Decades in the making and still worth it
It has taken 30 long years for the Kirby series to arrive at this moment. While numerous other Nintendo franchises made the jump to fully-3D experiences literally decades ago, Kirby never had his moment. It’s not for a lack of trying, mind you. Nintendo and HAL worked on a multitude of ideas for 3D Kirby games, but for one reason or another, things never came together. Sure, there were some pseudo-3D games and experiments along the way, but Kirby never got the grandiose 3D debut that his fellow franchise friends did.
Over these decades, Nintendo has said time and time again that they’d rather delay a game and give it the attention it needs, rather than rush to meet an arbitrary deadline. That’s exactly what’s going on with the Metroid franchise right now, and happened with Kirby’s first 3D outing for years. The thing is, Nintendo and HAL stayed true to their word. They wanted to make Kirby work in 3D, and they weren’t going to give up on the idea. They would toil away until they had a project that made them proud, and did the series right.
That brings us to 2022, the year of Kirby’s 30th anniversary. It seems fitting that Kirby would finally receive his 3D debut for this anniversary, which falls on April 27th, 2022. What better way to celebrate the momentous occasion than with a franchise first?
Somehow, some way, Nintendo and HAL finally landed on an idea for Kirby’s fully 3D debut that clicked, which resulted in Kirby and the Forgotten Land. It seems downright impossible that this game could live up to fan expectations after waiting so long for the transition to 3D, yet against all odds, Kirby and the Forgotten Land was 110% worth the wait. I’d even go so far as to say this is Kirby’s finest adventure yet.
The entire time I played Kirby and the Forgotten Land, I couldn’t shake my feeling of disbelief. After playing mostly side-scrolling Kirby games for 3 decades, a true 3D installment had arrived. Truth be told, it was a moment I wasn’t sure would happen! After going so long without a jump to the third dimension, I figured mainline Kirby games would forever stay in the 2D realm. Sure, I wanted to see what Kirby would be like in 3D, but I love 2D games just as much, so I was fine with that potential future. Yet, here it is…the Kirby 3D outing I had been dreaming of. Even though I’ve wrapped the journey, I retain that notion of incredulity I had with the game’s opening moments.
I remember when Mario and Link hopped over to 3D worlds, as they were earth-shattering experiences. Obviously, Kirby and the Forgotten Land can’t reach those same feelings, as the move from 2D to 3D was a much bigger deal back in that day. We had consoles that were only capable of 2D titles, or extremely rudimentary 3D at best. Games going 3D wasn’t just a perspective shift, but a shift for the entire industry. With all that considered, Kirby and the Forgotten Land still managed to impress me with Kirby’s move to 3D, and even more than I imagined it would.
The world, mechanics, and whimsy of Kirby have never been as well realized as they are in Kirby and the Forgotten Land. Yes, most of us have imagined seeing Kirby’s world in 3D, but Kirby and the Forgotten Land does it in a way that’s truly awe-inspiring. The bright colors, the towering landscapes, the level design sensibilities, and so on. Every aspect of Kirby at its core is present in Kirby and the Forgotten Land, but offered with a completely new element of exploration. Just moving around in this space and seeing what the game has in store is part of the fun in and of itself.
Nintendo and HAL went above and beyond with this franchise transition. Kirby and the Forgotten Land is, without a doubt, the most cinematic Kirby experience to date. As usual, there are plenty of story beats and characters that get a lot of attention, but the cinematic experience comes from the in-game camera. While you can control the game’s camera to a very modest degree, Kirby and the Forgotten Land handles camera control for you. It always gives you the best look at the action, and makes every single moment feel that much more enticing. Huge buildings are shot from foreboding perspectives, environments are put on full display with camera zooms and sweeps, and even boss battles swap perspectives to heighten the action. I really cannot praise the camera in Kirby and the Forgotten Land enough, as it never gets in the way of gameplay, and only enhances the adventure.
It doesn’t hurt that Kirby and the Forgotten Land is a gorgeous game as well. You don’t often see games this colorful and vivid nowadays, especially in the realm of 3D. Kirby and the Forgotten Land absolutely screams off the screen, and is an absolute joy to take in. It’s even crazier that the game is this beautiful when its focus is a post-apocalyptic landscape! Yes, there are dilapidated buildings and forgotten structures all over the place, but they stay far away from the designs and color choices you’d expect. I can’t even think of a time when I’ve experienced a post-apocalyptic game that looked this vivid and engrossing. Drab, dead colors and crumbling landscapes are replaced with dazzling designs, lush foliage, and more. Kirby and the Forgotten Land may employ a very Kirby-style aesthetic (simple and cute), but that doesn’t stop the game from being an absolute visual stunner.
