My friends, as you all certainly learned back in 2014, we lost the Angry Kirby war. What you see above is not just the cover for American audiences, but for worldwide consumers; sadly, this includes Kirby's native homeland of Japan. Whether it be HAL's belief that this was the best way to show off the new Hypernova power or them being sick of adjusting the cover nearly every time Kirby leaves his Eastern shores, it proves he's not safe even in his home country. While the above cover is hardly among the worst Angry Kirby offenders -- that it's at least designed from the ground up renders it not nearly as awkward-- what it represents proves it won't be going away anytime soon.
Let it be reminded that Angry Kirby is an aesthetic paradox at odds with the presentation and spirit of Kirby, yet I can't think of any case more true than Kirby: Triple Deluxe, which is such a downright pleasant game that very nearly reaches the heights of Epic Yarn, Dream Land 3 and Rainbow Curse. This is not an exaggeration; every time we start the game, the main menu greets us with an assortment of blue skies, vines hosting collectible keychains of old Kirby sprites dangling accordingly to the 3DS's gyroscope, and a mandolin-accompanied arrangement of the gentle Save Hut theme from Kirby Super Star. Coaxing us into that warm, heart-gooey nostalgia that traps us into reverie, we're immediately at home.
More than that, though, what comes to mind is the opening cinematic; to be specific, the first half. Here, we witness a day in the life of Kirby within a Kirby Super Star-inspired landscape, be it coasting the sunset seas on a Warpstar, napping under shade after a snack, or simply drifting along the endless skies of Dream Land. It is absolutely, undeniably pleasant; impossible to watch without breaking out into the warmest of smiles (in my case, if only for the fact that these were the very same scenarios I'd imagined Kirby's daily life would be as a young boy).
That should promise nothing but good things, yet how does the actual game fare? Let's get the obvious out of the way in admitting this is, more or less, Kirby's Return to Dream Land squeezed into 3DS software. This is not surprising in the least: the Wii game provided the perfect template to not merely match Kirby's 90's prowess but to perhaps even surpass, and maintaining that quality requires continuing that direction. Triple Deluxe emulates this model to much success, albeit at the risk of familiarity that undercuts its strengths.
Most of the game's Copy Abilities, for instance, return. The 3DS ergonomics serve them well, although they arrive with reduced movesets. This isn't inherently a terrible thing: 3DS limitations were likely the culprit, and it's not like their flexibility was drastically reduced in functionality; Beam Kirby, for instance, can no longer repeatedly Whip in the air, but that has little bearing on its status as an especially well-rounded ability.
Meanwhile, the new Copy Abilities vary in quality. Beetle and Archer feel wonderfully natural and excel in their respective uses: Beetle's aerial prowess and snaring horn provide a compelling alternative to Sword, whereas Archer's animations -- ever wanted to see Kirby crawling about in camouflage? -- perhaps render it the best of his long-range abilities. At the same time, Circus takes an interesting turn in being slightly less intuitive, what with the arcs of the fire hoop jumps and all. Perhaps owed to the unpredictability of its clownish theme, that doesn't make its moves any less fun to watch or unleash, what with burning anti-air batons and exploding balloon animals in the shape of series icons.
The Bell ability is, alas, the one stinker: aside from feeling arbitrarily chosen, the moveset feels as cobbled together as its concept, and its slow range of attacks -- coupled with their general inability to link together cohesively -- don't render it very much fun at all.
Things get a bit more nebulous with with Kirby's Hypernova ability, Triple Deluxe's central feature. At the very least, we can't dismiss it for not making sense! Kirby did, after all, start off not with copying foes but with sucking things up; why not build upon that with a swirling tornado of death? In putting Kirby's deadly suction on the spotlight, we find ourselves at a grimly amusing parallel to the aforementioned sugary sweetness; indeed, trees and trains fall prey to his path of destruction, but we're helpless in watching those poor, poor Waddle Dees hang on in vain for dear life before they disappear into the abyss of Kirby's stomach.
They are hardly alone in the marshmallow's rampage -- I think of the slithering, pulsating giant eels as their slimy brown lengthiness gets slurped up, and boy did that just sound wrong -- but it is terrifying all the same. Once again, it is the series' innate adorableness that prevents it from being a horror title, but man, does it come close to violating that cuteness. More than any other Kirby game, we ask ourselves a question that will never be answered: just where does all that stuff go? Perhaps it's best that remains a mystery, as the real answer may be even more terrifying...
And yet, I can't but feel it's not as engaging as Return to Dream Land's Super Abilities, or even Planet Robobot's later utilization of mechs. Yes, it is fun to watch -- not the least of which is owed to a hysterical showdown climax between Kirby and the final boss -- but it's not as much fun as it is to play. Perish the thought that it is boring -- the game remembers to incorporate mid-boss fights and puzzles and the like alongside it, my favorite involving building a family of snowmen -- but even despite its presentation, it never feels quite as involved or thrilling. Even now, I struggle in pointing out why; perhaps it's that it's -- more less -- repeating the "super awesome ability destroys everything in sight" from Return to Dream Land, as opposed to creating something totally original like Planet Robobot.
Familiarity, then, is the cause, even as we cannot pick a bone with the level design as well. Generally on the same level as the Wii predecessor, Kirby: Triple Deluxe recognizes it cannot merely rely on the Hypernova's flashiness to captivate us, and so it resorts to an obvious solution. Like Super Mario 3D Land before it, Triple Deluxe remembers it is on a console designed around depth perception, and so 3D it shall be. Not 3D in capturing our eyes with screen-protruding effects found in the system's earlier hits of 3D Land and Star Fox 64 3D, but in proving its worth as a game.
