment earned me a painful punch on the arm from my girlfriend at the time). With multiple players Kirby’s Adventure Wii is knockabout fun. There’s also no tangible effect on the difficulty, with the extra firepower compensated for by busier activity on-screen.

As is traditional with the Kirby series, Adventure isn’t at all tough, but this serene pace of play is balanced with a successful emphasis on exploration and collectables. Each level has a varying number of energy spheres scattered around, with certain totals opening up various challenge rooms and mini-games. Although it would be possible to race through each stage of Adventure in a small number of hours, to do so would miss the point of HAL’s level design, in which each power comes into play to solve spatial puzzles and reach previously hidden spheres.

There are also several alternative boss stages hidden on a number of stages, in which the normal day-glo world is replaced with a monochrome palette, and sees Kirby needing to escape a scrolling wall of purple which is bad news if touched. While these sections aren’t all that tricky either, they do at least provide a welcome change of style. The various challenges are also decent distractions, although the two mini-games (one a ninja-star throwing contest, the other a robot shooting gallery) will quickly pall. It’s also worth pointing out that the music is frequently amazing.

Although Kirby’s Adventure Wii lacks the dazzling visual inventiveness of Epic Yarn, its chunky, vibrant look is never less than charming, and is complimented by a style of play that eschews challenge for a subtly enveloping comfort blanket of Nintendo delight. After all, it’s hard to overstate the destructive pleasure that comes with wrecking an uber-cute 2D world armed with merely a screen-sized katana, in control of a gluttonous, break-dancing pink bag of air.

Previously published by D+PAD Magazine.

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