With the first month of 2018 having gone by, many of us are looking to the horizon for the next big Nintendo Switch games to hit. The console remains every bit as popular as it nears the end of its first year on store shelves as it did in the weeks and months following in its launch.
At E3 2017, Nintendo announced a new Kirby title for the hybrid console. Since the announcement we've learned of both its proper title and release date. Kirby Star Allies releases near the end of March, on the 20th. With its release quickly approaching, Nintendo offered us the opportunity to go hands-on with the title at a recent preview event, and we came away quite impressed.
Star Allies is, first and foremost a multiplayer title. In it, a team of up to four players travel through traditional Kirby-style levels, meaning that they're left-to-right, 2D platformer-style. You can't just play through the game like you would any old Kirby title, however; Every player needs to do their part in order to solve puzzles and get through the challenges that lie ahead.
If you're familiar with Kirby, you'll remember that the pink puffball can inhale enemies in order to gain their powers. That remains true in Star Allies, but you can also use friend hearts to add enemies to your party. I. Tossing a friend heart at an enemy allows you to add them to your party to be controlled by either your friends or AI. If your team is already full, then the enemy you've befriended will replace one of your existing teammates, and if four players are playing together, one of them can choose to be the newfound ally.
We had the opportunity to play both solo and with a group of Nintendo employees, and both options worked quite well. We expected our AI partners to be overeager and bungle some of the puzzles that required teamwork, but to our surprise we never had any issue with them. The AI controlling your partners is intelligent and easy to work with, which will be a boon to those that prefer a single-player experience. Regardless of how many friends you bring with you, everything happens on one screen; there's no split-screen shenanigans here. You can also use any of the Switch's varied controller configuration for any player, meaning you can do single Joy-Con, dual Joy-Con or Pro Controller in either handheld or docked mode.
Underneath Kirby's sweet-as-candy exterior, we found an impressive amount of depth. This isn't just another run-and-jump game, to get by you'll need to use every skill in your arsenal. The first player, as Kirby can get not only get abilities by swallowing enemies (or allies), but can also combine abilities with those in their parties by having both simultaneously hold up on their analogue sticks.
In the demo we played, this ability was put to use in a simple puzzle. Throughout the level, bombs were found hanging about. Using a sword ability would cut the bomb down, but not detonate it; using a fire ability would detonate the bomb but not drop it, however, combining the fire and cutting abilities would simultaneously light the bomb's fuse and drop it into place, causing it to explode and create a tidy new path for Kirby and friends to follow. In another instance, one ally turned Kirby into a curling rock to slide down a series of waterways, smashing through every obstacle along the path.
If you tire of an ability as Kirby, you can hold down the Y button to drop the ability, turning it into a power-up you can either grab again or leave in your wake. Though the demo we played was very limited, we did manage to glean some additional details. We found a door, for instance, that opened up to an area in which the team is split into two groups of two, and moves must be coordinated in order to make your way through.
Each level contains a number of stars to collect as well as puzzle pieces. At the end of each level, the puzzle pieces you collect will reveal parts of a larger picture, similar to those found in StreetPass Puzzle Swap. The Nintendo rep at the event informed us there was some bonus to be unlocked for completing a puzzle, but declined to elaborate further.
The version of Star Allies we spent time with was not the final product, and it was stressed to us that the levels we played may either be altered or removed from the final game, but what we saw was very polished. While specifics weren't given, the demo we played appeared to run in 1080p in docked mode with a rock-solid framerate of what looked like 30 frames per second. We were allowed a few minutes with the game in handheld mode as well and experienced no problems.
Our demo concluded with a four-player battle against Whispy Woods, Kirby's recurring foe. the fight began with Whispy in its familiar location as all four players railed against their arboreal foe. About halfway through, the boss took the middle of the playing field to separate the party into two groups of two, each taking a flank. The battle was standard fare for Kirby fans and didn't rely much on the teamwork the earlier parts of the demo had, but it was great fun. Most impressive, however, was the fact that the frame rate remained solid, despite a massive amount of projectiles and effects appearing on screen simultaneously.
We came away from our brief hands-on experience with Kirby impressed. If the final game plays like the two levels we tried, Nintendo may have Switch's next big success on its hands. The four-player focus feels like the right decision, offering a game that can be challenging for seasoned veterans, but friendly enough for newcomers. We'll have much more on Star Allies as its release approaches; for now, why not let us know what you think of the game so far by leaving a comment down below.
Kirby Star Allies is out on Nintendo Switch on 16th March, 2018.