Two years ago when Kirby Triple Deluxe came out it was a return to form on the handheld front for this classic Nintendo hero. Taking several stylistic cues from the Wii’s Kirby Return to Dream Land, Triple Deluxe was fun, fully-featured and managed to look spectacular the whole way through. Now with Planet Robobot out I’m happy to say it serves as a wonderful addition to Kirby’s lineage that manages to push forward in areas I felt Triple Deluxe played it a little too safe, while maintaining the polish of its predecessors. It comes close to the lofty heights of the series’ star-lit history, managing to stand proudly among them with a shiny, metal-coated identity all its own.
Tightening the screws through a new directive
All’s not well in Dream Land when robotic enemies from another planet decide to renovate Pop Star to suit their needs. When neither King Dedede nor Meta Knight can stand up to these invaders, it’s up to Kirby to charge ahead and save his home from this mechanizing menace. While I expected this plot to just serve as bookends to the gameplay, Planet Robobot surprised me with occasional cutscenes and supplementary text detailing the whys and hows of its story. Learning about the Haltmann Works Company (the aforementioned intruders) kept me intrigued, which is more than I can say for a lot of Kirby plots. Recurring adversary Susie was a well designed character that managed to be both funny and threatening through her mock secretary-like politeness. As you progress through the game, you can pause during boss fights and learn more about her history and the other forces at work within the story.
Level designs reflect the plot as well, giving the game a unified feel that others in the series have lacked. Seeing common level themes such as grasslands or canyons overlaid with mechanized structures, obstacles and enemies allowed the familiar to feel at least somewhat new again. There were a few great standouts as well, such as a pair of casino themed stages, a music focused city, and one of the most pleasant underwater levels I’ve played through in a long time. The music was enjoyable, with one recurring motif playing through a lot of tracks and a lot of returning ones receiving more techno or industrial styled flair to highlight the game’s theme. That all said, some of the levels can blend together, with every world having a stage where Kirby must infiltrate an enemy base for example. While they have their differences they still end up feeling somewhat samey. There also weren’t as many environments that interacted with copy abilities, something I’ve always enjoyed throughout the franchise. I still enjoyed seeing what the next stage would have waiting for me, I would just occasionally be a little let down. The positive moments far outweigh these missed opportunities though, and I found it tough to put the game down once I got playing. The finale deserves a special mentioned as well, providing an incredible series of moments both in terms of this game’s style and as a shout-out to the series’ past.
Hijacked help from your new ‘bot buddy
As far as gameplay goes it’s almost all standard Kirby fare. Running, jumping, sliding, inhaling, floating and copying still feel great as they did before. Just like Return to Dream Land and Triple Deluxe there are multiple collectables hidden in each stage, requiring a set number be found before you can progress to a world’s boss. What really sets Planet Robobot apart is the Robobot Armor mechanic where Kirby takes his enemy stealing powers to the next level. Thanks to the invading enemies, at certain locations Kirby can hop into a mini mecha to interact with unique environmental elements and plow through enemies. Using an analysis feature that reminded me of Super Star’s “Copy” ability, these armors can also mimic enemy abilities just like Kirby himself. These Modes were exciting to try, though less technically varied than the copy abilities on their own. They brought back memories of animal buddies and the way they would interact with the various powers, though unfortunately not every ability in the game receives a Robobot Mode.
While these sections felt more integrated to the levels themselves than Triple Deluxe’s Hypernova ability, they also came across as less impactful. If they ever return I hope these points are addressed, but within Planet Robobot I found them serviceable and always got excited when I’d come across an armor. Throughout the game Kirby can also find and collect stickers, allowing you to decorate the mech as you see fit and show off artwork from across the franchise’s history.
Two of these Copy Modes are actually so distinct from the standard controls they bear special mention. When aboard a Robobot Armor and taking on the Jet copy ability, the game becomes a shoot ‘em up instead of a platformer. While not overly demanding these sections were fun diversions complete with a boss fight. The same can’t be said for the Wheel mode’s sections. While the prospect of driving around in a car and freely switching between the foreground and background of stages sounds great on paper, the integration was lacking and these areas don’t stand out nearly as much as the Jet sections. Of the more standard modes I found myself gravitating to the gear-firing Cutter and one of the all new abilities that’s quickly won me over both inside and out of the mechs.
Shiny new abilities and vintage models restored
The new copy abilities Planet Robobot brings to Kirby’s repertoire don’t disappoint, and I’ve found myself enjoying them more than Triple Deluxe’s brand new hats. The stand out by far is ESP, a blatant EarthBound reference worn with pride, featuring a fully controllable ranged attacks and a counter that rewards players who can time blocks just right with a powerful pulse of purple psionics. It’s also the only one of the new abilities that managed to receive a Robobot Mode, where the mech creates massive bursts of psychokinetic energy in its palms. Poison manages to bring back some skills that’ll remind Return to Dream Land fans of the Water ability, though with toxic twists and the ability to exhale caustic clouds alongside the corrosives. Doctor managed to surprise me, bringing a lot of variety to a single ability with a curious theme in the first place. Alongside these brand new abilities came the return of Kirby Super Star’s Jet and Mirror. These two are a lot of fun and it’s great to see their return.
