Kirby Mass Attack (DS)

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What’s better than one Kirby, the pink ball-shaped character we know and love? 10 Kirby’s of course! The Kirby and Donkey Kong series seem to be Nintendo’s testing grounds for new gameplay ideas and the recent Kirby experiments, Kirby Power Paintbrush and Kirby’s Epic Yarn, have both been a huge success in my eyes. Kirby Mass Attack is equally as fun, if not quite as sizeable as those two games, and if you like the character, or if you like puzzle platforming games and don’t mind (or revel in) cuteness and charming sprite animation, you will find entertainment here.

Kirby: Mass Attack Screenshot 3Kirby: Mass Attack Screenshot 4

The premise is straightforward, as is usual for Kirby games. He starts off the game napping, but a dodgy character named Necrodeus splits him into 10 copies of himself with his powerful staff, “each having only a fraction of Kirby’s greatness.” Unfortunately, 9 of the 10 were defeated, but one survived. Kirby’s heart also survived in the form of a star, and so Kirby follows the star and starts his journey to defeat Necrodeus, get hold of the evil Skull Gang leader’s staff and restore the other nine of himself to himself. It’s a suitably off the wall plot that at least explains just why there are 10 Kirby’s and not one.

You start with just one little pink guy. You control him using the stylus. Tap on the screen and Kirby will go to where you tap, double tap and he’ll go there faster. Hold the stylus on him and draw a line and Kirby will move along that line, floating through the air slowly. Flick the stylus to flick mini-Kirby at things. Move Kirby onto an enemy and he will start pummeling the enemy and try to defeat him (some enemies take more than one Kirby to take down and some as much as 10). As he eats fruit his fruit meter will fill, and once it gets to 100 a new Kirby appears, resetting the meter back to zero. Pretty soon you have a whole group of Kirby’s to control, but they control really easily with the few simple mechanisms provided, as they are programmed to stay bunched up. As always, Nintendo have got the controls perfect – everything feels right and the feedback you’re given in sounds and responsiveness makes controlling the horde of Kirby’s a pleasure. Add this to the incessant cuteness of Kirby and the way the troop run and fall all over each other as they go and you have a recipe for a smile.

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A smile does not a game make, although it goes a long way. The levels themselves show a lot of inventiveness with various styles and themes being used. Early levels on each of the four islands require only one or two Kirby’s to enter, but later levels require up to 10. As you warp from island to island you drop back down to one Kirby (because only one guy can hold on to the start – it’s obviously hard to hold on to a Kirby because there aren’t really any handholds on his round body.) The levels are easy, as is usually the case for a Kirby game, but it is still possible to die, in which case you have to start the level again.

The challenge comes in the form of stars you can earn – a bronze one if no Kirby’s are lost, a silver one if no Kirby’s get KO’d and a gold one if no Kirby’s are touched, which is a real challenge for most levels. The other challenge is collecting all the gold coins scattered around levels. This is not difficult; it just takes time and thoroughness. Some levels have five coins while others have three, and the 40+ levels are each quite long, so there is a lot of content to explore if you want to 100% the game. This doesn’t mean it’s not doable, and it can be done in about 15 hours. Getting gold stars for all stages will take a lot longer and I dare say this would be an exercise in sheer insanity.

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Kirby games are not Kirby games without extras. HAL Laboratory, Inc. has not let us down this time. One extra is a full pinball game with multiple boss stages. Another is a shooter where you move Kirby around using the stylus as he shoots continuously at enemies coming from above. Yet another is the Kirby Quest, a sort of mini-RPG that is really just a sequence of battles where you have to tap at the right time to get the best hit. The extras are a lot of fun to play with in between levels of the main game. They’re unlocked as you collect medals, and each time I enjoyed the fun moment where I went and looked at what I’d just found. Also included is a checklist, which is very similar to a trophy list, and as you play you will check items off the 35 item long list, but you don’t get anything for this other than the satisfaction of marking things off a list.

The graphics are made up of wonderful 2D sprites and the animation is superb. Kirby bobs up and down as he breathes, and 10 Kirby’s all bobbing up and down and looking around in a little huddle is hilarious to watch. When one of the mini-Kirby’s attack an enemy they flail their arms around while clinging on to the foe, looking much less formidable than Kirby normally does. They all move around with intense energy, latching on to enemies, rushing through doors and huddling as they all grab a handhold on a lever. All this on-screen activity makes wandering around stages a joy, and the game feels fresh each time I go back to it. The music is the usual bright, electronica that should always accompany a trip through Popstar.

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As far as experiments go this one is a success. It’s doubtful whether it will mean a new line of games from Nintendo as HAL have explored the idea to what feels like its full potential in Kirby Mass Attack. The result is a whimsical, charming puzzle platformer played entirely with the stylus that will keep you entertained and never overstay its welcome.