Did you ever think Kirby would become a vending machine that shoots sodas at poor, unsuspecting enemies? What about a flight of stairs that can crush people? I sure didn’t, but I’m so glad he can. For this hands-on preview, I got to explore the entire first world of Kirby’s newest adventure, Kirby and the Forgotten Land, including an end-of-world boss that proved to be quite an undertaking. I also got to try out a few time-limit challenge areas, seek out a bunch of collectibles, and of course transform Kirby about a half-dozen ways -- and I've enjoyed every minute of it.
The core to any Kirby game is the diverse power-ups he can absorb from various enemies – and it’s no different in Kirby and the Forgotten Land. Most of the early stages are split up, sometimes even throwing a mini-boss your way halfway through, and throughout the levels, Kirby will have access to multiple copy abilities to combat his foes. Choice is key here, as it almost never forces you to use an ability you don’t want to. Even before a boss, you’ll be presented with a few power options to enter the battle with.
The copy abilities are great, but the first world didn’t offer anything I hadn’t seen before, except for the newly implemented Mouthful Mode. I don’t mean to say that the power-ups aren’t fun to use, but Mouthful Mode steals the show. We’ve already seen Kirby take on the form of a car in earlier trailers, and it’s as fun as you would imagine. Driving and jumping around the stage, ramming into foes and obstacles, and even using it to discover secrets never gets old – but the car isn’t the only option.
In the first world alone, Kirby will get access to around a half-dozen of Mouthful Mode transformations. He can become a set of stairs that not only crushes his foes but can be used to access hard to reach previously inaccessible areas, a traffic cone that can slam down on enemies with high damage and break cracks in the road and pipes, and even a vending machine that uses sodas as ammunition. Imagine going back to 1992 and telling someone playing Kirby’s Dream Land on their Game Boy that one day Kirby could become a vending machine. I’d love to see their reaction.
Mouthful Mode isn’t just something that happens in super specific moments in a stage either; they actually pop up quite a bit. Also, going into Mouthful Mode doesn’t get rid of your active copy ability either, so there’s nothing stopping you from being a traffic cone for as long as the stage will let you. But it’s also not always just about becoming a strong power-up, you’ll see Kirby swallow parts of the environment as well to move obstacles, like becoming the top of a water tower to open it up, or even a set of lockers he can topple over to reveal hidden secrets.
It doesn’t stop there either. In between levels, you’ll be on a world map, but a press of a button will teleport Kirby to Waddle Dee town, a sort of hub world filled with things to do. It features a movie theater that lets you rewatch any cutscene you’ve previously seen, a vending machine that you can buy statues from, and even a weapon workshop. You’ll eventually get to unlock even more parts of the town, like a fishing mini-game and even Kirby’s house. In the weapon workshop, you’ll have the ability to transform into any power you’ve collected on your journey thus far, and spend currency to unlock more powerful versions of them. What was once a flamethrower now becomes a volcano power, allowing Kirby to shoot giant rocks of molten lava. You can even beat the heck out of a sandbag to test them all out.
The weapon workshop, new Waddle Dee town buildings, and even progression are all tied to the collectibles found in its levels. Fans of the Mario 3D World series will be right at home in Kirby in the Forgotten Land. It’s not a side scroller, but instead features a gorgeous semi-3D world with linear stages. That’s not to say you’ll always just be walking from A to B. Each level is littered with collectibles and secrets to find, with each of them featuring a new challenge for you to discover. One stage sees you igniting lanterns using Kirby's flamethrower ability while another has you ripping down wanted posters. But it’s not always collectibles that earns you a coveted Waddle Dee (essentially stars found in Mario 3D), sometimes it’s a challenge like finishing a stage without driving your car off a cliff, or even beating a boss without taking a single hit.
This is where a lot of the challenge comes from. It shouldn't be a surprise that this Kirby game, like a lot before it, shows a lot of difficulty restraint, especially early on. You’re given two difficulty options that you can change at any time, and even on the tougher option, I can still go most stages without taking a single hit – though I fully suspect that will change down the line. Instead, a lot of the challenge comes from scavenging for well-hidden secrets. Just like in Mario 3D World or even Sackboy’s Big Adventure, the camera itself hides a lot of areas that Kirby can squeeze through to find some hidden goodies, and just like those other games, every time I finished a stage and realized I had missed a Waddle Dee or two, I instantly felt compelled to dive back in to hunt them down.
Finally, after finishing the assorted stages and challenge rooms the world map has to offer, you can take on the boss for that current world. In the first world, Natural Plains, it’s a giant gorilla that can actually land quite a few hits if you’re not careful. Also, as I previously mentioned, there’s an extra challenge to defeat him without taking a single hit if you feel compelled to collect every Waddle Dee. I was able to do it after a couple tries, and it really excited me for what could be waiting for me in the future. For as simple as it can be at times, suddenly having the difficulty ramp up because the completionist in me wants to find every collectible there is has me stoked for some of the challenges I’ll hopefully soon face.
Pockets of difficulty are sprinkled in quite a bit for those that seek it. Let’s face it, Kirby can fly. So platforming over holes in the world is almost never going to be a challenge, but he can’t fly to the top of a stage freely, so platforming puzzles still need to be solved in a more traditional way. Unlockable challenge rooms have you mastering each of Kirby’s various power-ups. Just beating one of these stages is easy enough, but if you want an extra star to spend on weapon upgrades, then you’ll need to complete them in under a pretty tight time limit.
More than anything, Kirby and the Forgotten Land has completely surprised me. As I made my way through the first stage, I was worried that I was in for a lot of walking down linear corridors taking down the easiest enemies to ever grace a video game. I’m happy to say it constantly proved me wrong. With its well-hidden secret collectibles, challenging ways to earn Waddle Dees, and the treasure challenge stages, Kirby and the Forgotten Land will present some challenge for those looking for it – I can’t wait to get my Treasure Road times as low as possible to compete with my Nintendo Switch friends. I also believe this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of transformations – I’ve already seen a lot, and I can’t wait to be surprised by what else they came up with.