When Kirby: Planet Robobot launched in 2016, one of the sub-games included was a neat little RPG-lite take on a boss rush mode called Team Kirby Clash. A year later, HAL opted to expand on the concept further in a free-to-play release on the 3DS eShop called Team Kirby Clash Deluxe, which added in several more bosses, weapon sets, and underlying mechanics to the experience. Unfortunately, this latter release largely flew under the radar, as the Switch had launched only a month earlier and the entirety of Nintendo fandom was far too busy fawning over The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to care about yet another random Kirby spin-off on yesterday’s hardware.
Not ones to let a good game go to waste, HAL opted to bring Team Kirby Clash Deluxe into its Kirby Star Allies engine, replaced all the assets with HD equivalents, and added in a hefty dose of new bosses and equipment sets on top of it, releasing it to the world again on the Switch as (drum roll, please) Super Kirby Clash. By the director’s own admission, this is the ‘complete’ version of the game he envisioned, so the question remains: how does it measure up to the Kirby series’ lofty standards?
Super Kirby Clash takes place in a parallel universe to the mainline Kirby series in a place called the Dream Kingdom, where a travelling Kirby forms a team of… well, other Kirbies to fight off the raging tide of savage beasts that threaten the peace of the kingdom’s virtuous citizens. Though it technically does fit into the Kirby series’ surprisingly dark and detailed lore, the story for a multiplayer beat ‘em up such as this obviously is being used as little more than a framing device for the countless battles to come.
At its heart, Super Kirby Clash is essentially a Kirbyfied take on the tried-and-tested formula of the Monster Hunter series. You’ve got a small hub village where you can purchase new equipment pieces and, when you’re all geared up, you can head over to the job board and choose to take on various boss monsters one at a time in gradually more difficult battles. After every fight – win or lose – you’ll be granted XP which raises your character level and bolsters your stats, while occasionally unlocking access to higher rank gear once you pass certain milestones.
One would think that applying such mechanics to the relatively simple setup of the mainline Kirby series combat would seem contrived or awkward, but it’s surprising how well it works in practice. There are four different character classes you can play as, and while there aren’t any advanced mechanics like skill trees to speak of, each one nonetheless has a unique role that fills a different niche.
The Beam Mage class, for instance, is the de facto ranged unit and his main contribution to a fight is the ability to completely disable the boss for a brief period of time using a charged beam attack. The Hammer Lord, on the other hand, is a far slower, melee-focused character, but what he lacks in mobility he makes up for in the incredible damage output of his Hammer Flip swing.
Every fight will always have four Kirbies – AI takes over if you haven’t got anyone else to play with – and your success will be largely dependent upon how well you plan out your teams and equipment setups. If you’re going up against a highly mobile boss, for example, it might be a good idea to replace your Sword Hero with another Time Mage so you can have more of those time-stop windows to work with. Decisions like that matter, yet at the same time, HAL has smartly kept the RPG mechanics nice and simple. We never find ourselves bogged down with tons of choices at the outset of another fight – this is a Kirby game, after all – but we were pleasantly surprised by the flexibility offered by these RPG-lite systems. There’s just enough free choice and player progression offered up to give you the feel of an RPG, without going too far into those depths that Super Kirby Clash stops feeling like a Kirby game first and foremost.
In typical series fashion, the early to mid-game is mostly easy and painless, but the difficulty ramps up considerably as you push ever deeper into the substantial endgame on offer. By the time you’ve started getting into more of the new content for this HD re-release, learning the various move-sets and hit-boxes for the bosses becomes an absolute must, as only a few hits will knock your character out and cost your team some precious seconds to revive you.
Super Kirby Clash pulls from all across the long history of the Kirby series, with plenty of old nemeses returning to take a crack at the super tuff pink puff. It goes without saying that longtime fans will get a lot more out of this boss variety in the long run, but even newcomers will no doubt appreciate the diversity of the rogue's gallery here. Aside from the palette swap variations, no two bosses play the same, which keeps the experience feeling fresh and interesting as you grind ever deeper. There’s a certain rush to each new boss you unlock, to the struggle of learning their move-sets and finding the gaps in them, that keeps Super Kirby Clash engaging throughout and keeps you coming back.
A big part of this loop, too, is the overarching achievement system, called “Heroic Missions”, which pushes you to play in challenging and sometimes unconventional ways. There are 900 of these missions to complete, and they can range from being as simple as buying a single piece of gear at the shop to as difficult as beating a boss encounter in under twenty seconds. There’s more to these than just bragging rights, however, as the rank of gear you have access to is directly tied to how many missions you’ve completed; you have no hope of touching those higher-level bosses if you haven’t put in the work and filled out a lot of the missions on the lower level foes so you can get those better weapons.
