Review: Kirby Mass Attack (Nintendo DS)
by Aaron Sirois on November 30, 2011

Kirby Mass Attack
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Hal Laboratory
Genre: Action/Platformer
Release Date: 09/22/2011

Six years ago, when the DS was still in its infancy, Kirby: Canvas Curse was released and was pretty much one of the best early examples of what the system was capable of. Using only stylus controls, CC took the classic Kirby experience and gave it a twist. The game is widely considered to be one of the best games in the franchise.

Though there has been one Kirby game for the DS since then, Mass Attack represents the true successor to that legacy. However, it doesn’t act as a sequel. It takes the stylus controls idea in an entirely new direction, proving once and for all that you’d be surprised just how much you can do with a charming pink poof ball.

Now, I know this review isn’t exactly timely, but it took me a while to get a hold of the game. Thankfully, a subscription to Gamefly has made it easier for me to play games that I’ve missed. And besides, what’s a couple of months when we’re talking about one of the DS’s last marquee titles?

So, was Mass Attack worth the wait, or did I get my hopes up for nothing?

Story

So, how does Kirby end up into a bunch of tiny versions of himself? Pretty easily actually. The leader of the Skull Gang, Necrodeus, uses his magic staff to do the deed. With his power split into ten different parts, the pink hero is easily defeated. Finally, the last remaining Kirby manages to get away after “the heart of Kirby” shows up in the form of a star and leads him out of immediate danger. After that, it’s off to save the galaxy, restore Kirby to his rightful form, and finish the Skull Gang once and for all.

The plot is told through great looking stills, but pretty much all of the story is covered at the very beginning and the very end. In the middle, it’s just business. By the end of the game, you might have even forgotten who Necrodeus is, as he doesn’t show up again until the final fight. Still, the tale is charming because it’s hero is charming. It gets by on that.

The setup for the game is pretty standard. There are four worlds to go through, each becoming unlocked after the previous world’s boss has been defeated. Each world contains around ten levels. There are a few you can tackle in any order, provided you have enough Kirbys, and more are unlocked when you beat them. The final world, however, must be unlocked by collecting a specific medal from each level. So, if you’ve missed them, you’ll be stuck until you go back and find them. That’s just a head’s up. I skipped out on reading reviews for the game, so the backtracking came as a shock to me.

Initially, there are no other modes to fool around with, but as you collect medals in each level, you start unlocking new content. There are several mini-games to spend time with, including a traditional shooter, a pinball table, and even a take on whack a mole. The most interesting is a spoof of an RPG where you need to time a stylus press in order to launch an attack. If you miss, the enemy gets to wipe out one or more of your Kirbys. The extras section also includes a music player and the ability to re-watch the story sequences. If you can find all of the medals, you’ll be rewarded with a boss rush mode.

Overall, the formula is a success. There might not be much of a plot, but it’s cute and exactly what Kirby should be. The progression is typical for this type of game, and gives you some options as to how you want to tackle each world. Finally, the addition of several optional mini-games adds value to the game while offering a few worth distractions. In particular, the shooter is a fully realized game unto itself instead of just a throwaway gimmick. Considering most platformer games simply offer the main story and nothing else, Mass Attack is a shining example of what you can do when you go all out.

Graphics

Kirby himself has never looked better on the system. Despite being split up into ten smaller versions of himself, he is probably the cutest, most lovable Kirby he’s ever been. The facial animations are what sell the look. Between the cutest angry face in all of gaming and the way he stretches his mouth to incredible widths in order to eat an apple, it’s all good. Even his “oh crap” face is awesome.

The environments are pretty nice too. In particular, the backgrounds are often very detailed, helping to create a world rather than just a level. The foreground is equally full of color and detail. There are a variety of level types to sort through as well. The game has it all. Volcanoes, meadows, frozen mountains, underwater sections, outer space, and more are represented in full force.

If I had one complaint, it’s that a lot of the newer enemy designs simply aren’t interesting. When you compare the sprites to the ones in Super Star Ultra, the personality just isn’t there. Too many of them are too simple. A couple of the bosses make up for this, and the overall quality is still nice, but it does take away from the game.

While it may be not be among the elite in terms of graphics or art design on the DS, Kirby Mass Attack does the system and the series justice.

