Kirby: Planet Robobot is proof that any facet of your life, no matter how small or mundane, can be vastly improved with the addition of power armour.
Kirby: Planet Robobot is almost exactly what you want in a Kirby game. It’s floaty and fun and accessible. It also isn’t afraid to add some wild new mechanics to the traditional Kirby formula. But for a couple of annoying flaws, it’s damned close to perfect.
When the series was birthed in the early Nineties, the game loop was pretty simple — take little pink puffball Kirby through each adorable level, eat all the fuzzy enemies that get in your way and gain their powers, before entering a boss battle and progressing to the next level. With only a few tweaks, that loop has been present ever since, but Kirby: Planet Robobot steps things up a notch. The tweak this time around is that Kirby can now pilot a gigantic mech suit that looks like he stole it from the Warhammer 40K universe.
And I love it.
Honestly, have HAL Labs been reading my dream journal because that’s pretty much all I’ve ever wanted.
Kirby games have featured vehicle power ups before, but the Robobot suit is far more than a Metal Slug-esque, periodic bonus. Every level is built around it’s use and you’ll find yourself stomping around in it as much as you’re out of it and floating about. Having said that, if you don’t want to use the armour (for some insane reason), you can always leave it behind and just forge ahead as Kirby, getting into tiny spaces the big robot just can’t squeeze into. The good news is that getting in an out of the suit is fast and fluid, never bogging you down. This makes chasing down collectibles much more enjoyable and desirable.
On top of this, while you’re in the armour you can’t eat your enemies. Wait, put down that pitchfork, Cletus. What you can do is scan your enemies and the suit will rebuild itself around that enemy and take on its attacks and appearance. Here’s the part I really like, though: you will get different abilities depending whether you eat the enemy as Kirby or scan it as the armour. It’s genuinely clever design, giving each power somewhere new to go while retaining familiarity.
The component I’m less sure about is when Planet Robobot pivots from solidly-designed platformer to cutesy shoot-em-up (cute-em-up?). I don’t mind a good shmup when one presents itself, and the shooter levels do provide a bit of variation to keep things from getting stale, there’s a bit of a wrinkle at the end that jumped out at me.
The bulk of Planet Robobot, even many of its flying and shooting levels, plays out on the standard 2D plane we’ve come to expect from a Kirby game. The final boss, however, sees the action go from 2D to a third person perspective. This sudden, unprecedented change, despite being a showy way to end the game, messed me up hard as I grappled with a mode of play completely different than the one I’d been using up to this point. I probably wouldn’t have an issue with it if they hadn’t thrown it at me during a really important boss fight.
Visually, Planet Robobot is a delight, finding clever ways to take its mechanical theme and make cold, unfeeling robotics just as fuzzy and huggable as the established universe around it.
Where Planet Robobot snuck up on me was in its story. It presents a science fiction story about things that are typically uncaring — computers, machines and corporate interests — and finds a way to present them without sacrificing its plushy aesthetic. What feels like it could descend into weirdly grimdark territory at any moment never does. It let me put cool stickers on my mech suit. Stickers!
Planet Robobot is definitely designed with younger players in mind because to say this isn’t an especially challenging game would be to overstate it. The game isn’t very long and it’s a breeze to get through — I reviewed this title curled up in bed, battling the flu over the course of a rainy day. Those looking for a stiffer challenge should jump into Meta Knightmare Returns mode, a time trial in which you play as Meta Knight. He gets his own abilities and a fraction of the recovery items.
Unfortunately, the other unlockables aren’t as interesting. You can jump into an arena mode that lets you fight bosses using whatever power ups you like, there’s Team Kirby Clash that sees one to four players pick from a bunch of classes and fight more bosses. There’s also Kirby 3D Rumble which gives you short 3D levels that were, I think, supposed to be some kind of puzzle but come across as out-of-context bits of Kirby game without any of the fun. This mode might have been better served as a mobile phone game but it’s not what I’m looking for on the 3DS.
All told, Kirby: Planet Robobot won’t challenge you deeply but it keeps with tradition, adds something new and cool to the formula and it is positively bursting with joy and charm.
Score: 8.0 out of 10
Highlights: Robot suit is awesome; Kirby still fun after nearly 25 years
Lowlights: Unlockables not nearly as fun as the main game
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Release Date: 11/6/16
Systems: New Nintendo 3DS
Reviewed on Nintendo 3DS.