Known in Japan as Atsumete! Kirby, Kirby Mass Attack is the final title in the long-running HAL Laboratory series for the Nintendo DS. Originally released in 2011, Mass Attack moves away from traditional platform game design in preference of a completely touch-driven experience. Thankfully, unlike the original 2005 entry for DS – Kirby: Power Paintbrush – the gameplay has evolved beyond the sole novelty of touch controls by incorporating an exciting mechanic that adds plenty of layers of depth to the overall experience, and creates a side-scrolling adventure like no other.
Mass Attack begins in a similar fashion to past Kirby games with peace being disrupted by evil forces. Kirby is having a nap in a field on the Popopo Islands south of Popstar when out of nowhere the wicked leader of the Skull Gang – Necrodeus – appears from the sky to smother the world into darkness. Kirby is unfortunately on the receiving end of his magical staff and is split into ten copies of himself, which are all defeated but one. The last Kirby spots a star – which happens to be his heart (in reality the stylus for the touch screen) - and from there he follows it in hope of defeating Necrodeus and restoring both himself and the land back to normal.
This story adds much needed context as to why you as the player take control of up to ten Kirby characters over the course of the game. Expanding upon this idea, Mass Attack draws inspiration from Shigeru Miyamoto's Pikmin to add extra layers of depth to what otherwise would be just another platform game. It achieves this by requiring the player to take down certain enemies and solve puzzles with a specific number of Kirby clones, for example. To meet the required number of pink puffs, the player must collect fruit such as apples, bananas and even Maxim Tomato throughout each of the levels and fill a meter on the top screen to make more duplicates appear.
Much like the original Nintendo DS outing – Power Paintbrush – the player controls Kirby with touch input, on the lower screen, rather than a traditional button input method. With ten Kirbys on-screen, stylus commands like swiping, tapping, sliding and flicking can lead to both satisfying and frustrating moments – all depending on how the action plays out and how well the player is able to micro-manage the party.
Each of the levels in Mass Attack takes a considerable and often sluggish amount of time to complete, with the player travelling from start to finish defeating enemies and taking on bosses along the way. Some of these levels are from one end to another, while others include gaps, ledges, hidden doors and underwater sections to traverse. To access levels in Mass Attack the player is required to have the necessary amount of Kirbys; if you do not have the required number you must come back at a later date. Adding to this, many levels throughout the game include sections that only a certain amount of Kirbys can gain access to, which makes revisiting levels enticing to collect previously untouchable rewards. These levels also include a ranking system, providing additional replay value.
The method to take down enemies in Mass Attack is at times very reminiscent of the Pikmin series – with the player encouraged to flick however many characters they have at the enemy. During these encounters some Kirbys may turn blue, meaning they are close to being knocked out and turned into a ghost that floats away – which can also be prevented by throwing Kirby at the grey spirit. Alternatively, Kirbys which are low on health can be thrown through special recovery gates to replenish their health.
The level style and battle system goes well with the occasional segments that require thought. While fighting enemies, the collective mass of Kirbys may be required to jump on levers, push blocks against the force of enemies, destroy blocks and hang from weeds to activate switches. This often requires the player to divide the Kirbys into smaller teams to help perform multiple tasks. For example, one group fighting off an enemy, so the other team can activate a switch. It is these types of scenarios that are once again reflective of the gameplay featured in the Pikmin series and are at times a rather impressive feat for a portable title.
These encounters often result in the discovery of keys to unlock treasure chests and medals to gain access to sub-games and other features. There are even sporadic encounters with the Skull Gang, and giant Jumbo Candy in certain levels which temporarily increases the size of the entire Kirby party – allowing them to destroy everything in their path. The collectible medals are vital for accessing unlocks, which include minigames like a whack-a-mole style game and a soundtrack play test section. There is also an awards section – acting as an achievement system – and is assigned to Kirby and the player by the leader of the space-faring pirates, Daroach. You can also visit Daroach's Airship for plenty of helpful hints.
This is all bundled with sound and visuals that are true to the Kirby series. The music is upbeat and outgoing, and Kirbys and enemies all make appropriate squeaks that sound right at home. Despite the unique direction of Mass Attack in terms of gameplay, the visuals take a noticeably traditional path – with character models and environments paying respect to more classic entries in the Kirby line.
Kirby Mass Attack offers a unique take on the Kirby series with the ability to command up to ten pink puff balls at a time. If you're interested in a downsized and linear title that takes inspiration from the likes of Pikmin, Mass Attack is one to consider. In terms of Kirby's DS adventures, this probably isn't his grandest outing, but it certainly evolved with the times and understood at the time of release that it took more than just the exclusivity of touch controls to provide an appealing game experience on the portable system. It's definitely a standout as an experimental entry in the Kirby franchise that has aged well, but more traditional Kirby outings still reign supreme.