While some franchises have a 'one per generation' rule, others seem somewhat more spontaneous - factors such as development progress and sales can be more important to their fate. So when Kirby: Triple Deluxe provided a strong 3DS début as a fairly traditional adventure with the Pink One, HAL Laboratory seemingly just kicked right into developing the next. Kirby: Planet Robobot may use the same graphics engine, but aside from that it shouldn't be mistaken as a lazy by-the-numbers follow-up - it takes the established formula and improves it in various ways.
This entry does introduce a plot and characters that enable the design team to stretch their creative muscles a little. An evil - yet somehow still cute - corporation and its President arrive to mechanise Kirby's planet, in the process turning some inhabitants (including famous former foes) into robotic enemies. The final enemy is entertaining when he comes around, but before then you deal with a range of quirky boss fights and his prim and deadly assistant. The story is typically light fluff, but provides an ideal setting for the mechanised themes and concepts that run throughout the whole game.
In terms of gameplay, those with experience of Triple Deluxe will feel instantly at home - Kirby runs, jumps, floats and sucks in enemies just the same, with the touchscreen offering handy buttons for using a spare health item or dropping a current ability. It feels slick, as expected. The key change this time around is the much-touted ability for Kirby to use mechanised robot suits to stomp around - these work as expected, with the ability to float replaced by a double jump and Kirby now having the ability to bash through scenery and enemies as never before.
To begin with Kirby in his normal form, he wields many of the same abilities as seen in the 3DS predecessor, with some cute additions thrown in. There's excellent variety not just in terms of outfits and attacks, but also in how they switch up gameplay - most players will quickly identify a few key favourites. You can also tap an amiibo button at will to scan a figure and 'inhale' their ability - some are appropriately themed, such as the sword ability for Link, and others feel a little more random. It's a simple but nice idea, however, especially for younger players that need a little extra help.
Picking the right power-up can also be a strategic affair - some are suitable for gung-ho close-quarters attacks and others are all about ranged assaults, either destructive or precise. This has always been a key strength of Kirby platformers, adding a little extra depth to proceedings, and on this occasion these abilities are also used relatively cleverly for solving puzzles or making light work of bosses.
The key transformation, of course, is Kirby stomping around in a mech. As mentioned above this changes the control dynamics, and the points at which you access this vehicle are also controlled - you can't just romp through the whole game as a mechanised Kirby. Unlike the rather limited Hypernova ability of Triple Deluxe, however, you run around as Mech Kirby frequently and for decent chunks of time. Whether switching up your abilities in terms of power - smashing up obstacles and blocks that would previously knock Kirby into the screen - or solving puzzles, this shift in play style is relatively substantial and well thought-out.
Well though-out is an apt phrase for the overall game. Puzzles are a common occurrence for example - they're simple and not exactly brain teasers, but whether running around as Kirby or in a mech there are little head scratchers that are needed to access some collectibles, for example. You may be controlling a small robot in the background, carrying a battery to its source, or perhaps kicking off circuit reactions and moving wires in rapid time. These often just deliver a Code Cube (three of which are in each stage, with a number required for each world's Boss level), but are a satisfying change of pace.
Clever design goes beyond puzzles, too. While in mech form Kirby faces special foes with screws to unwind, for example, and there are enjoyable scripted moments in which you navigate entire levels in unexpected ways, such as in car form; there are even a few flying stages. Boss encounters also deliver a mix of simple head-on fights and slightly more complex, multi-stage affairs. The finale is also worth reaching due to its ridiculous levels of bombast - we won't spoil what happens, but it's an ending that feels like a soft, cuddly, Kirby equivalent to a final showdown designed by PlatinumGames.
Overall the Story Mode, spread across six worlds, is endearing and fun. As is often the case with Kirby the level of challenge is modest, though it ramps up a little towards the end - those that want to have their abilities pushed won't find their fix here. Yet that's not really the point of Kirby games, as they're simply colourful, delightful slices of gaming. We may have no idea what the Game Over screen looks like in the core campaign, but the charming aesthetic, clever moments and unending happiness of the experience kept us enraptured. We'd certainly suggest that it's a step up from the Triple Deluxe, too, with the robotic and mechanised premise helping deliver more varied gameplay and a surprisingly entertaining mini-story. There's greater level variety too, which is best left for you to discover in your own playthrough.
Of course, there's always more. Two extra mini-games are available right off the bat - first up we have Kirby 3D Rumble. This one adopts an isometric viewpoint, with a total of 13 mini stages split into three 'levels'; your goal is to take out the enemies as quickly and efficiently as possible, with combos possible through well placed star shots. Speed and points accumulation lead to a trophy award, too, and it'll likely take most players more than one attempt (on the last stage, at least) to get gold. As an extra it's fun, albeit brief.
Next up is Team Kirby Clash, which features a small number of boss battles; these foes are somewhat amped up and tweaked compared to their Story Mode equivalents. In a team of up to four you go into battle, with each Kirby being a distinct 'class' - one is a healer while the others are different kinds of attackers, and when playing solo the AI does a decent job of taking part. It can be relatively tactical, too, with healing areas, shields and sharing food boosts all part of the equation. Finally there are 'Power Stones' to collect that trigger a huge attack to damage and temporarily disable the boss. Overall this one is easily blasted through in little time, though a final stage will need you to level up before it can be beaten. Local wireless and Download Play are also supported, and this could certainly be a fun way to pass time with friends, even those that don't have the game.
There's more, too, when you clear the Story Mode. The Arena is essentially a boss rush where you have just one life, and with limited energy refills between rounds it can be a tight run to get through. You have the choice - initially - of any power-up, though, and it's an enjoyable way to spend 20 minutes.
The final unlock is terrific, essentially a speedrun mode; Meta Knightmare Returns switches out the playable Dedede of Triple Deluxe for Meta Knight this time around. This is the best extra, in our book, as it cleverly mixes multiple levels from each world into one fast-paced dash, and rather than exploring your focus is simply on getting from A to B as quickly as possible. With four power-ups and a gauge filled by defeating enemies, for the most part, it's a fast-paced take on the Kirby formula that's well worth playing, with checkpoints allowing you to tackle it in short bursts.
Overall, then, Kirby: Planet Robobot has plenty to offer, and it's worth also highlighting that it's another handsome and colourful effort on the 3DS. The visuals are simplistic on a technical level, but the art design is top-notch - the music is typically upbeat, too. We should note, however, that there are occasional framerate dips with 3D enabled - we reviewed this on a New 3DS model. It wasn't often enough to prompt us to turn the effect off, but it's noticeable on some occasions; it runs rather smoothly and still looks pleasing in 2D, though.
Kirby: Planet Robobot takes a lot of the good work of Kirby: Triple Deluxe and adds a mechanised spark to proceedings. The addition of Kirby in a mech is good, silly fun, and there's pleasing variety to stage designs - HAL is on good form here, with puzzles and vehicular sections in particular that enhance the overall experience. The Story Mode itself is excellent, and the extra minigames then give players more to do, not to mention the task of finding and unlocking all of the items (and stickers) in the campaign to get that 100% completion statistic.
There's a lot of Kirby for your money here, and the pink fluffball is at the top of his game.