Ever since Kirby’s Adventure introduced the pink puffball’s trademark copy abilities in 1993, they’ve been at the heart of his every hobby, from Dream Course’s mini-golf to Air Ride’s racing. With Kirby Triple Deluxe, players were given the chance to use those powers in Kirby’s newest pastime — all-out arena battles — thanks to the included mini-game Kirby Fighters. Now, just like fellow Triple Deluxe diversion Dedede’s Drum Dash, Kirby Fighters has been expanded into a standalone eShop release, Kirby Fighters Deluxe. With some great additions and a phenomenally fun foundation, it’s well worth a round for Kirby and fighting fans alike.

As the name implies, Kirby Fighters Deluxe is a 2D fighting game that pits up to four Kirbys against each other in an unsettlingly adorable fight to the finish. With fast action, dynamic stages and a host of power-ups and items, it draws easy comparisons to Super Smash Bros. but plays very differently in practice; life-bars replace ring-outs, giving the gameplay a distinct rhythm, and Kirby’s diverse abilities feel like nothing else on the market. They’re also a huge part of what makes the game so fun to play.

Ten of Kirby’s copy abilities are available off the bat in Fighters Deluxe: Sword, Cutter, Beam, Parasol, Hammer, Bomb, Whip, Archer, Fighter, and Ninja. In addition to coming with their own cute costumes, each power encourages a different play style, making for a wonderfully varied roster. Hammer and Sword are perfect for up-close beatdowns, Cutter, Beam and Whip all offer unique midrange options, and Archer is deadly at a distance. Bomb works best as a quick-moving zoning character, Ninja is a technical trickster that can attack from all angles, and Parasol shines in defensive play. Finally, Fighter celebrates its influences with Kirby clones of the classics, like Ryu’s fireballs and dragon punches, E. Honda’s Hundred-Hand Slap, and Dan’s leaping Dankukyaku.

Admittedly, it would have been nice to see the line-up of powers expanded from Kirby Fighter’s mini-game beginnings; these are the same ten abilities that were available in the original, and we can think of plenty more we’d like to try. Wing and Leaf both seem like natural fits, and it’s a shame that Triple Deluxe’s final funky new ability, Circus, didn’t make the cut — even old standbys like Fire and Ice would have been welcome additions.

Still, every ability present is fun to use and amazingly fleshed out — several have nearly a dozen command inputs, and some even include branching combo strings. The move sets are mostly left untouched from Triple Deluxe, but it feels like their full potential’s realized here; while you could easily waltz through his platforming adventures with just a few key moves, when Kirby’s matched up against equally powerful, palette-swapped opponents, you’ll need everything you’ve got.

Along with their individual special moves, every Kirby shares a common set of skills, including dashing, sliding, floating, guarding and performing an impossibly endearing evasive pirouette. Controls are rock solid and instantly responsive, so you’ll have no trouble dodging attacks at the last second or switching up your mixup mid-jump. They’re also easy to get to grips with; ‘A’ jumps and floats, ‘L’ or ‘R’ guard, and ‘B’ — combined with different Circle Pad directions — takes care of every single attack. It’s simple and user-friendly, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to mount a respectable offense by button-mashing your heart out — at least on the easier difficulties.

The single-player side of Fighters Deluxe features a nine-stage arcade-style mode for each ability, and returning players will notice quite a few changes. There’s a fun mid-boss fight with Kracko, for one, and a memorable final showdown against a fan-favourite foe, both new for this version. Completing the single-player campaign with a certain ability now unlocks an alternate costume — known as a ‘rare hat’ — for that power. They’re predictably cute and fun to collect, and can be used in both single- and multiplayer modes.

The stage roster has also been expanded quite a bit, with five new arenas joining the returning six. They’re all great additions, but the Butter Building stage might be the best of the bunch, featuring a beautifully rendered 3D version of the classic rotating tower and 8-bit enemies floating by in the foreground.

By far the biggest change, however, is that in addition to free for all fights some stages now feature team battles, where you’ll fight two-on-two. These are great fun, and they offer up their own new twists as well: the smooching mechanic from Return to Dream Land returns, letting team members share not only health but also power-ups when they lock lips, and a new item called the Team Cannon lets players unleash a massive attack after charging it up together.