Audio

There are plenty of classic Kirby songs in this game, from boss themes, death themes, victory themes, and even the theme for the intro to each level. However, there are also plenty of new songs as well, and they are just as good. In particular, the main theme is all kinds of nifty. It’s Midi music at some of its best, full of energy and adventure. One almost wonders why this hasn’t been Kirby’s theme all along. There are a ton of tunes in the game, and most of them are great. I must have sat there for an hour or so just listening to them at one point.

The sound effects are typical Kirby fare. To be fair though, there are more Kirby noises than usual. By that I mean cute little high pitched voices speaking nonsense. This is mostly because he’ll make the same sounds whenever you save a Kirby or one gets hurt. The rest of it is par for the course. From the crashes to the explosions and bells. It isn’t standout work, but it’s classic. I had no complaints.

Gameplay

Like in Canvas Curse, you’re never going to use the d-pad or any of the face buttons when you play this game. It’s all stylus control.

The way it works is actually pretty simple. Touch a spot on the screen, and Kirby will go there so long as he can reach it. Tap an enemy, and he’ll start attacking it. Double tapping the screen puts him into a run. You can also hold over him to move him slowly but surely exactly where you want him, allowing you to maneuver through obstacles or reach high spots. Finally, you can flick the stylus to send him jumping off in that direction for either an attack or simply to get someplace. The camera moves automatically, so there is no control there.

With one Kirby under your command, these controls work great. However, it is rare that this will be the case. The point of fact is that the more Kirbys you have, the more likely things are going to get haywire. While the controls still function the same way, it is very easy for one or two Kirbys to get stuck behind or to do something unintended. You can easily miss one when you’re trying to maneuver a group, and when this happens, the camera will not move so as to keep all Kirbys in focus. This can get you killed so many times in so many ways. About the only thing that gets better is the flicking, as you don’t even need to aim in order to get one to do what you want. These problems aren’t all consuming, but get exacerbated during certain levels. A narrow vertical level where you needed to carefully time all movements to avoid giant spiked balls whilst balancing a tower was hell to complete. Since you can’t take control of an individual Kirby, things get nasty. The controls aren’t bad, and the game is certainly fun when it’s clicking, but these issues do come up.

To make up for these issues, however, the game is chock full of variety and set piece moments that switch up how the game is played. For example, one level has you manning a tank and using your Kirbys as ammunition. Others have you running from a giant T-Rex, surfing on a warp star, deflecting bombs by bashing into them, swimming through space, etc. With over forty levels in the game, it managed to keep the steam going all the way to the end, which was surprising. There are no power-ups, other than a rare invincibility, and the number of moves are limited by the stylus controls. Yet, the game never feels monotonous. That is an achievement.

Boss fights are interesting. They involve dodging the attacks and then finding the right time to flick Kirby onto a weak spot. There are an absolute ton of mid bosses and level bosses, on top of the five world bosses to conquer as well. Though the game does start reusing ideas towards the end of the game, each boss manages to feel threatening in his own way. Necrodeus even has some instant kill attacks to send your way. These fights are some of the highlights of the game to be sure, and they only get better as you go.

Overall, this is a well conceived game that took a simple control scheme ventured to see how far it could be taken. They left nothing left undone with this formula, something not so easily said about most games. Yes, there are control hangups, but they are mere blemishes and nothing worth staying away for.

Replayability

My run through of this game took over ten hours. That is without collecting everything or mastering all of the mini-games. I have to say, this is one of the longer Kirby games I’ve played. True, I spent about an hour going back to collect rainbow medals so that I could unlock the final world, but even if I hadn’t, that’s a pretty good running time for an action game on a handheld.

For players who want to dig deeper, collecting every medal will certainly take some time and effort. These are mostly hidden and require a trick to earn, so the game takes on a whole new dimension of interesting. Honestly, I usually don’t bother trying to collect everything in games, but this is one that could change my mind. I think the last time I felt that way was Mario 64, so that should tell you something.

The mini-games are sure to burn some time as well. In particular, the shooter, pinball, and boss rush modes are the kinds of distractions that particular gamers are going to enjoy tremendously. These keep track of your top scores, adding another reason to come back.

There is even a list of achievements to complete for the truly crazy who can’t help but go for that 100% completion rating. Dedicated gamers can easily get over twenty hours out of this game before doing everything. That’s not too shabby.

Balance

So you start out with one Kirby, and get another one every time you collect a hundred pieces of fruit. There are fruits worth more than one, so this doesn’t take as long as you’d think. Once you have ten dudes, you merely get a point boost after reaching that mark. In order for you to lose a Kirby, they first have to be hit, which turns them blue. A blue Kirby that takes a hit turns into an angel and starts floating away. Even then, you can revive him to blue status by having another Kirby grab him before he drifts away. It makes it hard to lose a Kirby by normal means.

