Developer: HAL Laboratory
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: April 28th, 2016 (JP)
June 10th, 2016 (US)
ESRB: E for Everyone
Long before the days of rechargeable batteries and every handheld device coming with a power cord to plug into the wall, the red light on my old Game Boy went out. My bubbling excitement stopped abruptly and I shook my head, â€œMan -- it died just when things were about to get good!â€
Mom was in the room with me and snuck a peek at what game I“d been playing. She“d genuinely wondered what kind of game would make me all giddy. I was chastised later that evening -- for having strong feelings about a Kirby game.
Whether it“s 1995 and I was just about to have a showdown with Dark Matter in Kirby“s Dream Land 2 -- or it“s 2016, and I just knocked out the last of the extra modes in the Japanese version of Kirby: Planet Robobot... I“ve always been that way.
There“s something about what Kirby games offer, philosophically, that serve as a direct portal back to childhood, for me. Their relative ease, and the intuitive -- not vexing -- forms that their puzzles take, typically offer a uniformly relaxing platforming experience. How traditional Kirby fans feel about his core experiences are usually relative to how much each entree goes out of its way to feel refreshing and new.
To that end: I don“t think I“ve ever played a bad Kirby game, but there has been plenty of mediocrity in his non-experimental outings. I really wasn“t impressed with Squeak Squad, and Amazing Mirror has its share of shortcomings, too. But, the most topical among his adventures that I consider â€œaverageâ€: Kirby Triple Deluxe.
I expected Kirby: Planet Robobot to amount to â€œa slightly better Triple Deluxeâ€. Like Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, Tri Force Heroes, and many other 3DS contemporaries from recent years -- this game uses the same engine and graphical stylings as the one that came before it. I wanted to grab the Japanese version of the game, months ahead of the American marketing machine and websites“ pre-release hype, to assess every aspect of this particular Kirby game for myself, like I did back in the Game Boy era. The prospect of putting Kirby into an odd pink robot sounded just asinine enough to pique my interest, then lead me down a computerized rabbit hole in a language I don“t understand at all.
But... my overall experience didn“t just exceed my expectations -- it obliterated them. From the mechanized main story, to the handful of sub-games and unlockable modes -- I haven“t been this delighted by a Kirby game since Super Star and Return to Dream Land.
Kirby manages to sleep through a robotic alien invasion. Despite King Dedede and Meta Knight“s valiant efforts to thwart the attackers, Planet Popstar becomes overrun by the Haltmann Works Company. Kirby“s got to work his way through the five corners of his home (and beyond) to undue the damage done -- and maybe figure out why his home was invaded in the first place. The game uses fancy camera work, cutscenes, and even a fair bit of dialogue to advance the plot. Of course, the story in Kirby games is hardly a labyrinthine thing worth shedding light on, but hey, there are a fair bit of things to read and discover.
Right: remember when I said â€œfancy camera workâ€? That“s one of the very first presentation-related aspects that Planet Robobot really knocks out of the park. For a more nuanced look, I wrote up lots of impressions, but this game“s clever use of perspectives help make its environments (which would otherwise feel like mechanized versions of stuff you saw a lot of in Triple Deluxe) feel large and open versus contained in a glorified path leading forward. The corners of Planet Popstar all feel largely connected, as well. It“s a small touch, but you can actually go from one end of the world to the other without ever using a Warp Star to travel.
You“ll notice the same common themes of many a Kirby game: grass lands, a desert, a city setting, and docks. But there are plenty of thematic levels sprinkled throughout the entire game -- like a dessert level (filled with ice cream cones that collapse as they move from the background to the foreground, obstructing your view and potentially squishing you) preceding the desert world, crazy casinos with billiard balls that act like rolling rocks, and so much more. Every time you approach a lab from the Haltmann Works company, the camera pulls itself back and gives you a big space to run towards, like you“re storming the final boss“s castle. The game is filled with small touches that make it feel like a delightful celebration of Kirby versus a simple follow-up to Triple Deluxe.
