Criticizing Kirby games for being too easy misses the point
Easy on the little guy!
The topic of video game difficulty is always a hotly-contested one. The debate has raged on for decades now, with both gamers and critics alike labeling certain games as too challenging, or too simple. For example, in the last few weeks alone, gamers around the globe have been going back and forth on the difficulty of Elden Ring. While that discussion is far from over, we’re seeing yet another game become the target of a difficulty debate.
The first wave of reviews for Kirby and the Forgotten Land were published recently, and like clockwork, the difficulty statements popped up. While the game has received stellar reviews all around, there are a number of critics who’ve classified the game as too easy. I have to admit, seeing these kinds of comments frustrates me. To be rather blunt, I feel critics who mark a Kirby game down for being too easy simply don’t understand what Kirby is all about.
Editor’s Note #1: Before going any further, please note that this is nothing more than an opinion of mine. I’m not saying I’m right, wrong, or anything in-between. It’s just a topic I feel passionately about, and wanted to share my perspective.
The best way of explaining the difficulty of Kirby games might come from looking at other Nintendo franchises. When it comes to Nintendo’s traditional platformers, you can see that each franchise is made with a very particular mindset. For example, take a Mario game. All mainline Mario games have a decent amount of challenge to them, but it’s nothing that feels insurmountable. There’s some extra content in there that definitely cranks up the difficulty, but by and large, the main content has an extremely gradual upward curve in terms of challenge.
Let’s move on from Mario to Donkey Kong. When the Donkey Kong franchise got around to the ‘Country’ series, we got games with a noticeable uptick in difficulty. Again, there’s nothing incredibly difficult about Donkey Kong Country games, but I think most people would say they present a decent amount of challenge over mainline Mario games. Furthermore, there are plenty of people who find Donkey Kong Country games to be a bit too challenging. It seems fair to say that while Mario games are designed with the average player in mind, Donkey Kong titles are for those who want a bit more challenge.
This brings us all the way back to the Kirby franchise. If Mario is for the average gamer and Donkey Kong is for the more skilled platforming fans, you can see how Kirby titles would be aimed at the beginner. Again, we can look at the entire history of the series and see this focus. All mainline Kirby games are designed with very simplistic play, and are created as a way to welcome new people into the world of gaming. Even the spin-off titles are rather easygoing. If you’re picking up a Kirby game, you know you’ll have a relatively stress-free time.
Kirby, Mario, and Donkey Kong; Nintendo franchises that have given us countless platforming adventures, and all three have stayed true to their design focus. People may say that Nintendo has a lot of 2D/3D platformers, but there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes than some might think. These titles are aimed at very specific audiences, and do their best to stay in those lanes. Mario is welcoming to just about anyone, Donkey Kong is geared more toward platforming veterans, and Kirby gives players a chance to familiarize themselves with the genre. Obviously, Nintendo hopes that gamers of all types flock to these games, but there’s little doubt each is crafted with a specific group in mind.
The ease of Kirby games is something Nintendo and HAL have talked about numerous times, and just did so again in a Nintendo feature on Kirby and the Forgotten Land. Shinya Kumazaki from HAL touched on just how important it is for Kirby games to welcome newcomers, along with those less skilled.
The concepts of games being enjoyable for anyone, as well as being highly accessible yet still offering a lot of depth, are aspects that we have treasured in the Kirby series. When I began planning this game’s difficulty level, I pictured a 3D platformer easy enough that even a three-year-old child could play. …We also thought about people who aren’t skilled at 3D platformers and wanted to provide them with quieter areas where they could play and explore peacefully.
Tatsuya Kamiyama from HAL echoed that same sentiment.
Our staff kept younger players in mind, as well as players who aren’t great at platformers. …We spoke earlier about the concept of Kirby games being made for everyone to enjoy—widely accessible yet offering deep gameplay. We made sure the game wasn’t too hard, but we also wanted to ensure that players would find it satisfying.
Finally, Nintendo’s Kei Ninomiya discussed how Kirby games basically start from a point of easy play, and then add in elements to up the challenge, should players want that.
Most 3D action games add an “easy mode,” but for Kirby, we’ve added a “hard mode.” “Wild Mode” is definitely harder, but you’ll earn more in-game coins after defeating enemies, so I think it’s worth the extra effort.