Of course, pretty visuals and a leap to 3D don’t automatically make Kirby and the Forgotten Land enjoyable. Thankfully, it seems all those experiments Nintendo and HAL ran on getting the Kirby formula translated into 3D was time well spent. Kirby and the Forgotten Land is very much a Kirby game from beginning to end, and that’s meant as a compliment. Kirby games have a certain feel to them, as well as a flow all their own. Perhaps most importantly, Kirby has a very unique, but seemingly unquantifiable charm. It’s just one of those elements you recognize when you play, and Kirby and the Forgotten Land has it in spades.
The one thing that comes across loud and clear above every other element in Kirby and the Forgotten Land is the focus on fun. I’ve played a ton of games from Nintendo that are clearly built around fun, but I don’t know that I’ve felt it this strongly in years. It’s impossible not to notice the immense amount of care put into this adventure, and all of it centered on making every nook and cranny of the game a joy to play. I seriously never felt tired, bored, or disappointed in any area of the game. In reality, when the credits finally rolled on the main adventure, I was left wanting more!
I simply can’t fathom how so much fun can be crammed into every area of a game, from big set pieces to the tiniest elements. Playing Kirby and the Forgotten Land is 100% pure glee, and it’s exactly what I enjoy most about video games. When I think of what games can do that no other form of entertainment can, I settle on their ability to put you in control of the fun. Kirby and the Forgotten Land is the epitome of that feeling for me, as everything in the game is an absolute blast to experience. Regular enemies, copy abilities, Mouthful Mode, and anything else you stumble upon is there for pure enjoyment. I’ve played plenty of titles that start out a real pleasure, and then wear out their welcome a few hours in. I felt the same amount of excitement and jubilation at the end of Kirby and the Forgotten Land as I did at the start. Actually, I think I may have had even more fun with the game’s last handful of levels!
A lot of this joy comes from the game’s level design, which is top-notch. I can’t think of a bummer level in the entire game, and that’s saying a lot. There’s usually one or two levels in Nintendo games that are good, but they don’t stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the bigger moments. In Kirby and the Forgotten Land, it’s just one giant package of delight. The game constantly throws things at you to make you smile, be it expertly-crafted stages, well-hidden secrets, great use of setting and theme, and so on. You’d think by this point in gaming history, we’ve seen all there is to offer when it comes to fire, ice, and water stages. Well, Kirby and the Forgotten Land proves that wrong in incredible fashion.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land would be a top-tier experience if it offered nothing but the usual Kirby fodder, but the inclusion of the brand-new Mouthful Mode really is the icing on the cake. These odd, hilarious, and downright ingenious transformations make for some of the game’s finest moments, and all the instances are well-utilized. Whether it’s crashing through walls as a car, bouncing up and down as a scissor lift, or illuminating passages as a lightbulb, any Mouthful Mode opportunity you come across is just one more reason to smile from ear to ear. Throw in a handful of puzzles that use Mouthful Mode in clever ways, and the experience gets that much better.
Even the game’s soundtrack is phenomenal from top to bottom. Kirby games have a very recognizable approach to their music, and that is alive and well in Kirby and the Forgotten Land. Surprisingly, what you hear during this game is almost wholly original, rather than remixes of classic Kirby tunes. You’ll hear recognizable Kirby riffs here and there, but the vast majority of these melodies are 100% fresh. Again, there’s not a bad song in the bunch, and a handful of them were so excellent and perfectly suited to the level you hear them in, that it honestly brought a tear to my eye. That’s something that I’ve never, ever experienced from a Kirby game, and I’ve played them all! I mean, the game’s main melody alone, complete with a singer backing it, is one of the best musical moments in a Kirby game so far.
Perhaps best of all, there’s just so much to see and do in Kirby and the Forgotten Land. The main campaign is a rather lengthy one, especially for a Kirby game. There’s plenty of optional time attack side-quests you can take on, complete with bonuses for getting in under a certain time. There’s post-game content to partake in once the credits roll, mini-games like fishing and boss rushes, scrolls to hunt down for leveling up copy abilities, and plenty of other addictive components. You’re definitely not going to see and do everything the game has to offer on its first run, and if you’re looking to go the completionist’s route, you’ll likely end up with more content to collect and unlock than you’d expect.
As you can probably tell, I greatly enjoyed my time with Kirby and the Forgotten Land. As far as pure fun goes, I don’t think I’ve liked a game this much since Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. Kirby’s welcome into the 3D world brings everything you’d want from a Kirby game, expands what you think a Kirby game can be, and offers a very bright outlook for Kirby’s future. If that’s not the perfect way to celebrate Kirby’s 30th anniversary, I don’t know what is!