What’s nice about this system is how it keeps you rotating through all the roles and trying different playstyles, squeezing extra replayability out of the already lengthy boss roster as you’re encouraged time and again to go above and beyond the minimum. It’s an extra incentive to do better and push your limits, but most importantly, these missions also serve as your main income for Gem Apples.
See, Super Kirby Clash is completely free to play, but just about everything in-game is dictated by a currency called Gem Apples. Gem Apples unlock new bosses. Gem Apples buy you new equipment sets. Gem Apples can revive you if your team wipes. Virtually every facet of Super Kirby Clash is tied to this currency, and this is where the main squeeze of the free to play mechanics is felt.
A small tree in the town will give you a measly payout of Gem Apples every twelve hours, so you’re otherwise left with the options of either grinding out Heroic Missions or opening your wallet and shelling out some cash for them on the eShop. In typical mobile game fashion, you’re all but drowned in Gem Apples at the start as you knock out Heroic Missions left and right, but that torrent quickly slims down to a drizzle as the requirements for Heroic Missions are raised ever higher. Bear in mind, too, that every attempt at a quest – win or lose – will cost you some “Vigor”, which recharges over real-world time.
It would be easy to decry all these mechanics as greedy cash-grab moves from Nintendo, but Super Kirby Clash proves to be remarkably generous, all things considered. For one thing, the microtransactions have a hard cap of forty bucks. If you pay up to this cap, the free to play elements are essentially removed. Even if you don’t hit the cap, the Gem Apple tree ‘upgrades’ after you buy certain amounts from the eShop, giving you bigger payouts when it refreshes every twelve hours.
In the baseline game, there certainly are areas where the Gem Apple bottleneck is felt, but patient gamers will have no problem navigating these, and those of you that want it all right now can rest assured that the pricing feels far from unreasonable or predatory. And the issue with the time-gating stamina system is largely negated by the fact that there are actually two separate bars depending on which kind of mission you’re playing. Your stamina is refilled and the cap is upgraded every time you level up, which conveniently can usually be achieved before you’ve completely emptied both your stamina bars. All of this is to say, the free to play elements certainly are a noticeable and ever-present fixture of Super Kirby Clash, but there’s nothing here that feels like Nintendo is overstepping its bounds.
New to Super Kirby Clash is the ability to play in online multiplayer, and while it’s a welcome and enjoyable feature if you happen to be playing with friends, performance ranges from shabby to downright unplayable when you go with random players. A large part of this poor performance is down to Nintendo’s peer-to-peer setup for the underlying online services for Switch, but the issue nonetheless rears its ugly head here.
In our experience, the best connection we had in a random match had about half a second of input lag, while the worst was easily over a second. There were several times, too, where the connection dropped partway through a battle, kicking us back to the job board while still costing the full amount of Vigor we spent to attempt the quest. In a game as timing intensive as Super Kirby Clash, this laggy online performance is simply unacceptable and stands as a harsh negative on this otherwise excellent release. Playing locally – whether on the same Switch or with others in the room – is fortunately as snappy as it needs to be, which softens the blow and somewhat salvages the multiplayer options for this release.
In terms of presentation, Super Kirby Clash adopts the same art style and design of Kirby Star Allies, meaning it runs in 30 FPS, but it looks quite pretty as it does so. The chunky models are simple, but coloured with an impressively versatile palette that’s quite the visual treat, while the fantasy-themed backgrounds are slightly blurred to give a depth of field effect.
It’s far from the most visually interesting release on the Switch, but it holds its ground well, especially compared to past entries in the series, and this is all supported well by the catchy soundtrack. A few new tracks and several remixes of old favourites make an appearance here, and the frantic, slightly goofy vibe of the music does a great job of matching up with the pace of the cartoonish action. Like the visuals, the music is nothing to write home about, but you’ll hardly be disappointed by what’s on offer.
As a standalone game, Super Kirby Clash holds up well to the Kirby series standard with its impressively diverse boss roster, straightforward RPG-lite mechanics, and deep potential for replayability. Though the online multiplayer is an unstable and unreliable mess, this hardly stands as a reason for you to not at least download the game and give it a shot. As a free to play release, Super Kirby Clash also manages to smartly handle its monetization and doesn’t hold back too much, offering you a fair amount of time-gated content relative to how much you feel like paying. We’d give Super Kirby Clash a high recommendation even if it was a low-price budget release at retail, but considering that it literally costs you nothing but your time, do yourself a favour and go download this as soon as you can.