For a company so often associated as being at the forefront of innovative thinking in the video game industry, Nintendo can have a tendency to stick with a tried and tested formula. The Mario, Zelda and Pokémon franchises have all received their share of criticism for not drastically changing their instalments over the years, and while some would argue that Nintendo perfected the formula first time round, there's no doubt that an exceptional, out of the blue entry into a series can be an extremely pleasant surprise.
The Kirby series of platformers (like Mario) have often relied heavily on familiarity, with a new power-up, fresh narrative or tweak here and there being the only major distinguishable features. Imagine the gaming industry's surprise then, when - back in 2005, Kirby's Canvas Curse emerged onto the scene. Kirby didn't run, jump and flap his way from stage to stage, but alternatively rolled around like a pink, puffy pinball. The imagination and risk involved resulted in universal praise and eventually led to Canvas Curse receiving it's own spiritual successor in the form of Kirby and the Rainbow Curse.
So with Canvas Curse still fresh on the mind, Kirby Squeak Squad (known as Kirby: Mouse Attack in Europe) made its way to the DS only a year later. It's clear to see where the disappointment many had with the title stemmed from - Kirby had gone from starring in one of his most off-the-wall titles to one of his safest and most conventional. Squeak Squad merely acted as a modern iteration of the classic Kirby platformers of the 8- and 16-bit eras, with the title's (admittedly wonderful) visuals and touchscreen controls the only real indication that this was a modern release.
While Squeak Squad wasn't fresh or particularly exciting back upon release (and even less so currently), that shouldn't take away from what is still an enjoyable platforming experience, though. Kirby handles as well as ever, the music is as upbeat and joyous as one would expect from a Kirby experience, and the visuals are characteristically chromatic. Kirby was even given a few new adorable copy abilities to be able to perform such as the Animal, Bubble, Ghost, Metal, and Triple Star abilities. The brand new "Copy Scrolls" further modified Kirby's transformations, allowing his power-ups to be boosted beyond their ordinary abilities - such as performing charge attacks or increasing damage fields.
Squeak Squad's most novel introduction, though, was the ability to store and combine power-ups and other collected items, with the bottom screen of the DS serving as a window into Kirby's expansive stomach. Only 5 items can be stored at any given time, requiring the player to juggle their inventory. This adds extra dilemmas, requiring you to decide which items can be discarded in place of others, but can also be somewhat frustrating - you'll find yourself using stored abilities or health items unnecessarily as a means of freeing up important space for Treasure Chests. This system also allows for a neat ability to combine items, allowing you to merge mini-Kirbys into a 1UP and even allowing for power-ups like the "Fire" and "Sword" abilities to be merged into a extremely neat "Fire Sword" weapon - making Kirby as deadly as he is cute.
While the title may not be the longest - with the story mode easily beaten in a matter of hours - collecting each of the level's treasure chests provides a much more extensive challenge for those looking to pour more time into Squeak Squad and lengthen the experience. These chests can contain keys - opening secret paths and levels, puzzle pieces (similar to Streetpass), the ability to change Kirby's colour, music, trophies, hearts to increase Kirby's maximum health and various other little tidbits, perfect for collectable hunters and those seeking to fully complete the title. Bundle in three (somewhat uninspiring) mini-games and the content is rather impressive - more than making up for the shortness of the main campaign.
Kirby Squeak Squad suffers from doing little to build upon the tried and tested Kirby formula, and was always destined to be overshadowed by its sublime predecessor: Kirby's Canvas Curse. While it may lack originality or a truly captivating new mechanic, Kirby Squeak Squad still remains a solid, enjoyable platformer and a worthy addition to the Wii U Virtual Console library.