They aren’t the only returning abilities though, as thanks to amiibo a couple of other seldom seen selections have come back too. Scanning either a Smash Bros. or Kirby series amiibo of the titular puffball will reward you handsomely and easily. Fittingly enough the Smash Bros. Kirby amiibo brings the Smash ability first seen in Kirby & the Amazing Mirror. Now called Smash Bros. and featuring even more of Kirby’s attacks from Nintendo’s crossover fighting series, this ability is a real treat and allows an amount of versatility beyond what most abilities offer (which is really saying something). Anyone scanning the new Kirby amiibo will become UFO Kirby, coming back after almost a decade. As has been the case before, UFO is a powerful ability that allows both free flight and a lot of attacking options, and Kirby looks cute doing it.
Beyond those amiibo there are cosmetic unlocks tied to both versions of the Meta Knight and King Dedede amiibo as well as the newly released Waddle Dee figure. Each of these will change Kirby’s color and give him a different hat befitting which figure was scanned, as well as immediately providing him with either Sword, Hammer, or Parasol respectively. The Smash Bros. series Meta Knight and Dedede amiibo also provide Sword and Hammer, though only change Kirby to a different color (and not the same as the corresponding Kirby series amiibo). Other amiibo provide powers befitting the character: Mario amiibo grant Fire, for example. These are usually fun and obvious nods to the character’s abilities, such as Ness providing ESP or the Animal Crossing characters giving Kirby Leaf. Any amiibo not assigned a fixed ability will still provide a random one instead, alongside the occasional health pickup or collectable sticker.
Plenty of spare parts after the credits
Kirby games have always occupied a position of being simple and inviting on the surface but holding greater amounts of challenge the deeper in you go. Be they the main game again with less health, timed modes featuring completely different characters, or boss rushes featuring otherwise unseen enemies, this post-story difficulty has become a series-wide staple. Planet Robobot doesn’t disappoint in this regard, ensuring that once the credits roll you still have plenty to do. Just be prepared for it. Having bested both Return to Dream Land and Triple Deluxe’s True Arenas I felt pretty confident taking on what Planet Robobot had to offer, though that quickly gave way to flashbacks to just how many tries it took me for those accomplishments. Regardless I’m having a blast trying to shorten my times and optimize runs based around certain copy abilities (or none at all) and I know this’ll keep me playing for the foreseeable future.
Of course there are sub-games along for the ride, and they serve as great side dishes to Robobot’s main course. The first, Team Kirby Clash, offers an RPG-lite take on Kirby boss fights. By selecting one of four “classes”, you lock your Kirby into either Sword, Hammer, Doctor, or Beam. Up to three others will join you to face a much tougher take on enemies from past games. What really sells the mode is how different each class plays. Sword Hero is a straightforward, all around choice with decent damage output. Hammer Lord on the other hand is much slower and can’t float as freely, but deals out considerably more hurt with its chargeable attack. Beam Mage offers ranged attacks and the special ability to stop time, while Dr. Healmore serves as a support focused choice to keep your other teammates alive and kicking. The quicker these foes are defeated the higher your score, giving a great amount of replayability and rankings can be shared via StreetPass, allowing everyone to see just how unstoppable a hero you are. This mode even has single cartridge wireless multiplayer, a welcome addition that only heightens the fun.
Kirby 3D Rumble is the other main sub-game, serving as a more puzzle-based diversion based somewhat on an abandoned game concept from the development period that lead to Kirby’s Return to Dream Land. Placed in top down environments with full 3D movement control, Kirby’s tasked with inhaling every enemy in the area. By planning and noting enemy placement, you can then exhale the stars to take out multiple enemies at once to build up your combo and go for the highest score possible. With the clock ticking all the while this is going to be a great mode to work on optimizing runs, though the amount of levels is quite small. Without a hook like Team Kirby Clash’s multiplayer I can’t see myself playing much 3D Rumble once I’ve platinum medaled all of its stages. That said the time I spent with it was fun and I wonder if it’s potentially a sign of things to come for the series.
Kirby Planet Robobot is a game I thoroughly enjoyed and it serves as a wonderful example of what the series has to offer. With a fantastic array of abilities, a unifying theme, a more present story, and the new Robobot armor, it grants players a more focused adventure than Triple Deluxe did. While the sub-games are fun on their own I feel they aren’t as impactful as its predecessors’, making both games stand as examples of what it means to be a Kirby game. I highly recommend Planet Robobot in spite of the few shortcomings I’ve mentioned, and feel it’s one of the finest Kirby games of the last decade.Leave a Comment
System: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: June 10, 2016
Developer: HAL Laboratory