The ensuing results in one of the more playful level design within Kirby, with Warp Stars transporting our hero from foreground to foreground, deadly pillars swerving in and out of the background to crush our hero, and 3D Laser Bars and Helmet Cannons decimating distant enemies. Not that Triple Deluxe doesn't take the opportunity to have fun with our eyes -- I think of the mechanical hands pressing poor Kirby against the screen, or the ghastly tricks found in Lollipop Land's haunted mansion -- and even that prove just how much fun the developers had in discovering this new concept. Even the 3DS gyroscope join in on the fun, partaking in puzzles that have you tilting water bowls and aiming missiles.
Bosses, too, take advantage of this 3D in stunning ways. The game's very first boss in Flowery Woods instantly comes to mind, whose foreground/background switching antics and giant swerving vines render it the series' best variation of the "evil giant tree" fight until maybe Planet Robobot's two years later. Other bosses provide compelling set-pieces -- Triple Deluxe is also host to the best Kracko fight in the series, and a certain callback to Canvas Curse pulls all the stops in 3D trickery -- but that the first boss makes such an impression promises nothing but good things.
So with all these highs, what is there to critique, then? Let us not make the same mistake as IGN and blame it on easy difficulty; as every Kirby fan knows, it's not getting to the ending that's the challenge, but finding and accomplishing everything there is to offer. The game hits all the right notes for Kirby, so it hardly seems fair to cite familiarity to knock down something so cozy.
True to the pleasantness I was discussing earlier, the game just excels at that, my favorite being the nostalgically chill keychain theme, which I could probably listen to for hours in-game were it not for a certain mishap I'll detail in a moment. Tilting the World -- the puzzle theme -- is similarily airy, as are the gorgeous callbacks to Kirby Super Star's Peanut Plains or the Helper to Hero rest area (kudos to subtly including the heart-melting Dream Collection music for those who missed it).
Discussing Triple Deluxe's OST cannot possibly exclude the climax, which maybe the very best sequence of endgame music in all of Kirby. Moonlight Capital and Beautiful Prison both accompanying the very last levels with critical, heart-pounding urgency, the reprise of the Masked Dedede theme coupled with the tough and steady Revenge of the Enemy for King Dedede's possession, and the ever-morphing range of themes for the final boss, not the least of which is the series' very first vocal theme in the form of Moonstruck Blossom. Eerie and tragic, it stands as the most memorable of Queen Sectonia's musical assemble despite not concluding her battle, as not since 02's Theme way back in Kirby 64: The Crystal Shard was there a final boss theme this powerful.
Like Return to Dream Land, however, there is the occasional miss: I suspect the ultimate key in deciphering Hypernova's underwhelming-ness lies in its accompanying theme, which is a little too cute and doesn't provide enough oomph. I'm also not fond of how both the menu theme and the chill keychain theme fall prey to one of my gaming pet peeves: "celebrating" the player's completion by replacing the default menu theme with a more upbeat theme (in their respective cases, a direct rip of the "celebration" theme from Return to Dream Land and a guitar version of the Hypernova theme that appears late-game. The latter is interesting in despite my criticism of the original version, the superiority of this arrangement doesn't void the fact it's wildly unfitting for what's supposed to be a reflective segment, and that I would never hear the original song again left me rather salty).
As you'd expect, it's amazingly fun, and it's all certainly owed to HAL Laboratory being the progenitors of Smash. What they remember is to give Kirby Fighters its own identity: we can certainly trace the usage of movement, items, and chaos to the famous crossover series, yes, but there's none of the blast zones that define Smash's gameplay. Stages are kept insular, with the focus on beating the tar outta each other as opposed to a king-of-the-hill model.
We could cite some of the balancing design in the Copy Abilities' transition, but really, it's how the player-tailored concessions also echoing Smash that render it a winner. The variety in stage design ensures not every battlefield are realms of chaos, as the neutral, three-platform plains of Flower Field offer a nice cool-down from the hammer robots of Kirby 64's factory. Meanwhile, the Ghost Kirby mechanic, which grants players a second chance after being felled, not only recalls the "never forget the beginner" philosophies of Kirby and Smash, but instills hysterical madcap play as Ghost players chase after alive ones to revive themselves. Best of all? They can be turned off, so Kirby Fighters is truly a mode that can be tailor-made for anyone.
(By the way, anyone else notice Dedede's eyes look..off? They're spread a little too far apart, giving him this rather stern look that reminds one of Sam the Eagle from The Muppet Show. It's a shame since Triple Deluxe generally nails the fluffy aesthetic of Kirby, but at least he finally gets his own Meta Knightmare-esque mode!)
In summary, Kirby: Triple Deluxe is a game that comes this close to achieving the upper-most echelons of Kirby, yet falls just short in familiarity. Whether or not this was inevitable I can't say: the Return to Dream Land engine may be the perfect model to build upon, but it takes more than 3D hijinks and content-filled sub-games to forge an absolute, individual identity. Difficult as it is to describe, for all its efforts in differentiating itself, it somehow feels a little too comfortable in coasting on Return to Dream Land's success.
But does it matter? Nay, any nitpicks don't rebuff the fact this is an incredibly solid entry, one that's just so damn pleasant to bask in all its sweetness. Sure, maybe the keychain theme shift is upsetting, but what's to stop me from starting another file and collect all but one? It's there, cast under a hypnotic lullaby where I'm slowly rotating their shapes and slowly swaying them about via gyroscope, that I remember why I play Kirby in the first place.