Friday, September 23, 2011

Kirby Mass Attack (DS) Review

The end of the work week approaches, and with that comes a totally new review here on SuperPhillip Central. It's for a game that launched this past Monday, and it stars everyone's favorite pink puffball, Kirby. It's Kirby Mass Attack where according to Nintendo, "More Kirbys Mean More Power." Let's find out if more Kirbys mean a better game with my review.

Mass Effect

Kirby has for the longest time been Nintendo's guinea pig when it comes to fresh gameplay ideas. He's been put into a golf game as the actual golf ball, has been tilted and tumbled, raced on a warp star, been a part of a collection of games in Kirby Super Star, and turned to yarn. Now HAL, the developer, is breaking up our cute and cuddly hero into multiple Kirbys in Kirby Mass Attack. Are ten Kirbys better than one?

Everything seems to be going well for Kirby. He's chilling and relaxing on a calm, serene island when suddenly a dark skeleton demon lowers from the sky. The creepy creature's name is Necrodeus. He uses a magical cane to zap Kirby, splitting the ball of charm into ten separate heroes. Exiling each away, one Kirby is left to his lonesome, and not being powerful enough to stand up to Necrodeus's magic, Kirby has no choice but to flee to safety via warp star. Now our hero must gather as many Kirbys as possible to take back the mystical cane and turn himself whole once again. Still-panel cutscenes are the call of the day for Kirby Mass Attack's story. The top screen shows the scene while the bottom illustrates the text. The simplistic story won't win any awards for creativity, but it is enough to motivate the player into assuming the role of Kirby.

Kirby Mass Attack is split up between five worlds. These are themed in mysterious forests, frozen fjords, volcanic valleys, tropical resorts, outer space, and dusty deserts, to name a small sample of level types. Each world has ten or more levels apiece in them except the final world which is just made up of five levels. Each level has a Kirby requirement. That is, you need enough Kirbys to access a given level. As you complete certain levels, Kirby is allowed to enter a ring of levels closer to the center of the world where the boss of the world slumbers.

In order to be able to reach levels with higher Kirby requirements, our hero must gather more copies of himself. How does he do this? By collecting and gobbling up fruit. Fruit is all over the place in Kirby Mass Attack, dropped by enemies, suspended in the air, and lying in hidden locations. Each time the gauge on the top screen reaches 100, a new Kirby will enter the fray. Up to ten Kirbys can be on screen and controlled at the same time. Once all ten Kirbys have arrived on screen, every time the gauge reaches 100, 10,000 bonus points will be added to the player's score in the level. Depending on the fruit eaten, the gauge will increase by varying amounts. For instance, while a red apple will only make the gauge rise by one, a banana will increase it by ten. Kirby's favorite, Maxim Tomatoes, will up the gauge by 100, easily awarding the player with a new Kirby.

If and when a Kirby takes damage, he'll turn a shade of light blue. If he gets damaged again (or crushed by an object), he'll turn gray, grow angel wings, and slowly ascend to the sky. This is the player's cue to quickly use another Kirby to grab the dying Kirby before it can reach the top of the screen. In the various levels there are healing rings that players can move hurt Kirbys into to fully heal them back to normal pink status. However, players looking for a challenge can try earning gold, silver, or bronze stars on levels by not taking damage or having zero K.O.'d Kirbys. Trying to achieve a gold star by not having any of your Kirbys taking damage is seriously difficult on later levels, frustratingly so, even. Lose all of your Kirbys or when underwater run out of air, and it's game over. As there are zero checkpoints in a given level and seeing as levels last anywhere from five to twenty minutes long, this can be potentially irritating to some players as one must begin at the very start of the level.

As the back of the North American box implies, "More Kirbys, More Power." This definitely rings true. Taking down enemies by having a swarm of ten Kirbys works much more efficiently than just having one or two attacking a foe. With one or two, a larger opponent can simply shake the Kirbys off the baddy's body. With ten Kirbys this task is much harder to accomplish. There's also certain platforms that can only be lowered with the weight of ten Kirbys and objects that can only be pulled with the strength of ten Kirbys.

Kirby Mass Attack is controlled solely with the Nintendo DS's stylus. You tap an area of the bottom screen to have your army of Kirbys walk to it. Double tap repeatedly on a portion of the screen to have them make a mad dash. You can make a flicking motion to have your beautiful brigade leap upwards, leftwards, rightwards, or downwards, smashing into breakable blocks and enemies. Hold the stylus over your group to wrangle your Kirbys and draw a line to have them follow. They can, for a limited time, float in the air as you guide them with the stylus to higher areas that would otherwise be unreachable. When your Kirbys approach an enemy they will automatically attach to them and start whacking away. This can be annoying when you just want to speed through a level. You have to ferociously tap the screen to sic them off the foe. Trying to assemble a group of ten Kirbys is also a challenge. Some will stay back unintentionally (maybe trapped behind a block) when you want nothing more than to have them follow your taps on the touch screen. These problems aside, the game is still a blast to play when everything is running on full cylinders.

