We don’t talk nearly enough about the fact that Kirby, on a conceptual level, is terrifying. Yes, the smooth wad of pink bubble gum is adorable–no one is debating that. He smiles incessantly while waving his little arms and waddling on his disproportionate feet, and he’s always there to say “hiiiiii” in a cheerful manner. But Kirby is also an abomination, a Frankenstein-esque experiment created in a lab run by a mad scientist named HAL. He gleefully inhales other creatures, swallows them, and absorbs their powers. I’d call him Thanos, but he doesn’t have the proper anatomy to wear a world-shattering gauntlet… yet. Sadly, I have to report that we’ve allowed Kirby to get too full of himself (and others), and he’s reached his ultimate form in Kirby and the Forgotten Land. The culmination of 30 years of exploring the malleable mascot, Kirby and the Forgotten Land is the most inventive and best entry in franchise history. The move to 3D brings Kirby’s signature mechanic to life in a way that wasn’t possible before. This feels like a new beginning for Kirby, as it maintains all of the familiar series trappings while presenting them in a cohesive, well-rounded adventure that is playfully imaginative throughout.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land follows the traditional stage-based format with multiple areas and rooms in each area–it’s certainly not as “open” as the trailers have made it seem. It’s much closer to Super Mario 3D World than Super Mario Odyssey. Still, the stages hold far more secrets than might initially meet the eye, actively encouraging you to poke around to find hidden rooms, paths, and areas with self-contained objectives containing their own rewards at the end.
Though Forgotten Land mostly sticks with the tried-and-true world themes we’ve come to expect from Nintendo platformers–grass, sea, ice, fire, desert, etc.–the remnants of civilization present in the “Forgotten Land” give these locales mysterious vibes that make them unique. From an abandoned shopping mall and amusement park to a haunted house and chilly metro station, each of Forgotten Land’s 30+ stages tell their own story. Unlike some other recent Kirby games, it almost always feels fresh and full of new ideas.
This consistent novel charm is significantly bolstered by the meaningful use of Kirby’s Copy mechanic and the brand-new Mouthful Mode. Yes, the latter certainly contributes to Kirby being a cute and cuddly version of Frankenstein’s monster, but Mouthful Mode isn’t a silly gimmick; it’s a delightful and interesting gameplay mechanic that also happens to be quite funny. Kirby can only absorb powers of living things (he’s not a monster), so when he tries to inhale inanimate objects, he just stretches his body around them, claiming them like my one-year-old son lays claim to every item in the house. Watching him swallow other characters and take on their attributes was a lot to deal with already, but now we have to embrace the chaos that is Kirby inhaling cars, commandeering roller coasters, and revolutionizing the aerodynamics of paragliding.
Each Mouthful ability has its own unique mechanic and is often used to complete bonus objectives and rescue hidden Waddle Dees. The abilities up the gameplay in creative ways: Coaster Mouth sees Kirby do his best Ratchet rail-grind impression, Arch Mouth introduces flying sequences, and Ring Mouth can knock enemies out with powerful gusts or be used to steer a boat. My two favorite Mouthful abilities were Water Balloon Mouth and Light-Bulb Mouth. Water Balloon Mouth turns Kirby into a giant blob who spews water, clearing fiery obstacles and sludge while laying waste to colossal obstacles that cannot be taken out with normal Copy abilities. Meanwhile, the sparsely used Light-Bulb Mouth assists with pitch-black environments, such as the aforementioned haunted house where cardboard monsters pop out from the walls and ghosts chase the illuminated Kirby bulb.
While Mouthful Mode is certainly a standout feature that creates some interesting and fresh scenarios, I was even more impressed with how Kirby’s Copy abilities were utilized. These transformations have always been cool, but they’ve rarely felt meaningful from a strategic or level design standpoint. Abilities typically blended together, which made your transformation choices feel inconsequential. Kirby Planet Robobot laid the groundwork for making Copy abilities more important, but Forgotten Land takes this idea and runs with it. There are far more specialized puzzles that require a particular ability than ever before, such as switches that have to be hit in quick succession with the cutter by performing a combo move, ice blocks that require fire to melt, fiery crates that need the cooling power of ice, floating targets for ranged weapons, and nails for the hammer, among others. Even some of the platforming sequences are designed with specific abilities in mind, including large gaps that can only be crossed with the tornado ability or surfaces that call for Kirby to glide like a figure skater with the ice ability. The 3D perspective itself is also a boon to Kirby’s abilities, as it makes them versatile and leads to more-creative puzzles, experimentation, and open-ended objectives.
Along with platforming and puzzle solving, the Copy mechanic is more important to combat than in previous entries. Kirby and the Forgotten probably won’t be a difficult game for those with some experience playing action-platformers, but it is the most challenging Kirby to date. When played on the “Wild” difficulty setting some bosses can kill you in a handful of hits, especially if you settle on one favorite Copy ability. All bosses have different attack patterns, from the brute force, close-range strength of the giant gorilla to the agile grace of a crafty leopard, and I was surprised to find that in late-game boss fights, I needed to actually have a strategy when it came to using Copy abilities. For those looking for a lighter experience, Spring Breeze is a great difficulty option. While the boss fights are well-designed, the mini-bosses who pop up numerous times each grow stale. It’s the only aspect of the mainline missions that relies on repetition, which is a shame because it would’ve been nice to see a greater variety to match the expanding arsenal of abilities at your disposal.