Even with all the different abilities and stages, however, Kirby Fighter’s single-player content can start to feel repetitive if you dive right into one power after another. It’s not the kind of game you’ll want to blow thorough all at once, but it’s a pretty perfect fit for pick-up play; with ten abilities, four difficulties and plenty of unlockables, there’s lots to keep you coming back. Clear times are recorded for speed runners, and the difficulty levels scale very well too — anyone should be able to button-mash their way to victory on Easy, while Very Hard demands careful guarding and full mastery of each ability’s special moves and play style.

Of course, multiplayer is where you’ll find the most replay value in any fighter, and there’s an excellent suite of local play options for couch-based Kirby battles. You can choose to fight a battle royal or in any combination of teams (1 vs. 3, 2 vs. 2, or 2 vs. 1 vs. 1), tweak the match options to your liking (turn off items and head to Fountain of Dreams for that ‘Final Destination’ feel), and set handicaps so that every Kirby has a chance.

Handicaps certainly help, but even if you find yourself knocked out early, all’s not lost. Once defeated, Kirbys turn into controllable ‘Ghost Kirbys’, and these slow-moving spectres can still attack; if you can manage to land a hit on a corporeal Kirby, you’ll find yourself back in the fight, reincarnated and ready to go. Along with the individually adjustable handicaps, this makes for a great game to play even in groups of mixed skill levels; everyone can compete, and no one’s ever stuck waiting with nothing to do.

With fast, fun, and accessible multiplayer, we can easily see Fighters Deluxe becoming a standard alongside Mario Kart 7 at conventions and StreetPass meet-ups; especially as Download Play letting everyone in on the action. Combatants without a copy can join in using the Sword, Cutter, or Beam abilities, and can fight on any stage. Team play sadly isn’t available over Download Play, but that’s the only major omission — otherwise you’re able to do it all.

Unfortunately, it’s not all good news on the multiplayer front. There’s no online play at all, which is a real disappointment; the frenzied fighting would be a great fit, and it would help extend the game’s life considerably for players without regular access to real-life competition. Kirby Fighters Deluxe also doesn’t interface with the original mini-game in any meaningful way, so you’ll still have to go the Download Play route to play with players who own Kirby Fighters in Triple Deluxe.

Owning Kirby Triple Deluxe — or at least having its StreetPass data saved on your console — will, however, unlock a few fun extras in the main game, including an additional stage based on Triple Deluxe’s Waddle Dee Train Tracks and two new copy abilities: Bell and Beetle. These are great bonuses, though it seems a shame they’re locked away for players without Triple Deluxe; the two extra copy abilities in particular add a significant amount of gameplay, and they also happen to be two of the most fun to use. Thankfully, both the bonus stage and the extra abilities are still available in multiplayer modes whether you’ve played Triple Deluxe or not, so you won’t have to worry about bringing a Beam to a Bell fight.

As we’ve come to expect from Kirby games, Fighters Deluxe is rather beautifully presented. It lifts its look from Triple Deluxe, but adds plenty of its own little touches, and it’s absolutely bursting with colour and charm. The 3D effect is very well done — especially when Kracko throws the pixel-art keychains from Triple Deluxe onto the screen to block your view — and camera-panning set-pieces like the Team Cannon attack look fantastic. The action’s also accompanied by a top-notch soundtrack, with the jaunty, joyous tunes of Triple Deluxe joining several old favourites, some remixed and others left untouched in their original 8- and 16-bit glory. Kirby music is always something special, and Fighters Deluxe doesn’t disappoint.

Conclusion

Expanding on the original mini-game with team battles, boss fights, collectable cosplay and several new stages, Kirby Fighters Deluxe is both a worthwhile upgrade and a great game in its own right. The lack of online play is a letdown, but this one’s worth finding friends for; local multiplayer is an amazingly good time, and simple controls, helpful handicaps and Download Play make it accessible for all. Series fans will love getting to experience classic copy abilities to the fullest in a new setting, and fighting types will appreciate the variety and depth of the fast-paced Kirby combat — if you find yourself in either camp, Fighters Deluxe deserves a privileged place on your 3DS menu.