Three people intimately familiar with the world of Kirby, and all of them stressing that Kirby games are meant to be easy. Unfortunately, I think this is something a lot of people overlook when giving Kirby games a shot, and this is especially true of critics. There’s nothing wrong with playing a game and finding it too easy to be fun. On the flip-side, there is something wrong with criticizing a game for being too easy when that was the developer’s intent.
This is the perfect opportunity to bring up the Elden Ring conversation once more. While Kirby games may be as easy as games get, Elden Ring is the complete opposite. For a large portion of the gaming population, Elden Ring presents a huge challenge, much like the ‘Souls’ franchise before it. Just as it’s incorrect for reviews to knock points off of a Kirby game for being easy, it would be equally incorrect to detract points for Elden Ring being too challenging.
Elden Ring, much like any Kirby game, is designed for a section of the market. Yes, all the people involved with Elden Ring would love it if every gamer out there picked up their game and enjoyed it, but they know that’s not the reality. Elden Ring is built from the ground up to be taxing. An exceeding level of difficulty is at the very core of Elden Ring; it’s in the game’s DNA, and exemplifies what the experience is supposed to be. If you take that away from Elden Ring, you just don’t get the experience the development team is aiming for. They have a very specific, very grueling adventure in mind when they’re crafting something like Elden Ring, and taking away that element would leave us with something far different from what the team wants.
Editor’s Note #2: I do want to point out that I believe accessibility features are different from difficulty options, and I believe games should offer a range of accessibility features.
As difficulty is the DNA of ‘Souls’-style games, easiness is the DNA of Kirby. If there were ever a ‘platforming 101’ kind of game, it would certainly be a Kirby title. The enemies don’t pose much of a threat, jumping is extremely forgiving due to flying/floating mechanics, and the controls remain as simple as could be. Kirby and similar-type games very much have a place in this industry. You wouldn’t want someone’s first adventure game experience to be Elden Ring, after all!
No matter how many decades we’ve had of Kirby games, their design and direction still don’t click for some people. I have no qualms with a platforming fan who picks up a Kirby game and finds it too easy. The Kirby games are indeed very simple, and someone who doesn’t understand that before going in could be disappointed. As I mentioned before, my issue is more with the reviewer side of things. A reviewer who lowers their score of a Kirby game for the title being too easy is, in my opinion, making a rather big mistake.
Some critics out there never step back to think that a game may not be made with them in mind. Sure, if they play a Sesame Street or Peppa Pig game, they know they’re probably not the target audience. When those same critics play a Kirby game, they somehow miss the point. Kirby games are easy by design. Their approach to platforming isn’t for everyone, but turning that ease of play into a negative goes against everything the developers are striving for. I really do believe that some reviewers forget that not every game is made for them.
This could be such a simple fix, too. If a critic boned up on the intent behind a game, they could easily shift their perspective. Kirby might be the best example of a franchise made to be as easy-going as possible. If a reviewer plays a Kirby game and doesn’t enjoy it because of the lack of difficulty, they can say that! Tell readers that you didn’t get much joy out of the game due to the ease of it all. Follow that up by saying that since the ease of play was implemented on purpose by the developers, it’s inappropriate to belittle the game for achieving that goal. If anything, the ease of the adventure throughout should be a positive, not a negative. It’s possible to provide a review with personal input while also respecting the audience a game is made for, and the intent of the dev team. Critics don’t have to like everything they come across, but they should understand and respect who content is crafted for.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land is just the latest example of a Kirby game getting dinged for its easy gameplay. You can rest assured that subsequent Kirby games will get the same treatment as well. I’m not sure how so many critics can keep missing this point, but it is what it is. Those who follow the Kirby franchise are very well aware of the design intentions, and recognize that Nintendo and HAL hit their mark every time.
If Kirby’s adventures are too easy for you to get enjoyment from, I completely understand. The ease of Kirby games isn’t for everyone, and can certainly lead to feelings of boredom. Just remember, Kirby games are made that way on purpose, and even more importantly, they have a right to exist. Kirby may not be for you, but there are countless people who derive great pleasure from what they provide. In the end, that’s all that really matters.
I don't know how you've spent so much time inside the game journalism industry, yet are still able to acutely call out these kinds of irritating trends. I think most people would have just given up and jumped on the bandwagon instead.