Blueprints earned by defeating bosses, exploring the levels, and solving hidden puzzles can be used to evolve Copy abilities. I was concerned at first that the evolved forms would make Forgotten Land ridiculously easy, but the adventure does a great job at gradually ramping up the difficulty alongside your (expected) ability upgrades. Evolved Copy abilities deal greater damage while having additional features. The Ranger–which goes “pew-pew”–eventually evolves into the Space Ranger, which even gives Kirby a spacesuit. My favorite was Dragon Fire, which not only gives Kirby purplish fire-breathing powers but a pair of wings for a glide attack. As Copy abilities evolve, so do their potential use cases. I actually thought about my offensive approach in a Kirby game, which is something I never thought I’d be able to say.
You also need Rare Stones to upgrade Copy abilities, and those are found in optional side stages on Treasure Road. There are actually more Treasure Road stages than main levels, so it’d be reasonable to think these might be filler content. Nope. These time trials make expert use of the revamped Copy abilities and new Mouthful Mode. Each stage is themed around a specific ability, and I had a blast with every one of them. Shooting moving targets, zipping through obstacle courses, skating across slippery paths, flipping switches in quick succession–Treasure Road stages are fast-paced side dishes that offer mouthfuls of fun. Some of them can be quite tricky, especially if you’re aiming for the “record time,” which rewards you with bonus coins and oftentimes demands near perfection.
The Weapons Shop (where you purchase upgrades) is just one of the buildings and businesses that pop up from being a diligent explorer. As you rescue Waddle Dees from the nefarious Beast Pack, they get to work on expanding Waddle Dee Town–the game’s central hub. Multiple item shops open throughout your adventure, allowing you to purchase food to restore health on the go or items that increase attack/speed/health for a limited time.
For those who are having a hard time with a boss, a health reserve or attack boost can definitely help. When my daughter was struggling with one of the bosses, I purchased five attack boosts (you can stack them), and the increased damage she dealt from lobbing bombs did the trick. Since Kirby games are ultimately geared towards kids, it’s nice to see those types of helpful tricks while still being able to provide a less tame experience for those who love Kirby games but find that their simplicity has gone too far in some cases. And those purchasable items are quite useful for the unlockable Coliseum boss rush mode that is purely focused on speed. Outside of the Coliseum, Waddle Dee Town has a few minigames, including the motion-sensored Tilt-and-Roll that nods back to the Game Boy Color game Tilt-‘n-Tumble and reflex-based fishing and cooking games. You can also spend coins at the Gotcha Machine to try and collect all of the figures. Beware, there are a lot of figures, and all they do is sit in a digital album. The activities in Waddle Dee Town aren’t that engaging, but they are essentially cute little add-ons rather than focal points.
It’s worth noting that I didn’t rescue every Waddle Dee, but it doesn’t appear that you have to in order to complete Waddle Dee Town. Each stage has Waddle Dees you earn for completing the level, hidden Waddle Dees and three to four secret objectives that save additional Waddle Dee. If you want to be a completionist, the game helps you out by revealing a secret objective you missed each time you complete a level. My only gripe here is that some of the secret objectives, largely for boss levels, are tied to using a specific Copy ability. This makes it impossible for even the most thorough of players to find everything in one run. And if the reward for saving every Waddle Dee is similar to that of Breath of the Wild’s Korok Seed hunt or Mario Odyssey’s Moons, then I’m sorry, Waddle Dees, some of y’all aren’t coming home. I spent around 15 hours with Forgotten Land–mostly just completing the mainline and Treasure Road missions–and am currently at 80% completion.
For parents with young kids, the local co-op mode is a blast, even though one player has to be the decidedly less cool Bandana Waddle Dee. While he’s the coolest Waddle Dee due to the bandana, I do wish that there was a colony of different color Kirbies like there are Yoshis. The Copy and Mouthful abilities being limited to Kirby means that one player doesn’t get to partake in the most interesting aspects of each stage. This is particularly noticeable during Mouthful sections, as Bandana Waddle Dee has to rely on Kirby to do his thing to move onto the next section. It’s a better co-op mode than some other family-friendly Switch exclusives (Super Mario Odyssey, Bowser’s Fury), but the experience playing as a Waddle Dee isn’t nearly as dynamic when you’re stuck with one set of attacks while Kirby has dozens.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land is one of those games that’s hard to play without constantly having a silly smile on your face. It’s far more than just a cute and charming platformer with colorful visuals, though. This is one of the best platformers on Nintendo Switch thanks to its brilliantly designed stages and a dynamic arsenal of abilities that consistently shake up the moment-to-moment platforming and action. And FrankenKirby, if you’re reading this review, please don’t eat me. I don’t have any cool powers anyway.