Before I start discussing mechanics old and new -- just a brief note on the game“s music. There are a staggering 162 tracks in the game, including the brief intro music that plays before it“s selected from your 3DS Home Screen. Many of these are brand new, some are taken directly from other Kirby outings
â€œOkay, but when do we get to the robot part?â€ I hear you...and it happens relatively early on in the game. Unlike the Hypernova and the Super Abilities of Kirby games past, the Robobot Armor doesn“t feel limited or what amounts to a glorified key. It feels like it“s the natural evolution of Kirby“s animal friends. The armor is just as prevalent as they were in Dream Land 2 & 3, and it“s absolutely used as a means to amplify Kirby's power in puzzle solving and enemy pummeling.
The game has a tendency to drop Kirby in the middle of a situation with gigantic opponents and obstacles, only to have him make quick work of them later once he“s acquired the Robobot Armor in a level. It“s wholly satisfying to play through, even if the armor feels just a little too powerful sometimes.
Kirby“s regular Copy Abilities are numerous, just as in Triple Deluxe.There“s even an old Copy Ability or two first introduced in Super Star that make a return! A few new ones of note are the Poison and Doctor Abilities, both of which have several puzzles used to acquire the game“s Big Collectible. Like Triple Deluxe“s Sun Stones, there are a handful of what I“m calling â€œC Blocksâ€ hidden in every level --100 total. The Poison Ability lets you blow a toxic cloud to slowly suffocate enemies... and just one of the puzzles associated with it involves a level“s wind carrying that cloud to a Bomb Switch you can make explode, opening your way to the C Block ahead. These puzzles don“t really get too complex until around the endgame, but the lack of difficulty is hardly something new to the series.
The Robobot Armor has exclusive Copy Abilities, too! Acquiring an umbrella will turn the Robobot“s arms into helicopters allowing fly freely for a while versus its otherwise limited double jump. Grabbing a wheel will let the Robobot Armor switch from the background to the foreground of a level, allowing for slightly more complex puzzle-solving and platforming than before. And grabbing a rocket turns the Robobot Armor -- and the level itself -- into a more Gradius-style fare, where you shoot foes and obstacles ahead. There“s even a well-hidden allusion to a Kirby“s Dream Land boss hidden in one of those stages.
Speaking of bosses: the long-winded life bars on powerful foes aren“t just saved for the end of each major section of the game. That big hulking enemy you see is found towards the end of one of the regular levels. Having powerful enemies littered throughout normal levels both messes with series expectations, plus helps make the bosses themselves feel that much more memorable.
There are plenty of extra minigames beyond the main story, too. Team Kirby Clash feels like the Kirby RPG many have always wanted. And Kirby 3D Rumble is a score attack that shakes traditional Kirby gameplay up a bit by putting everything on a three-dimensional plane. I felt like the minigames that Triple Deluxe had were rather bland. Planet Robobot suffers the opposite problem. It feels like there's just enough of these two interesting concepts to say, â€œBuy the bulkier eShop games when they're announced later this year!â€
Kirby“s latest outing has me reflecting upon my childhood, and how these games make me feel, in a different way than I expected. I simply haven't felt this impressed, this unbelievably delighted from a Kirby game since my childhood. I've often said that Return to Dream Land marks the pinnacle of traditional Kirby gameplay. But Planet Robobot takes it -- and fans“ expectations -- and manages to make everything feel like a mechanized wonderland.
+ There are so many phenomenal, over-the-top moments in the game that spoilers could be a genuine thing to worry about. So much cool stuff happens that it feels like a celebration of Kirby moreso than a follow-up to Triple Deluxe.
+ The Robobot Armor feels like a natural extension of Kirby's abilities versus a tacked-on gimmick that you see a handful of times during the game.
+ Everything ties together so well, thematically. The 3D effects of Kirby: Planet Robobot are among the best on the system.
- Kirby games are very easy and relaxing by nature, but the Robobot Armor could maybe feel a little too powerful for some. It never bothered me, though!
- While there's plenty of unlockable modes, the two minigames you start with definitely feel a little too short to be properly enjoyed.
Overall Score: 9.5 (out of 10)
If this is the last Kirby game that Mr. Iwata ever oversaw -- Planet Robobot does right by him. Far more than a follow-up to Triple Deluxe, it feels like an over-the-top celebration of everything that Kirby is.