The level variety in Kirby's latest portable outing is immense. One level will have you trying not to topple over a teetering tower that shifts its weight depending on where your Kirby army is situated on it while another will have you tracking down nine pieces of a puzzle that turns into a spaceship once completed. There's a level where you operate a tank that automatically crawls. Tap and release the screen to shoot out Kirbys at assaulting enemies that wish to demolish your vehicle. Additionally, there's a pinball stage, a haunted mansion where the lights flicker on and off, usually obstructing your view of hidden dangers, and a level where you're relentlessly being chased by a shadow demon or ice creature. Most levels end with a mini-boss battle where a bird might drop thorny balls at you or a spiked sand worm will rise and lower from the ground and ceiling.

Each world also concludes with a boss battle. These are highly creative and enjoyable to play. The first battle against Wispy Woods, a giant tree with an adorable mug, has you flicking Kirbys into its aforementioned face. It then rises higher into the air while dropping spiked orbs from its branches that the Kirbys must dodge. Another boss is World Three's King Dedede who rides in a hot air balloon. He drops ticking time bombs down below at your cavalcade of Kirbys. To defeat him, players must flick the Kirbys up into the bubble-surrounded bombs to have them explode when they're up in the top screen near King Dedede to do some serious damage. There's five major boss encounters, and each one is as entertaining as the last.

Regardless, simply moving through each level to get to the goal isn't enough in Kirby Mass Attack. To reach the final world, players must gather each and every rainbow medal in the game. Medals are well-hidden tokens which unlock goodies in the Extras menu. There's usually three or five medals in a given level. These are oftentimes placed in precarious locations, out of sight by normal players, and others give the player only a short amount of time to grab them. Normally, when there's a platform or object that requires ten Kirbys to move it out of the way, there's a good chance there's a medal awaiting them. Perhaps something great will happen when all 186 medals are gathered... Nonetheless, collecting all 186 medals and beating the game took me around sixteen hours to accomplish. Seeing as there's three save spots, multiple people can play on the same copy of the game.

As stated before, medals unlock new content in the Extras menu. These range from the ability to listen to in-game music to magnificent mini-games like Kirby Brawlball which is a take on classic pinball tables. This mini-game features all the luxuries of a typical pinball cabinet with Kirby flair added including boss battles against enemies of Kirby games past. Then there's Kirby Curtain Call, a memory mini-game, Dash Course (where players tap the correct symbols to advance Kirby through a linear path), a shoot-em-up known as Stato Patrol EOS with six levels to blaze through, an RPG known as Kirby Quest, and much, much more. These mini-games could be full-fledged games to themselves and add to the already tremendous replay value Kirby Mass Attack offers players.

Aside from collecting medals and rainbow medals, there's a checklist. Think of this as achievements or trophies. They are tasks that unlock once an objective has been completed. These range from things such as collecting all the fruit in a level to not taking damage to having all ten Kirbys alive by the conclusion of a level. There's over thirty tasks and five pages' worth of material to complete on the checklist. This gives the player even more stuff to accomplish in this already meaty video game.

Mass Attack is a game full of charm. From the cutesy and colorful pastel visuals to the Shogo Sakai-composed soundtrack which unites new content with old (remixed music from Super Star and Kirby Air Ride, for example), Kirby Mass Attack's presentation is splendid. Some of the music is intentionally made to be tinny like it came from the speakers of a Game Boy. Kirby himself animates wonderfully, and all of the enemies and bosses have enough variety to avoid repetition. Did I mention that the game runs at a silky smooth framerate as well? If not, I just did. Hopefully Kirby stays in 2D form for future installments as that is where he really shines.

Ultimately, Kirby Mass Attack is a brilliant combination of traditional Kirby and Pikmin-style gameplay. Sometimes there's some kinks and frustrations with controlling a myriad of Kirbys, but most often than not they do as you tell them. The intuitive touch screen controls are novel, and I cannot see how this game would have worked with anything other than a touch screen interface. The music is sensational, the graphics are clean, crisp, and colorful, and the amount of extras and hidden content is nothing short of incredible. Kirby Mass Attack is the type of platformer that players will have in their handhelds for weeks whether they're completing the main story or toying around with the numerous mini-games that are unlockable. Case in point, Kirby Mass Attack is one of the pink puffball's greatest portable adventures that DS owners should not skip out on.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.75/10]

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