When you think of Kirby, what is the first thing that comes to mind? If you said Kirby’s Avalanche, me too. If you are a normal person, you probably think about the copy ability. This has been a staple concept since Kirby’s introduction in Kirby’s Adventure on the NES. While basic at the time, we have seen Kirby’s copy ability evolve over the years to see them pull off some devastating damage. We have even seen them go so far as to have a copy ability called Black Hole (in Japan). Without the various copy abilities at their disposal, I don’t think Kirby would have as much appeal outside their cozy inhale/exhale gameplay.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land continues this crazy experiment on what Kirby can and cannot copy. The new Mouthful Mode gave us plenty of nightmare fuel, but at the same time felt like watered-down copy abilities. At most, they felt like a gimmick only meant to be used to solve puzzles or traversal. The actual copy abilities themselves saw a better improvement from other games. I got Kirby 64 vibes when I saw that you could upgrade abilities to different forms. Not quite similar to 64’s mix and match abilities, but it was something different than having the same ability do the same thing without any variants. Seeing this mechanic excited me more than Kirby turning into a car and making DaBaby look like a poser.
Something still felt missing though. Every ability was fun to use, but I felt like some copy staples were missing. Where was the plasma ability? The beam ability was also missing due to the fact that the developers wanted to give Kirby a gun instead. I like the wheelie ability and understood why that was missing, but it would have been cool to have outside the car segments. Even the umbrella ability was missing, and you don’t take Kirby’s fucking parasol away from them! This got me to examine the available copy abilities and try to understand why certain abilities were chosen over others. My observation led to an interesting discovery.
All of Kirby’s abilities in Forgotten Land can be grouped into three categories: Attack, Traversal, and Sleep. Abilities like Sword, Hammer, and Gunner are mostly used for attacking and solving puzzles. These are the abilities that you will mostly stick with in fights unless you are working on a mission objective. Traversal abilities would include Tornado, Ice, Needle, and Drill. These abilities can be used in fights, but their overall design leads more toward progressing through stages quickly due to their forward momentum. Sleep is an unfair ability that restores Kirby’s health after a good night’s sleep (which we all wish we could have). The selection of abilities is diverse enough to encourage using whichever ability tickles your fancy, but that is not how Forgotten Land wants you to play the game.
Forgotten Land’s level design can be explained simply as “hand-holdy.” It likes to give you the illusion of choice, but the game constantly hints at you which ability you should be using and how long you will be using it for. This is done in several ways throughout each stage. If the game introduces a new mechanic with an ability, it is safe to guess that you will be relying on that ability for the rest of the stage. Even when you need to switch abilities to solve a simple puzzle, the game will “hint” at an ability you need by having it readily available or have an enemy constantly spawn so that you don’t miss out on secrets or puzzles that you need to solve. At least from my opinion from the other (limited) Kirby games that I’ve played, this game seems the most determined to make all the answers simple enough for the player to understand and solve.
I think back to other Kirby games that I’ve played. In Kirby 64, you have to find crystal shards throughout the level. Some would be easy to get, but some were stuck behind walls or other obstacles that would require one ability or the right combination to obtain. It required the player to understand the different combinations available in the level in order to complete the game and access the true final boss. Another example comes from The Great Cave Offensive in Super Star. For being a game about collecting treasure, you would expect some backtracking and puzzle solving. To get that 100% completion rating, you have to go out of your way and use the right abilities to find secrets that the game doesn’t point out in an obvious way. While that sense of challenge is still present in Forgotten Land, it is not as nearly as difficult to figure out when the game highlights it so clearly.
I haven’t mentioned Mouthful Mode abilities yet, but they also feel like a limited ability. They can also be divided into their own categories of Traversal, Puzzle Solving, or Dumb. I will give credit to some of the Mouthful puzzles since a small few of them require some fast thinking on what you need to do. The traversal modes (Car, Arch, Coaster) are fun since they change the gameplay up a bit and provide their own challenges. Car mode would have these time trials that made you observe the track and find hidden shortcuts that you might have missed the first go round. The roller coaster mode would have you dodging and collecting items, but also on the lookout for switches that would be easy or hard to see depending on the speed that you are going. While I appreciated some of those, Mouthful Mode was also scripted to be used for certain points. If the stage did not purposely prevent you from taking an ability with you to a new screen, then it was obvious that you would need it for another section. But what is worse than that is when you just use them for a small section and nothing else. I’m talking about the Light Bulb, Roller, and Dome. These are just used for quick situational moments that could be ignored if you were allowed to. They don’t add any gameplay variety or fun minigames to go along with them. Overall, I would have just preferred old or new, unique copy abilities that I could use outside of the given situation.
I think that is my biggest complaint about this game. Outside of boss fights where I can choose which ability I want to use (as long as it’s not tied to a mission), the game is too busy trying to get me to play the way it wants me to play. There’s hardly any desire to experiment with things unless you want to go out of your way to do it. In more recent 3D platformers (that I’ve played), it seems that the developers openly welcome experimentation with abilities that they give the player. In Forgotten Land’s case, it felt like the developers were too afraid to give players complete freedom in fear of missing out on something. That is not a bad thing, but it does restrict my enjoyment when I’m not allowed to play things the way I want to play them.
Does this make Kirby and the Forgotten Land a bad game? It depends on the player. I still had a good time playing through the game. Some of the later challenges were fun to do and the overall presentation of the game is charming from start to finish. I won’t spoil the final boss, but if you have ever played a Kirby game it is very much a Kirby final boss. What holds me back from saying that it is one of the best in the series are the items mentioned above. All I’m saying is that if you take the parasol away from Kirby then you have not only nerfed them but the game as well.