Time is of the essence as you embark on a high-stakes journey to save your closest companions — and the world.
Your friends are captured and crying for help. Only you have what it takes to deliver their salvation. You leap behind the wheel of a rusty car and drive. Only you stand between the world you love and a sinister conglomerate’s reign of terror.
Believe it or not, this is Kirby and the Forgotten Land, the latest sugar-sweet installment in Nintendo’s franchise starring a hungry pink blob — not the new Batman movie. Kirby and the Forgotten Land is a colorful platforming experience with fully realized 3D environments and ever-so-slightly more mature themes than its predecessor, 2018’s Kirby Star Allies.
While the final product doesn’t necessarily deliver on all its promises, Forgotten Land is a delightful game that franchise devotees and newcomers alike should strongly consider adding to their collection.
While Kirby and the Forgotten Land is a 3D platformer, it avoids any semblance of trendy open-world game design. In that, it resembles Super Mario 3D World more closely than Super Mario Odyssey. Players select bespoke levels from an overworld map, and each of those levels is littered with optional collectibles.
And there are lots of collectibles for players to uncover. Captured Waddle Dees are the main form of currency here. They can be unearthed by beating specific bosses, solving ability-based puzzles, or completing hidden objectives in each stage. There are hundreds of Waddle Dees and collectible figurines wedged in some really tight spaces. There’s a consistent, though pleasant, emphasis on backtracking to find hidden treasures throughout the game, as not every challenge is visible on your first attempt.
The core gameplay shines brightest when Kirby’s Mouthful Mode is in play. This hilarious gimmick allows Kirby to transform into cars, vending machines, a lightbulb that brightens dark areas, and a massive traffic cone that can be used to bust through cracks in the pavement below.
Some of the mouthful abilities are more fun to use than others, given the restrictions variants like Ring Mouth and Cone Mouth place on Kirby’s otherwise flawless mobility, but each introduces a new element to the series’ familiar puzzle-solving rigamarole.
Especially in later levels that keep you switching between two or three Mouthful abilities over a matter of minutes, it all feels remarkably fresh. And, in keeping with the rest of the Kirby universe, it’s all incredibly cute, too. Mouthful Mode is by far the strongest part of the experience. It doesn’t always make sense, but it is always fun.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land offers a refreshing spin on old ideas with themed worlds that showcase typical platformer tropes. There is some variation amongst the usual beach levels, snow levels, and amusement parks, but these aesthetics are more focused on the franchise’s legacy than anything else.
Developer HAL Laboratories has Kirby-level cuteness down to a science at this point, which is the main draw to all of these environments. You’ll make your way from point A to B inhaling enemies and taking their abilities to solve puzzles that free Waddle Dees from their captive state. To keep things breezy, the game always provides players with the precise abilities they need to solve each puzzle.
That design choice is understandable for an all-ages audience, but it removes a lot of the potential guesswork that could make things more interesting for franchise aficionados.
The new Drill and Ranger abilities spice up that formula slightly, but they just aren’t as effective at taking down enemies and bosses as mainstays like Bomb or Fire. When Mouthful Mode isn’t a factor, the end result is a collection of platforming puzzles that are sometimes a bit too traditional for their own good.
A waddle little extras
If you need a break from the level grind, Kirby and the Forgotten Land is absolutely bursting with extra stuff to do. In addition to five standard courses, each world also features a series of ability-focused time trials that lock Kirby into using a certain ability to complete tailored challenges, such as shooting targets with the Ranger ability within a time limit. Finish the stage, and you’ll be awarded a Hidden Treasure that can be spent upgrading one of Kirby’s abilities using blueprints found in each stage.
Traditional Fire can be upgraded to Inferno Fire to produce a more powerful attack that does continuous damage to large enemies. At first, it may seem as though the trials on Treasure Road are optional, but these upgrades become essential later in the game and look super cool in action.
Upgrades are the primary reason to visit the Waddle Dee Town hub world that becomes increasingly populated with each trapped Waddle Dee you save. Additional activities like a cinematic viewer, sound test, and even an item shop populate this space, but, more often than not, you’re coming here to recover health at Kirby’s house in between levels while turning in blueprints and occasionally taking a stab at the boss rush Arena. Yes, there are tilt-based and fishing minigames to try as well, but they won’t keep players busy for more than a few moments.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land is a truly magical game that amounts to what could be the best franchise entry in decades. Even if its level themes and puzzle elements call back to concepts longtime fans will have seen before, the execution is charming and polished to an absolute shine. The oddities of Mouthful Mode alone are well worth the price of admission. If you can overlook linear levels and occasionally forced backtracking, this might be one of the best games of 2022 so far.
Inverse played Kirby and the Forgotten Land on the Nintendo Switch before its March 25, 2022 release date.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.