Review: Kirby: Planet Robobot for Nintendo 3DS
Domo arigato, Mr. Roboboto.
Before I get right into Kirby: Planet Robobot, please allow me to set the stage a little bit for what it was like going in.
The year is 1994, and Mega Man X has just been released in North America on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Among the many new additions and ideas added to the game on top of what we know and loved about the previous Mega Man games was the Robot Ride Armor. These mechs could be found sitting around various levels, and when the player (as X) would jump into them, they would get to take control of the mighty machines and turn them against the Mavericks who were running roughshod around the world. They were powerful and fun to use, but also a bit clunky and fragile, and their use was extremely limited in most cases, as well, making them somewhat noteworthy, but not quite a selling point.
A few years later, Capcom would introduce various hovering jet motorcycles to the series. Known as Ride Chasers, these cycles featured in auto-scrolling levels that most fans would probably agree worked precisely once — in their debut appearance in Mega Man X4. That didn’t stop Capcom from including variants of some kind in three of the four sequels to be released from that point on, and they never worked. It was to my surprise that playing some of Konami’s titles from the Contra series that they featured similar stages, except theirs were a lot more fun to play. They actually made me wish that Capcom had subcontracted their stages out to the other company so that they might be worthwhile.
The point of all this is that I got a sense of deja vu when I finally got to give Kirby: Planet Robobot a try. Where Konami surpassed Capcom with the same basic idea of auto-scrolling vehicle stages, HAL Labs has done so with the idea of larger mechs that our heroes can pilot.
Put simply: the bar has been raised, and even if Capcom were still creating Mega Man X games, I’m not sure that they’d be able to catch up to Kirby.
At its core, Kirby: Planet Robobot is a Kirby game through and through, and unmistakably a sequel to Kirby Triple Deluxe, sharing much of that game’s DNA. If you haven’t played that game for yourself — well, you must. But in such a case, go give my review a look, as much of what comes here is built on that foundation.
No worries, I can wait.
Okay, you done? Good.
Kirby: Planet Robobot retains most of what was good about Kirby Triple Deluxe. That isn’t to say that what’s left is bad, but simply different. New worlds, new music, new powers, and perhaps the biggest change of all is the loss of Hypernova Kirby in favor of the new Robobot Armor. In some ways, it’s kind of a lateral movement, but in others, it’s a big improvement on what was already a fantastic game.
The story opens with Kirby napping as an invading force attacks the planet Pop Star. Taking care of King Dedede and Meta Knight, a large spaceship plants its drills into the world and basically begins cyberforming things. As such, the game features a lot more in the way of mechanical-styled environments and even enemies, such as the cyborg-ish Clanky Woods seen above.
As usual, Kirby wakes up, sees what’s going on, and sets out to stop it. Along the way, he can inhale numerous specific enemies to gain powers familiar to him from previous adventures mixed with new powers, including Doctor Kirby, who (among other abilities) can throw capsules like a certain plumber-turned-doctor, or ESP Kirby, whose telekinetic powers and baseball cap might remind some players of the mother of all Nintendo-published role playing games.
Things escalate as some airborne drones drop off a trooper (who looks oddly like an unmasked Meta Knight) off in a set of Robobot Armor. Upon defeat, the driver is ejected and Kirby takes over the mech, which changes color and appearance to reflect its new driver.
Controlling the Robobot Armor is pretty incredible. It’s powerful, far more than Kirby is alone, able to smash through obstacles and enemies that our pink hero would have to avoid on his own. It’s agile and quick, able to move much like Kirby himself by dashing and, while it can’t fly unaugmented, it does have a nice double-jump. It can even climb ladders and fences Mario-style, just as Kirby himself can!
Alone, that might be enough, but there’s more. Just as Kirby can take on the powers of select foes by inhaling them, so too can the Robobot Armor transform itself by scanning such enemies. While Kirby can adopt 27 Copy Abilities, the Robobot Armor can still take on an impressive 13 Modes of its own, each with its own move sets. There’s just something that feels great about marching along and taking out enemies with robotic fists, flame throwers, or whirling buzzsaws. (It’s funny that even though Mega Man is known for taking the powers of his fallen foes, not unlike Kirby, Mega Man X was never able to apply them to his Robot Ride Armor.)
That’s not all; with certain abilities, the Robobot Armor can turn into either a hot rod-like driving machine that can race along, popping in and out of the background at will, or a jet armed with a Gatling gun and missiles. Segments including these vehicles are tons of fun, and in the case of the Wheel Mode, sometimes feels like they’re over too soon.