Dark Souls has been around since only 2011 or so, yet nary a mainstream reviewer would subtract from a FromSoft game's score today for being difficult.
On the flip side, Kirby has been around for 30 (!) years now but many reviewers are more than happy to keep missing the point, it seems.
Thank you for the kind words, my friend. Def tough to put this article together as it’s a bit outside of my comfort zone. Glad it came across okay!
I would say this, hadn't played through many kirbygames until triple deluxe released, kinda because i had that view (formed from reading reviews before, even if i liked the small parts i had played).
Then played through triple deluxe and almost didnt play/start through Dedede tour, but I did, and that found my big interest for the series, rushing though and try to beat the speedrun modes in under 1h.
That's a lot of fun and utilize alot of the very cool change of mechanics the games are really utilizing. I think the "game is to easy" is mostly those that play through the story mode expecting that to be it and then miss the actual harder content.
Had a lot of fun with both Dededetour(cool to streetpass your fastest times), Metaknightmare returns and the star allies equivalent(even if 30fps kinda made controls feel lees smooth), and planning to pick up kirby and the forgotten land in less than 1h, and rush through the main story to hopefully unlock another great speedrun mode.
Also Kirby is probably the happiest feeling game even with it's kinda dark parts at times, really comfy setting with always a superb soundtrack.
I haven't played Forgotten Land yet, although I'm very much looking forward to and I expect to love it. I definitely agree with the main points of this article: that Kirby games are designed to be approachable for beginners, and that reviewers docking significant points for that are essentially refusing to take the games on their own terms.
But I think one thing that is often missed in this discussion, similar to the Pokemon difficulty discussion, is that there is a gradient within the range of "easy". One thing I've always admired about Kirby games is that despite being very easy to clear, they're almost always *engaging* anyways because of the constant creativity and the way it feels to play with the various powers and game elements.
Star Allies, for example, really was too easy. The main gimmick of that game meant that it practically played itself. Kirby's Adventure on the NES, by contrast, is noticeably more unafraid to pose a challenge when appropriate (the sun and moon boss is actually kinda hard!).
With the Pokemon discussion I find it frustrating because: yes the games have always been easy overall, but they've been getting progressively easier and easier and had crossed the line at some point for most people, and I think that's fair to criticize them for (Legends Arceus bucked this trend to an extent though which I and many others appreciated).
To be clear, I don't think Kirby suffers from this to nearly the same degree as Pokemon (both 3DS Kirby games were stellar and that was quite recent), I just think it's a good illustration of a more extreme version of the concept, since both are billed as beginner-friendly entries to their respective genres.
Great article! The reviewer for a given game must always keep in mind the purpose of the game's designers.
Also, the review's readers should have the same mindset.
And that's my own mistake in cases of Kirby or Yoshi (even Mario) games: I end up buying them for the good reviews, but these simplified difficulty games are just not for me.
I'm the opposite type of gamer, when I see Dark Souls, Meatboy, Cuphead, Celeste etc I steer clear. I get especially annoyed when they design elements that don't take into account hardware issues that crop up with bluetooth (dropped packets, latency) or the fact that bounce exists when pressing buttons. If you're an electrical engineer and worked with that you'd know what I mean.
Even still, I remember having some difficulty going after some of the gems in Epic Yarn that I still found the game challenging.
Another example I'll mention is the last fight with Bowser in Bowser's Fury. The first time I attempted it I spent an hour circling him because the algorithm never gave me an opening so I rebooted the game then finished him off in 30 minutes. After that I got the cat Mario Amiibo and whenever I replay Bowser's Fury I just use the Amiibo to not deal with that.
I'm sure that makes me "not a real gamer" and possibly a white supremacist according to some but your species has always hated me so meh. So yes, I enjoy Kirby and I have my preorder out for delivery and can't wait to play it after work.
And RMC, we need more opinions like these in the world, it would be a better place if we did.
Right on! I've never understood people who complain about the difficulty in a Kirby game. It's like complaining that cotton candy is too sweet.
Platformers are designed with tame difficulty in mind. I honestly don't get why people are complaining about this.
I mean, even Super Mario games are tame in difficulty. You can break most of the games with very powerful powerups and no one will ever care about this.
RMC - your take is 100% correct here!
Only one problem, you are too nice! Sometimes the hoi polloi need a little razzmatazz to remind them what's what. We can't all be together under the Chumbrella all the time.
