Kirby, Nintendo’s pink puffball of concentrated cuteness, arrives on 3DS with a big bumper of a package, promising a trifecta of portable happiness. And it’s sure tough to not smile at the game’s chirpy demeanor and cheery world as the little guy floats and bops his way along his first 3DS adventure. But for a mascot often attached to experimental gameplay, Kirby Triple Deluxe is conservative in its construction and seldom veers far from its comfort zone.
Triple Deluxe’s trident pokes in three ways with varying force. Story Mode is the clear star here, but the two extra games — Kirby Fighters and Dedede’s Drum Dash — are each strong enough to stand as an eShop download. Story Mode is a platforming jaunt cut from the same mischievous cloth as Kirby’s side-scrolling adventures have been since 1992. Kirby wakes to find his home on Popstar lifted up into the clouds by massive vines, the origin of which he hasn’t the faintest clue. Kirby heads to Dedede’s also-vined castle and watches as new foe Taranza carries the blundering King Dedede off to a new land in the sky. That land is Floralia, where Kirby sets off on a quest to save his despot.
Story Mode doesn’t seem particularly interested in re-inventing the puffball — its fundamentals are sound and its mechanics time-tested — but instead on building a top-notch Kirby platformer. On one hand, Triple Deluxe’s adventure is many nice things: elegant, charming, and delightful to play. HAL Laboratory has done a bang-up job forging a rock-solid, consistent journey on which to take new players. But on the other, it is simplistic, a touch too familiar, and not always interesting to those who may have seen this all before.
Kirby’s flavor of platforming is pretty straightforward: run, jump, float, and inhale all manner of objects and baddies in the name of reaching the end of the stage. Hidden around each stage is a number of Sun Stones for Kirby to nab. While not all must be found, a certain number per world — which usually comes in at a little over half of them —are required to unlock the boss stage. Collecting all Sun Stones in a world unlocks a special stage in each. The Sun Stones aren’t always particularly well hidden, with many able to be found by poking around just a tad.
Key Chains are strewn about as well. These have no impact on progress, but are fun to collect as each one is a character from Kirby’s sprite games. Up to five Key Chains can be bought with Play Coins between stages; once five are bought, another stage has to be cleared to be able to buy more. Rare ones are hidden in more devious spots, but, like the Sun Stones, moderate prying should reveal their locations.
Intact is Kirby’s signature ability to swipe the attributes of his foes, with a total of 24 copy abilities at his disposal. Most have done the rounds already, like the Sword or Beam powers, and new ones like the Beetle or Archer fit right in to his repertoire with specific environmental puzzles tailored to them.
Story Mode does little flashy in the way of mechanics, with its big gimmick being the lack of big gimmicks. Sure, there are some novel elements, but they come off as rather pointless and worn — tilting the 3DS to move a cart is no shocker, and is in fact a mechanic that Kirby himself built an entire game around years ago. Jumping between the foreground and background to solve puzzles and fight enemies is an organic extension of — and, dare we say, required justification for — the 3DS’s auto-stereoscopic display, but brings nothing of grandeur to the table. Friends and complete strangers can get in on the action by way of StreetPass, offering up a helpful health item to redeem later at the touch of the bottom screen — but if there are none around, the rogue Waddle Dee from Kirby's Return to Dream Land will chuck some help anyway.
That leaves the new Hypernova ability, force-fed to Kirby at curiously opportune times, which paints him a neat rainbow chrome and allows him to inhale or influence creatures and objects of a screen-filling size. There’s a nice friction associated with going Hypernova as Kirby then has the ability to rip up the world in a way never really possible. The “puzzles” that use it only have the one solution, though, and the ability only appears when required. There’s no rushing around all Hypernova-like just for kicks, so it loses some of its luster as the game progresses.
