It’s obvious from the moment you start that Kirby Triple Deluxe is Nintendo and HAL Laboratory at the height of their collective powers — software and hardware coming together to create a game as games should be: good fun, embracing all of the the 3DS’s unique features without ever reducing them to mere gimmicks. We got chance to sit down with the Japanese edition of the game, and feel that it could well be one of 2014's most enjoyable handheld releases — and we're still only in January.
There are three modes available at the start. Kirby Fighters is a very enjoyable “Smash Bros.-lite” multiplayer diversion with plenty of nods to older games in the series for long-time fans, and Dedede's Drum Dash is a pleasant take on the rhythm-action genre — with perhaps some unintended extra nostalgia for those familiar with the drum-bouncing in Genesis / Mega Drive classic Ristar’s Round 4-2. But most of your time will be spent in Triple Deluxe’s main story mode, grinning like an idiot at the detailed animations and wondering what new tricks the next level will have up its sleeve.
Story mode is broken up in the usual way; Kirby unlocks a new area, completes all the levels, beats the boss and then moves on to do it all again somewhere else. What makes Triple Deluxe stand out from the typical platforming crowd is the inventive use of his new and old abilities as well as the sheer charm and attention to detail that’s been poured into absolutely everything. Each level has a foreground and background layer, with Kirby switching between the two at fixed (and often optional) points.
More than mere decoration, this alternative plane will often flaunt a Sunstone or a shiny keyring just out of reach, a sure sign that there’s a secret doorway lurking in the area or a hidden switch to keep an eye out for. There are many times when Kirby gets to directly interact with the other layer too; firing missiles to clear debris, checking a not-quite perfect reflection for ghostly enemies and false walls and sometimes racing against another enemy to grab their precious key before they run off with it.
Kirby himself has a major new ability this time around. “Big Ban” Kirby mode — used only in specific areas — increases Kirby’s signature sucking skill to new levels and lets him catch huge rockets in his mouth or clear an entire room full of enemies. This wanton destruction is balanced out by a few spots where Kirby needs to pull giant objects (ranging from plain old block moving to rolling snowman heads back onto their bodies) in a certain way to complete puzzles and hopefully gain a precious Sunstone as a reward.
Sunstones are one of two collectables in Triple Deluxe, and a certain amount are needed in each area to unlock the boss battle and proceed. A few are hidden in plain sight, but more often than not they’re tucked away in a secret room and will require some light puzzling, quick reflexes, or a combination of the two to earn. There’s usually three or four per stage and as you only ever need to find about half of them to unlock the boss, it’s not a huge problem if you miss a few first time around and reinforces the great flexibility seen in all the best Nintendo games – the challenge is as tough as you, right now, want to make it.
The other collectable objects are an expansive set of key-chains; every one of which is a piece of pixel art from a previous Kirby title going all the way back to the original Game Boy adventure, mercifully named and properly labelled to save you from spending all day Googling old Kirby enemies. These come in both golden (rare) and standard varieties and are all pinned to a virtual board once acquired so you can gaze at the holes in your collection at leisure. The main game is over pretty quickly even for the most casual of gamer, so thankfully HAL saw fit to include two further bonus modes as a “thank you” note for players — but we won’t spoil the surprise for you just yet.
As mentioned at the beginning, Kirby: Triple Deluxe is a perfect example of what Nintendo does best. It takes things that in the hands of too many other developers would feel like tacked-on frustrations and turn them into seamless flourishes that elevate an already polished platformer into something truly special. Everything – from the genuinely useful 3D effects to the tilt-sensitive gondola rides — has been created with the sort of care and detail that most other companies can only dream of, and Triple Deluxe is all the better for their inclusion. There’s no official English release date yet, but you can be sure that’ll you’ll hear all about it on Nintendo Life as soon as it’s announced. This could well be one of the stand-out 3DS titles of the year.