When Nintendo confirmed a 'multiplayer-focused' Kirby title plenty speculated over the approach it would take, but Kirby Battle Royale ultimately delivers a rather predictable spin-off release. What we have, once you get past an initial introduction that suggests a different style entirely, is a minigame collection, one primarily focused on variations and twists to flesh out a limited experience. It's certainly a diversion away from the high quality 2D platforming that has come to define the pink puffball over recent years on 3DS.
When first booting the game up you work through a brief tutorial in single player; Kirby has a basic attack that can also be charged, a secondary move, the ability to jump / float, and he can pick up and throw items and enemies. What he can't do is absorb enemies, which isn't explained but is the case due to the need for the game to gradually unlock abilities with progress. The plot follows that trend as it's thin even by Kirby standards - Kirby enters 'Dedede's Cake Royale' with a buddy in order to win a tasty cake, and Dedede is using a machine to create clone Kirby characters to take the pink one down. It's cutely presented and made us smile, however, so that part of the magic remains in place.
Here, importantly, is the key detail - Kirby Battle Royale does have a genuine solo 'Story Mode' campaign, albeit any reasonably skilled player will rattle through in four hours or less, while younger or less experienced players will get more mileage as the challenge increases. The setup is rather basic; you're tasked with working up five 'leagues' to win the Cake Royale, all the while earning points and unlocking new Kirby abilities and eventually 'Boost Orbs' to utilise in battles. You also gradually get to see all of the minigames this way and get a couple of fun boss battles - it's either a limited and underwhelming solo campaign or a rather enjoyable extended tutorial, depending on your perspective.
We rather enjoyed playing through it early on, but it nevertheless started to lose steam despite its brevity. As mentioned above, it essentially serves as a tool for experimenting with abilities and mastering the minigames, of which there are only ten. That may sound like a lot, but they start to feel over-familiar rather quickly, especially as all the solo campaign can think to do is add a small number of arena variations and increase the AI difficulty a little beyond the initial novice level. The Story Mode can dress it up all it likes, but what you're really doing is playing four-player minigames over and over again against the CPU. Even unlocking abilities has limited impact as they're all familiar from previous games, and most players will have two or three favourites that they use repeatedly, in any case.
The quality of the minigames varies, it must be said. The most basic is Battle Arena, where you scrap it out until just one Kirby is standing; there's a bit of strategy as KO'd players can try to recover, so ideally you need to wear everyone down and knock them out in close proximity. Apple Scramble, on the other hand, is all about teamwork as you work with a buddy to knock apples from trees and send them down a hatch; in Story Mode the AI does a decent job of helping out, especially with pulling the hatch lever while you focus on gathering the fruit.
Next is Coin Clash, where you try to gather the most coins in an arena while dodging ghosts. Attack Riders puts you on a circular stage where you have 'chips' to preserve and steal, while also trying to hijack vehicles with which to run over the opposition. Crazy Theater aims to throw in quickfire challenges to keep players on their toes, a fun idea let down by a severe lack of variation and content, meaning you'll see a lot of repeat rounds. Rocket Rumble is one of the better games, meanwhile, as you frantically try to throw fuel cubes into your rocket and then jump in before the time ticks down.
Robo Bonkers is almost certainly one of the more visually entertaining games, as you fight over rockets to launch at an enormous mechanised ape to score the most points; it's fun, but a 'last hit' bonus is a bit cheap and can skew results. Slam Hockey is a spin on table hockey that should be very entertaining as a team game, but it lacks speed and momentum. Ore Express is a decent scrolling stage in which you scrap over ore to deposit in passing train cars, which is particularly enjoyable against real players. Finally we have Flagball, in which two teams fight over one ball and try to throw / bash it into their flag; this is nicely done and is one of the stronger games.
That sounds like a lot, but they quickly loop around, especially in the single player mode. These are, after all, what the game is all about - they're not extras included with a full Kirby adventure, they are the entirety of the game. After the generous content offerings of the previous 3DS titles in the series this feels barebones, and we found ourselves ploughing through the solo mode more to unlock goodies than for the sheer joy of it.
Beating the story mode and buying collectibles with the generously distributed in-game currency sets you up with some special characters and lots of abilities for genuine multiplayer. First up, let's consider the Online Multiplayer; well, it's functional. In our post-launch testing it only offer 'Ranked' matches and kept pushing us into team events, a slightly frustrating and unnecessary limitation. Playing and winning earns you points to level up, and that's the core loop right there - it's limited.
In the immediate days after the game's release we did manage to find online matches on multiple occasions, but sometimes with very long waits or ultimate failure. The EU servers are not heavily populated, it's fair to say, and plenty will lose patience and give up when others don't immediately arrive. When we did get into matches performance was reasonable, but lag did kick in a few times and detract from the gameplay, while we also had a disconnect mid-match. Due to how quiet the servers are along with that sketchy performance, we can't see much mileage in this online mode.
Which finally brings us to Battle Mode, where you can customise some single player games or, more importantly, jump into local multiplayer. We couldn't test local play with multiple copies of the game, but that'll be a familiar tale for plenty that own games like this. More importantly, though, there is Download Play, and it's a feature that may make or break potential purchase decisions for families or those with 3DS-owning buddies.
Due to file size limits (presumably), the host has to pick one of two 'packs' that have five games each. The process to get other 3DS players in is relatively quick, and you can choose from various options to play through the five games in the relevant pack. Those using Download Play are limited to a handful of power-up options, but it's entirely functional and lag free in our experience. As a result it's very welcome for families and those eager to get more mileage out of the game; some of the minigames are certainly more fun with other human players, though they still wear out their welcome relatively quickly.
After all of that, let's wrap up with the presentation. This game continues a recent trend and annoyance of ours in that Nintendo (and HAL in this case) haven't bothered to implement the 3D effect, making this game 2D only. The low resolution of the 3DS top screen is certainly more noticeable without the auto-stereoscopic feature, and it once again seems like a sloppy cost-cutting measure. Aside from that the visuals are certainly solid, employing thick outlines similar to those in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS in order to help you track the action. The music is also typical Kirby fare, which is fine by us.
Sometimes Nintendo puts out distinctly 'B-list' games, and Kirby Battle Royale falls into that category. While the main games in the series on 3DS offer creativity, smart design and generous amounts of content, this ultimately falls short on all counts. It's not a bad game, but it is mediocre, and the mileage and value it holds as a retail release will vary drastically depending on the players. For families and minigame enthusiasts able to dabble in local multiplayer it offers some fun, but sparsely populated online servers and a repetitive Story Mode leave little to write home about. Kirby may have many of his iconic abilities here, but the copy-and-paste approach and limited minigames mean this doesn't get close to the mascot's other 3DS games.