Floralia’s six floating islands don’t initially pose much of a challenge, offering a relaxing — if simplistic — platformer filled with foes and abilities both new and old to the franchise to breeze through. The game’s gentle nature will play well with its intended audience of younger players, but those well-versed in platformers will find little in the first half to be of any significant threat. The heat is gradual, almost unnoticeable, until revealing itself in the latter half. Perhaps not all of the Sun Stones were found, or maybe Kirby didn’t quite clear that obstacle as intended. Before you know it, you’re relying on that StreetPassed health item you’re holding to get through a couple of boss fights in quick succession. Challenge sneaks up on you in a way that always feels manageable, as if to kick off the training wheels and trust that you know what you’re doing. Even though Story Mode does eventually demand quicker reflexes, not much thought at all is required to progress. The game is nice enough to give you the exact tool needed to progress at the moment, and the needed Sun Stones are seldom too far off the beaten path. Completionists will find more challenge in acquiring all of them, but that isn’t saying much.
Triple Deluxe’s main adventure has something of an identity crisis. The game is pretty, but its rounded edges are no match for the tactile charm of Kirby’s Epic Yarn or powerful simplicity of the sprite adventures. The solo tour is enjoyable, but feels lonely in the wake of Return to Dream Land. Its attempts to do something new are often not new at all, or underwhelming in their predictability. Story Mode is likely not what Triple Deluxe will be remembered for, no matter how pleasant it may be.
Multiplayer mode Kirby Fighters reveals itself to be the true draw of Triple Deluxe, allowing up to four players to smash the cute out of each other in an arena-based brawler. It’s a simplified Super Smash Bros, really: Players pick one of 10 copy abilities for their Kirby to take into local multiplayer battle, and duke it out on themed stages, with the occasional item thrown into the mix. The controls are the same as in Story Mode, which means that combat commands come down to one button and a directional input. Getting the proper timing down can be hokey at first, but in the right hands Kirby can slay. Solo players can go up a traditional ladder with increasingly difficult opponents, and the title supports Download Play for multiplayer bouts.
Dedede’s Drum Dash is a rhythm/score game where you bounce the blue penguin king through a hazardous stretch of drums, collecting coins and smacking a tambourine to the beat along the way. Each of the three stages is two minutes long and the challenge ramps up quite drastically: Where the first track is a nice and gentle introduction to the mechanics, soon enough Dedede is dealing with moving and destructible drums off which to bounce, as well as mobile enemies and a quicker tempo. Taking too long, bopping into too many enemies, or landing in the void will end the run.
At first blush it appears that the designers have skimped in this mode a bit with only three stages to best, but these stages are no pushovers: completing them is one thing, but netting gold medals and completing each’s four achievements will require plenty of patience and a keen sense of rhythm. But primarily patience, as they can be downright devious in the deeper ends. Nabbing golds in all three will unlock an Extra stage that should keep the beat going for a while.
Dedede’s Drum Dash is the weakest link in the chain, but still serves as a pleasant diversion from the rest of the game and challenges an entirely different set of skills. It will likely drive you up a wall as you try to time your bounces to the beat, collect coins, and avoid members of the franchise rogue’s gallery.
While the box may say “triple”, conquering the seven-ish-hour Story Mode opens up two new ways to play. The Arena’s boss rush pits Kirby against a string of the game’s big bads, in case you haven’t had enough of them already from the campaign. Dedede’s Tour is a time trial of Story Mode that swaps out Kirby for Dedede. Playing as Dedede offers an entirely different experience as it emphasizes speed and thus encourages wrecking-ball strategies with his giant hammer. Each world is done in one go and the times for these can be shared over StreetPass.
Kirby Triple Deluxe is a pleasant package that doesn’t push the envelope very far. The Story Mode is an elegant but conservative adventure that trades too greatly in familiarity and simplicity, the same type of neo-nostalgia that Nintendo has seen success with on the Mario side of things: it’s sure to scratch that Kirby itch — or create one for new players — but fails to move the franchise forward in any meaningful direction. However, the rest of the package holds its own quite well: Kirby Fighters is a great time-sink sure to provoke new rivalries among friends, and the post-game content offers a second competitive wind to the adventure. Come for the cute platforming, stay for the battle royale.