It's closing in on six months since we got our first look at Kirby's upcoming 3D adventure, Kirby and the Forgotten Land, and the reaction to the initial Nintendo Direct teaser back in September last year was certainly a positive one. Here's a game that gives the impression it isn't resting on the series' laurels, a charge often levied at the somewhat safe Kirby Star Allies, instead marching the pink puffball and his pals into a fully 3D world for the very first time.

We've been lucky enough to sit down and blast through the entire first region of Kirby's latest outing over the past week and we can confirm that there's definitely plenty to get excited about here. However, if you're expecting a fully open world affair, or something along the lines of Super Mario Odyssey's object occupation — and there's been plenty of speculation and comparisons made over the past few months in this regard — you'd do well to adjust your expectations slightly.

Yes, Kirby and the Forgotten Land may share the look and general vibe of Mario's most recent epic outing; it's got that all-new Mouthful Mode ability that immediately brings to mind Odyssey's Cappy antics, shares a familiar graphical style, and the whole thing is set to a similarly stirring and triumphant orchestral score, but the gameplay here is actually much more in line with that found in Super Mario 3D World. Not exactly a bad thing, we're sure you'll agree.

After an entertaining pre-credits sequence that sees Kirby discover his ability to swallow an entire car — amongst many other things — Kirby and the Forgotten Land transports us to its very first playable area, Natural Plains, a lush, overgrown environment composed of ruined urban locales that are being slowly reclaimed by nature. It's got a little bit of The Last of Us about its aesthetic vibe but, fortunately for everyone involved, Kirby isn't gonna have to violently batter the life out of any Clickers here, instead being tasked with rescuing his cute Waddle Dee pals, who've been trapped and hidden around the area's stages, by using his trademark copy abilities.

the gameplay here is actually much more in line with that found in Super Mario 3D World. Not exactly a bad thing, we're sure you'll agree

Did we just say stages? Yes we did. This absolutely isn't the free-roaming open world experience that some had hoped it might be, with each region of the game's beautiful world map an entirely separate location with a different theme to it that's been divided up into wonderful little 3D stages. Jump into one of these stages and the links to Super Mario Odyssey become even more tenuous, as the camera here is completely fixed, framing the action for you rather than giving you full freedom to look in any direction you please. Yes, you can shuffle it a little to the left and right, or up and down to see a little more of the periphery, but this is very much more in line with Super Mario 3D World's style of action, albeit with slightly larger stages to mill around in.

Would we have preferred to see a fully controllable camera here? Well, yes, but once you get to grips with the game and start knocking around within its gorgeous environments it's not something that sticks in the mind for very long as what's here is an absolute delight to get to grips with regardless. HAL Laboratory has done a fantastic job in transporting the look and feel of classic Kirby, with all the copy abilities and moves that we've come to know and love from the cheeky little scamp, into a three-dimensional space. It's a shift that gives you far more opportunity to tool about and use your powers to deal with enemies and platform around, uncovering secrets, hoovering up stars of various colours and saving Waddle Dees from captivity as you make your way across the opening world's five stages to a big, hairy ape-shaped showdown.

We've already seen the all-new Mouthful Mode in hilarious/shocking effect in the game's trailers, with Kirby managing to jam a car into his mouth, and in reality it's just as much fun as it looks, enabling our hero to blast along sections of highway, speeding through roadblocks and flattening enemies, as well as using a jump function to get to grips with some vehicle-based platforming.

Alongside a car, we also got to morph into a bunch of other bits and pieces in our time in the game's first region, with Kirby wrapping his gums (and entire body) around traffic cones, a set of stairs, lockers and a vending machine, all of which are used to solve a bunch of environmental puzzles and pummel hapless baddies — we particularly enjoyed viciously blasting cans of juice at foes in vending machine form.

we also got to morph into a bunch of other bits and pieces in our time in the game's first region, with Kirby wrapping his gums (and entire body) around traffic cones, a set of stairs, lockers and a vending machine

Copy abilities, as expected, play a big part here too and each level has a few different enemy types that you can suck into your face in time-honoured fashion, absorbing their skillset — as well as their fashion sense — in order to dish out damage to anyone silly enough to stand in your way, and early stages saw us get to grips with swords, bombs, a spikeball ability and fire and ice forms. When mixed with the various Mouthful Mode abilities on offer, there's certainly plenty of flexibility and variety in how you choose to go about dispatching your foes and making your way around areas in search of hidden wonders.

Further to all of this, Kirby's abilities can now be upgraded, giving you access to sweet new variations on his base powers. Yes, as you blast through levels and save Waddle Dees you'll gain access to facilities back in the game's hub village area, one of the most useful of which is Waddle Dee's Weapons shop, where you can swap out your abilities and use stars and rare stones that you've collected to upgrade them. Take your base level Cutter ability as an example here, Kirby's bog-standard sword swipes and charged sword spin can be enhanced into a Chakram variant that sees him fling metal discs around and dish out more damage than usual. We also upgraded his basic fire form into a volcano option that brings significantly more heat to his attacks.

Elsewhere in Waddle Dee Village, and at this very early stage in the game, you can jump down Gotcha Machine Alley to spend your stars on collectibles to fill out your compendium of figurines — these can also be found in and around the game's stages — visit Kirby's house, Waddle Dee café, Waddle Dee liveries and even take part in a flash fishing minigame. The town hub will continue to grow as you play through later areas and accrue more Waddle Dees, and we can already see some half-erected mystery buildings under construction in ours. We can't wait to find out what they are!

There is, in short, already plenty to take in here and all of these extras are backed up by core gameplay that's been a delight to blast through so far with tight 3D traversal, puzzles and platforming mixed with a sprinkling of more traditional side-scrolling segments to please old-school fans. Across the five stages that make up Natural Plains, we've sped along highways in car form, plugged holes and battered gigantic turtles as a traffic cone, taken a trip to an overgrown shopping mall full of baddies and jumped into the game's unlockable side missions which see you take part in a host of minigames based around your various copy abilities in return for rare rewards.

Each and every level can be played in its entirety in drop-in co-op mode, with the second player assuming the role of Bandana Waddle Dee, Kirby's spear-wielding pal who has a variety of attacks and full freedom of movement — so there's no worries about the second player having a diluted role to fill here. Each stage also comes with a bunch of objectives to complete for extra Waddle Dees. Your main objectives are outlined as you begin, but the rest will reveal themselves on-the-fly as you happen to perform a move that relates to them. Nab a piece of fruit to refill your health bar from a bench, for example, and you'll be tasked with grabbing four more. It's a nice little added layer that gives each stage a little more in the way of replayability.

Everything the game has to offer can also be taken on in a choice of two difficulty modes. We spent our time playing on the default "Wild" mode, described as a tougher and more challenging affair that rewards you with more star coins for your efforts. However, there's also a "Spring-Breeze" mode which gives you a ton more health and makes things even easier, so you can relax and just enjoy the ride.

With a great big boss battle against a very angry gorilla rounding out our time with Kirby and the Forgotten Land's first area, we're more than just a little bit excited to see what else is in store for us as we continue our adventures through this one. With a slick mix of 3D and side-scrolling puzzles, platforming and combat action that looks great and performs perfectly in both docked and handheld modes, tons of collectibles and a wonderfully colourful and enthusiastic vibe to the entire affair, this feels like a bit of a much-needed rejuvenation for the Kirby franchise and a great big juicy adventure to dive into come 25th March.

We'll see you back here with our full review of the pink puffball's latest escapades a little nearer the end of the month.