I'll be firing up Kirby tonight after work!
I would side with those who say Kirby games are "too easy", but on the other hand I tend to appreciate that mainline Pokemon games err on the easy side, because I enjoy the adventure more than anything. I've even liked recent Yoshi games quite a bit despite their relative lack of difficulty (though they have their moments) since there tends to be that element of exploration/completion to make up for it.
(For what it's worth, generally speaking I tend to be a lot more into platformers and not really into RPGs at all.)
So I suppose in Kirby's case there's just not enough else there to grab my attention and keep me engaged.
I don't get why the reviews frustrate you, RMC. Personally I don't care what critics say. For the most part I stopped reading reviews a long time ago. Instead I pay attention to what regular people are saying about games. If I'm interested I'll check out some gameplay footage and go from there. I guess normies can't be expected to have their finger on the pulse of gaming. But I don't think someone buying a Kirby game for their kid is going to read a review either.
Personally, I would also describe Kirby games as too easy. Good for children, but too easy to be fun for me (doesn't help that I detest Kirby's design). I also think Souls games are too hard to be fun. I want my difficulty somewhere in the middle. It's fine though, those extremes are great for people who want em.
I'm guilty of this. Just haven't liked many Kirby games because they don't challenge me. Glad there is a more difficult option in this new one but I've really only been able to enjoy Kirby games in multi-player. That said, I'm about to head out the door and get The Forgotten Land. :)
Again, nothing wrong with not enjoying the games due to lack of difficulty. It's just recognizing the fact that these games are designed that way on purpose, that's all. Wouldn't want anyone to play something they're not enjoying! Too many games and not enough time as it is!
Indeed. I agree with you again. On that note, why do they get reviewers to review games that they likely won't enjoy though?
My favorite Kirby game is Kirby’s Dream Course! What a game! Wish they would make a new version of it
Exactly, that’s like looking down on a fish because they can’t climb a tree as fast as a monkey.
There's only one Kirby game I would argue is too easy. Because the low difficulty undermines the actual design of the game. And that's Star Allies.
The game basically plays itself. They designed these cool bosses and stuff, but they just die in seconds with no effort. So the low difficulty makes the game less engaging. Other Kirbys are easy but you feel engage and involved in the gameplay. Star Allies felt detached.
Very true. Kirby may very well be the starting point for new gamers for years to come. I appreciate that and I am glad that there are at least a handful of Kirby games that have hit home with me. May the latest be one of them!
I was just talking about that game with a friend today. So awesome. If they made a new one, life would be too perfect.
I know I'm going against the grain here but I have to say it: At the end of the day, the purpose of a review is to help people know if they want to play a game. If a Kirby game is really easy, I'd like to know that before I buy the game. I've been avoiding Kirby games for years because they're really easy and I have a hard time deriving satisfaction from them because of this. I know they're easy on purpose, that just means the game wasn't made for me.
So when somebody mentions lack of difficulty in a Kirby game, I don't see it as a call to change it or some longstanding conspiracy against the pink guy himself. I see it as an indication that this game won't satisfy my need to be challenged, just like most Kirby games before. And on a tight budget I need to know things like this.
It’s not that Kirby games are “too easy”, it’s that Kirby is just THAT powerful.
Smash Ultimate established that, out of the pantheon of gaming heroes (and villains), Kirby is the most powerful of all. Kirby was the sole survivor.
To me Kirby games are like miniature golf, it may not be as intense as regular golf, but its still relaxing and a lot of fun to play.
What you said about Kirby and Elden Ring was literally spot on here. Well said.
Maybe you were confused by the headline, but as the article itself argues, there's absolutely nothing wrong with a reviewer saying a Kirby game is too easy or that they did not enjoy it because it's too easy.
But it doesn't make sense to give it a low score just because it's too easy, if that's exactly the difficulty level that the developers were trying to achieve.
Just like it's fine for a reviewer to say they didn't like Elden Ring because it's too difficult or there's not enough guidance, but it doesn't make sense eto detract from the score of the game, as that's exactly the experience the developers intended.
The majority of reviewers seem to understand this concept when it comes to things like FromSoft, but then for some reason forget it as soon as it comes to Kirby.
If anything, the inconsistency is the issue.
That's a pretty good point, and I can agree with it.