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Mech-Star Warrior

Whenever I think that HAL Laboratory and Nintendo are going to run out of fun gimmicks to wrap Kirby up in, they find a way to keep surprising me. Whether it’s as a pinball, a yarn creature, or riding a rainbow-painted path, part of the series’ charm has been how the gameplay always seems to be morphing into something fresh—much like Kirby himself when he copies an enemy’s ability—while still sticking to the pink puffball’s action-platforming core. The duo seem to have done it once again with Kirby’s latest outing for the 3DS, Kirby: Planet Robobot.

It’s another peaceful day on the planet Pop Star, with Kirby resting under a tree, King Dedede playing chess against a Waddle Dee, and Meta Knight patrolling the skies in the Halberd. The serenity of this scene is quickly shattered, however, when a mysterious UFO lands on the planet and begins terraforming Pop Star, transforming its inhabitants into mechanical monstrosities. Kirby immediately springs into action in order to get to the bottom of the appearance of these strange aliens and turn Pop Star back into the nature-loving home he knows.

At its core, Planet Robobot is much like any other mainline title in the series. Kirby must fight his way through a half-dozen levels, each broken into a handful of stages, and copy the abilities of the foes he comes across in order to solve puzzles, collect items, and bring the pain to the bosses he’ll face along the way. Along with that, there are several new elements that help Robobot stand out from its predecessors, and that add a lot to the game’s enjoyability.

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Any fan that has played Kirby games before will immediately pick up on the first of these changes, which is a brand new aesthetic. The terraforming plot point means exploring locations Kirby has never dealt with before, such as casinos, roadways, trains, pipeworks, and more. These also provide Robobot with an interesting contrast in its design, with the colorful, cartoony vibe we usually get from the series crossing with an urban, mechanized motif. Even old-school bosses take advantage of the theme, with the cyborg-like Clanky Woods serving as the hardest version of Whispy Woods we’ve seen yet.

The other major changes come on the gameplay side. Planet Robobot features four new powers for Kirby to wield: Jet, Poison, ESP, and Doctor. You can roast enemies in Jet’s afterburners, throw psychic energy around a room with ESP, bounce pill projectiles at enemies with Doctor, or surf on sludge with Poison to get through a level quicker. While each power has its moments in the game, I found ESP to be the most useful of the four—both because of its offensive strength against enemies, and its ability to help with puzzles by sending projectiles through walls to hit previously-inaccessible switches.

As nice as the new powers are, the biggest gameplay change, though, comes from the fact that Kirby now can pilot his own personal mechanized robot, which he acquires early in the game and utilizes on various stages. The mech not only affords Kirby super-strength that he can use to move large set pieces around each level (opening up new puzzle and platforming opportunities), but also allows for duplicating enemy abilities much like Kirby himself. Copying the flame ability, for instance, turns the mech’s arms into a pair of flamethrowers—great for lighting cannon fuses that can open up previously-inaccessible areas or toasting enemies.

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In some cases, the mech does more than just amplify Kirby’s abilities, too—it changes the very nature of the game. For example, the aforementioned Jet ability transforms the mech into a Gradius-like starship, providing some interesting side-scrolling shooter gameplay. Working in this stage variety provided a nice change of pace from the standard platforming that comprises much of the game, and had me switching powers at a far more frequent pace than when I normally play Kirby games, as I couldn’t wait to see how the mech would transform next.

As great an experience as this all provides, Planet Robobot does suffer from something that has plagued many Nintendo games in recent years: a lack of challenge. Life-hoarding became a game within the game for me, as I never died more than a couple times throughout my playthrough. HAL Laboratory tried to bump up the difficulty by adding three keys to each stage for you to collect—with you needing a certain number of said keys to unlock each boss—but aside from one or two stages, I never had an issue with collecting them all on the first go.

Lack of challenge aside, Kirby: Planet Robobot does a great job of continuing the tradition of what the best Kirby games do: provide a fun adventure that captures your imagination. The difficulty may not have been high, but it’s still a top-quality, tight-handling platformer that I couldn’t help but enjoy for the short time it lasted—and which I didn’t want to put down until I’d seen every power, solved every puzzle, and brought peace back to Pop Star. The new mech gimmick was a delight to mess around with, and in the end, Planet Robobot’s few new features paid massive dividends that any Kirby enthusiast should love to play.

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Developer: HAL Laboratory • Publisher: Nintendo • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 06.10.16
9.0
It’s probably one of the pink puffball’s shorter adventures, but the new mech gimmick provides a fun and fresh take on Kirby’s action-platforming core that I couldn’t get enough of.
The Good New mech adds a surprising amount of depth and variety to the classic Kirby gameplay.
The Bad No sense of challenge whatsoever.
The Ugly All of Pop Star and its inhabitants becoming mechanized reminded me an awful lot of Sonic the Hedgehog.
Kirby: Planet Robobot is a Nintendo 3DS exclusive. Review code was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.
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