Kirby and the Forgotten Land review: As soft and light as cotton candy
Kirby and the Forgotten Land looks like the kind of game created for this moment in 2022. I imagine a dark basement at Nintendo headquarters where a group of people are monitoring world affairs and whenever it gets too bad they hit a big red button that says “RELEASE THE CUTE”. ” It happened with Animal Crossing: New Horizons at the start of the pandemic in 2020 and it’s happening again now. But unlike animal crossingI do not want Kirby and the Forgotten Land has the same kind of stamina to carry us through this dark part of world history. It’s a good fun distraction to play for a few hours, but it doesn’t really have enough to keep you hooked.
In Kirby and the Forgotten Land, you play as the titular pink blob of undetermined origin, power, and motivation. As he happily goes about doing all the things a divine child of unspeakable power does, he is swept away by a storm that takes him to a land that feels like a post-apocalyptic analogue of Earth. There he learns that longtime enemies, now old friends, Waddle Dees, have been captured by a pack of beasts and it’s up to him to save them. Along the way, godson Kirby uses his prolific appetite to swallow all sorts of objects that help him save his friends.
I confess that I have never played Kirby game (although, oddly enough, he’s my go-to in Smash Bros..). I don’t know why, outside of nostalgia, people have an affinity for this franchise. But I think after my time with forgotten landI kind of get it: this is the cutest fucking video game I’ve played since… animal crossing.
There is such joy in this game that it is contagious. Kirby is still smiling and laughing. As your home base slowly fills with the Waddle Dees you rescued, Kirby circles around town, enthusiastically greeting his wards with a high-pitched, childish “Hi.” You can’t stop working with him. Kirby and the Forgotten Land is a tactical cruise missile of shameless bliss, expertly designed to put a smile on your face no matter how badly you feel. It’s the gaming equivalent of puppy videos and, I’ll admit, I needed its brightness.
I just wish his gameplay inspired so much joy. forgotten land is an aggressive platform game. Each level has a list of settings – some already known, some you won’t find out until you’ve completed it – in order to earn more hidden Waddle Dees. Secret Waddle Dees are usually hidden behind not-so-hidden pathways and special platforming puzzles that really aren’t that difficult.
In addition to the regular levels that progress the game, there are secondary levels on what is called the Treasure Road in which Kirby must complete a special platforming stage with a specific power-up, much like these levels rotating blocks in Super Mario Sun. Completing a level within the time limit earns Kirby a rare stone. Rare stones, when combined with not-so-hard-to-find blueprints that are scattered throughout the levels, are used to enhance his bonuses in their most powerful forms.
Kirby has his standard power-ups to choose from, such as fire, ice, wind, and guns, drawn from his ability to devour enemies. (Don’t google this.) While Kirby’s powers make dealing with enemies trivial, they’re neither fun nor powerful. Is it cool to smash bosses with Meta Knight’s sword? Sure. But Kirby’s base-level star-spitting power does a lot more damage to bosses, so it’s not really worth using all the powers you’ve worked so hard to get and upgrade.
Kirby’s Mouthful Mode special powers add some much-needed variety to the gameplay. I like every power of Mouthful mode. It’s not just because Kirby looks so adorable stretched around cars, traffic cones, and light bulbs, but each power adds a surprisingly unique twist to the game’s standard platform. I don’t have to think twice when playing as regular Kirby. Mouthful mode forces me to engage my brain just enough that the game becomes fun instead of me going through the motions.
When Kirby swallows a light bulb, the level darkens, forcing me to keep the light on so I don’t get out of a narrow path while attracting enemies I can’t fight in this form. Seeing the cracked pavement makes me search for a traffic cone to swallow so I can cross, releasing any hidden treasure, Waddle Dee, or collectibles beyond.
Back on the home front, the Waddle Dees you rescued gather in Waddle Dee Town. The more you save, the more equipment and mini-games you unlock. There’s a café game in which Kirby serves the correct order to an increasingly fast line of Waddle Dees. Another mini-game has you using the Switch gyroscopic controls to pilot Kirby through a maze to reach the end. For the Kirby Battle Royale fans, there’s also a colosseum where you fight a boss against the clock to earn weapon blueprints and other rewards.