However, there are still ways to lose guys, and dire consequences for doing so. If a Kirby gets crushed under and object or gets stuck while the level moves forward, it’s an instant death. Often, it will be difficult or impossible to rescue him. No biggie, right? All you need is some more fruit. Well, in order to get into each level, you need to have the number of Kirbys shown. If you don’t , you’ll need to replay an earlier level until you reach that amount. That’s a steep punishment. Boss levels always require you to have a full roster, meaning it gets harder and harder to meet your quota.

Overall, the game isn’t too hard. Most of the challenge comes in collecting all of the medals. You often have to go out of your way into dangerous territory or have quick reflexes in order to get them. What you get is a game that isn’t too tough to beat, but is a challenge to complete. That’s how Kirby has always been, and this is no exception. Don’t led the cuddly exterior fool you, there will be tough roads to travel.

Originality

This could very well be one the hardest games to gauge the originality for.

On one hand, there are no Kirby games out there quite like this. Sure, Canvas Curse used the stylus to great effect, but in that game Kirby was dead weight and you needed to do everything. In this game, you need merely point him in the right direction and watch stuff get done. And while there have been other action platformers that used the stylus, I haven’t played any others that use it in this fashion.

On the other hand, the controls are all that you’ll find new here. The game is pretty much what we’ve come to expect out of a Kirby experience, minus the power-ups It offers collectables, tons of extras, and alarmingly cute production values. There are so many throwbacks to past games as to almost make you think that Hal has nothing new left to offer.

Overall, I’m going to go in the positive here. I own well over a hundred DS games, and I’ve played almost all of them to conclusion. This is a standout in terms of uniqueness.

Addictiveness

Due to the stylus intensive nature of this game, any addictiveness it has is counter balanced by a desire to keep your wrist from screaming in pain. Also, there’s only so much flicking you can do before the movement starts to get a bit old. As such, taking breaks in this game is practically a requirement.

Also, some of the levels can get quite long. For the ones without some sort of gimmick or new mechanic to see it through, this can be a problem. If all you’re doing is moving forward and occasionally taking out a non-threatening enemy, the drive to continue playing just isn’t there. Also, any time you have to replay a level just to get the required amount of Kirbys or find a rainbow medal, it isn’t hard to put the game down for a while.

When the game is at its best, you’ll be having a blast and trying everything you can. Eventually though, you’ll find a spot where taking break just feels like the right thing to do. I usually played a few levels at a time, or maybe up to half an hour during longer sessions.

Appeal Factor

Kirby fans should already have this and have played it to death. There’s nothing not to like.

If you own a DS, and you like game that take advantage of the stylus apart from cheap mini-games, this is certainly worth a look. It doesn’t define the touch controls in the way that Canvas Curse did, but it does more than most titles. In particular, fans of platformers and action titles will likely have fun with this game.

Perhaps the biggest barrier to entry is the game’s price. At this point, thirty-five dollars for a DS game just doesn’t seem right. The 3DS has been out for most of the year, and marquee games are starting to come out for that. For a game to come out now at full price seems like a cruel joke. I’m not saying the game is worth it, but these things should really be discounted by now.

Miscellaneous

The extras in this game I’ve already mentioned. These would be the mini-games you unlock by collecting medals. These are pretty sweet additions that only add to the game’s overall value. And, oddly enough, I kind of really want a Kirby themed shooter to come out now. It could work in so many ways.

I wasn’t expecting to like this game as much as I did, even though I’ve always been a fan of Kirby. Back in 2008, Kirby Super Star Ultra was my favorite game of the year. I’m really bummed that I haven’t gotten to play Epic Yarn yet. Even still, this game looked like it could have had some issues. While some of those fears were founded, the game still came out great. That’s just a testament to how much TLC Hal puts into their games.

The Scores
Story: Enjoyable
Graphics: Good
Audio: Great
Gameplay: Above Average
Replayability: Good
Balance: Decent
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Decent
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Classic
Final Score: Enjoyable Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

Kirby Mass Attack is another solid hit for the series. It has all of the charm, content, and quality that we’ve come to expect from the eight inch hero. There are some hiccups along the way in the form of control and camera issues. However, there’s enough variety and quality to make up for that. If you’re a fan of Kirby or simply looking for one last good DS game, this is a surefire candidate that will give you your money’s worth.



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