Monday, October 31, 2011

Review: Kirby Mass Attack (Nintendo DS)

I am sure Kirby Mass Attack is closer to a sequel to Yoshi’s Story on the N64 than a real Kirby game. It features many of similar elements – a somewhat nonlinear approach to levels, a similar preoccupation on chomping down fruits, and a similar ultra-cutesy visual style that has you in control of not one character, but a team of them.

And like Yoshi’s Story, Kirby Mass attack is incredibly easy. That’s of course on par for all Kirby games, so we’re used to it now, but it’s worth mentioning. This is a game that is short, and very sweet, but anyone looking for a real challenge is advised to look elsewhere.

The central quirk to this game is the multiple Kirbys that you’ll control simultaneously. As you track down fruit (be either solving puzzles, or smashing blocks in each of the levels), the points total on the top screen increases. For every 100 points worth of fruit, a new Kirby will join the team, to the maximum of 10. These puffballs remain with your team until either they get hit twice (at which point they’ll turn into adorable little ghosts and you’ll have a few seconds to catch them and bring them back to earth before they’ve flown away and are permanently gone). If that happens you’ll need to start collecting fruit anew.

The number of Kirbys acts as something of a key of sorts for some puzzles, which require a minimum number of the little pink puffballs to pull down a giant turnip. Each level also has a minimum number of Kirbys to even start the level off. If you find yourself with few too many Kirbys, you can always replay a level to build up the numbers again.

Unfortunately the game makes little use of the pack of pink beyond that. It’s a bit of a missed opportunity that the game usually encourages the Kirbys to move as a group, and aside from being able to defeat enemies quicker, the game isn’t that much different whether controlling one Kirby or the maximum of ten. There was room for far more intelligent puzzles here.

Each level features a number of hidden medals to find, and it’s here the game’s longevity can be found: you will have you replaying levels multiple times. At certain medal totals, extras are unlocked, from the mundane (music room) to a variety of minigames to play, each with their own top scores to shoot for.

Many of those minigames don’t play very well, if we’re being honest about it. The predominantly touch-screen based controls don’t work that well, though there are a few diamonds in the rough, such as the Kirby pinball game (which is playable without the touch screen, incidentally). That touch screen criticism applies to the main game as well, which is wholly touch-screen based; it’s just not precise enough for a genre that should encourage precision. As this platformer finds itself hobbled by an inferior control input, the platforming itself struggles.

Predictably though, those controls are kept simple. A tap on the screen sends the pink corp headed that way. A double tap gets them running. Tapping on the team itself allows you to make them “float;” from there you can draw a line to get the Kirby bunch to float around for a limited time.

And then a quick swipe can turn a Kirby into a projectile missile. That’s the extent of the controls and though the developers have done a great job in keeping the action varied, obstacles are predictably straightforward as a result.

Those are minor criticisms though. Kirby survives, and is indeed a worthwhile purchase on the strength of its leading character, the bright happy visuals and the stellar music score.

Just like Yoshi’s Story, then.

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