Waddle Dee Town feels empty. Even crammed with waving Waddle Dees and its handful of attractions, it feels like a carnival worth visiting for a short time before heading home. The minigames aren’t that interesting beyond a single game, and don’t seem to offer any rewards beyond money to buy items for Kirby to embark on his journey. Kirby has a house that you can “decorate” with collectible statues found around the world or paid for from a small gacha machine in town, but its walls remain mostly bare. I had hoped that the statues you found would slowly fill your one-room house, but you can only fit three on your mantle.
My biggest beef with forgotten land is that so far no-Kirby player, Kirby presents himself as a bit of a dick. The developers made a huge miscalculation in the design of the enemy. I can’t bring myself to hurt the little puppy/fox looking things that occasionally show up to bark, growl, and lightly harass Kirby. They are so cute that I actively avoided them so as not to attract their attention and whenever I did, as much as my health allowed, I ignored them. (Fortunately, they’re a bit dark, so a quick hover over them and they’d fly away.) They’re called Awoofies for god’s sake! You want me to fight something that looks a lot like my dog with a name that sounds like a five-year-old made up in a pretend game? Awoofis. Absolutely not.
I kept waiting for the twist that showed me that the Awoofies are actually the good guys, forced to serve King Dedede’s whims under duress. It never happened. Nintendo is 100% committed to getting you to kill those cute as shit animals that sometimes don’t even fight Kirby to sleep instead, blow snot bubbles and all. What is Nintendo?
Awoofies aside, I’ve also never been able to figure out why Kirby has such a big and constant grudge against trees, so every time he sees one, it’s hands (er, mouth ) on sight. Fighting cute dogs, trees, and fluffy bunnies doesn’t strike me as hero behavior.
forgotten landThe other sin of is that it has a low replayability factor. You can retry levels to aim for Waddle Dees you missed, but there’s no sense that will reward you beyond ticking an extra box. There’s nothing to discover, no forking paths to find, only the satisfaction of rescuing a pauper…whatever the hell of a Waddle Dee and another super cute two second cutscene of Kirby and the Waddle Dee rejoicing in freedom. (Which might not be so insignificant as a reward since their happy little dance is so cutethe feel-good brain chemicals you get from seeing it make the extra effort worth it.)
Unfortunately, the game takes too long to start. It slowly increases the difficulty with the platforming and Waddle Dee puzzles which, by the time I got to the final stage and the boss fight, it was finally enough of an interesting challenge. I would have much preferred the game to start on this kind of difficulty and stay on this level for the entire game. There are more difficult bonus levels after the end credits that really test your puzzle-solving/secret-finding skills which I wish I had incorporated into the core of the game. That said, forgotten land seems like it’s more for younger kids and their parents, so I understand why its difficulty level might be a bit too slow for me.
I feel like Kirby and the Forgotten Land just not doing enough. You rescue Waddle Dees, defeat the bosses, and move on. Save up enough Waddle Dees to upgrade the town and unlock various attractions that overall don’t do much to hold your attention beyond a few attempts. There doesn’t seem to be any reason to keep playing the cafe game beyond beating your high score. Of course, it’s quite an incentive for people who like to keep their initials on top of their local Pac man firm, but for casual gamers there’s nothing of interest beyond a first attempt.
There is a cotton candy allegory to draw here. Just like carnival candy, Kirby is fluffy, cute, pink, and super sweet. It looks appealing and is so much fun to eat, but the minute you put it in your mouth, it dissolves. Gone so fast, you barely noticed it was there. That’s what it’s like to play Kirby and the Forgotten Land; fun at the moment, but without real substance. And that’s it! Kirby and the Forgotten LandSurgically deployed kindness is more than enough to overcome its relative emptiness.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land releases March 25 on the Nintendo Switch.