An interesting thing about the Robobot Armor is that while it’s still mighty, it’s not quite the “win button” that Hypernova Kirby was. While Hypernova Kirby was gloriously overpowered, the Robobot Armor still has its vulnerability about it, including losing powers when hit with significant force, requiring a rescan.
It’s arguably a bit more interactive as well. While those rare occasions of using Hypernova Kirby came with some great set pieces, the Robobot Armor feels more like an enhancement of the game itself, and integrates more fully into the levels at play. In some instances, it might even behoove you to leave the Armor behind as you pursue certain treasures, items, and secrets — though you can’t just leave of your own free will. You have to find certain docking points to leave the Armor.
Just the same, you come across points that require a bit more from the player than just holding down the Inhale button. Large levers need turning, screws need unscrewing, blocks need moving, and so on. For all intents and purposes, the Robobot Armor is just as much a part of this game as Kirby is, even if you don’t get to ride it all the time. That said, you do get to use it more than Hypernova Kirby, so it’s a plus in how well it all balances out.
From beginning to end, Kirby: Planet Robobot is just a joy to play. The worlds are whimsical and fun, with all sorts of great details, like Waddle Dees driving cars down the road in and out of the screen. My personal favorite is Rhythm Route, a nighttime city filled with neon lights which (fortunately for me) betrays its name by not requiring any rhythm-based gameplay.
As in Triple Deluxe, the 3D is put to great effect, effectively adding to the game’s real estate in a way that feels natural for the series. And, without spoiling anything, the story comes to the kind of epic (and sad) end that shouldn’t be anything new to dedicated Kirby fans, but may yet surprise those who have only seen snippets of gameplay.
There is plenty of bang for your buck, too. While the main story mode is somewhat brief if you’re playing straight through (my Nintendo 3DS stats say I spent under seven hours to complete it, though I find that number a little suspect), there are numerous items to find throughout, including various stickers (the replacement for keychains from last time, which can be used to decorate your Robobot Armor’s arms) and Code Cubes (replacements for the last game’s Sun Stones, which are similar in purpose to gathering Stars in Super Mario games), and even bonus levels to unlock.
Beyond that, there are four other modes to play as well. “Kirby 3D Rumble” gives Kirby a 3D playing field in which he must destroy wave after wave of enemies on each stage, giving a taste of what a 3D Kirby adventure might feel like, while “Team Kirby Clash” is a multiplayer mode featuring Download Play for up to four players (or one player and an AI partner) as each Kirby takes on an RPG-ish role as they try to fell large enemies through teamwork. Beating the main game unlocks “The Arena,” which returns in all its boss rush-styled glory, and “Meta Knightmare Returns,” a variation on the main game wherein Meta Knight fights evil in Kirby’s stead while proving he’s still a force to reckon with.
Another new feature added to Kirby: Planet Robobot is the ability to use amiibo up to ten times per day, provided you’re playing on a New Nintendo 3DS XL or have the separate NFC scanner sold separately. The new Kirby series is compatible, of course, with King Dedede, Meta Knight, and Waddle Dee each giving Kirby a bit of health and a special costume based on that character and their signature weapon — Hammer, Sword, and Parasol, though the moves are the same as the normal versions of those powers. Scanning Kirby himself grants you the UFO Copy Ability, which is rarely found in-game.
What’s more, you can scan all other current amiibo figures, though for the most part, this is sadly not quite as much fun. While the Smash Bros. version of Kirby will unlock a Smash Bros. Copy Ability that echoes his move set from those games, the rest yield powers associated with that character in some way. For instance, scanning Mario will grant you Fire Kirby, but sadly, he won’t take on the appearance he does when copying Mario in the Super Smash Bros. games. Even more disappointing is that some characters seem to only assign random abilities — one would think Ryu would unlock Fighter Kirby, at the very least.
When I reviewed Kirby Triple Deluxe, I said it was a must have. It wasn’t the hardest game out there or the longest (though as noted above, there are extras to help fulfill those urges), but it was definitely fulfilling, and I believe I can safely say that Kirby: Planet Robobot is every bit as fulfilling as its predecessor — perhaps even more so.
Kirby: Planet Robobot is, simply put, just an awesome game. I’m only about 50 or so percent done with it in terms of full completion, so I definitely need to go back for more, and I highly, highly recommend checking it out. HAL Labs has hit this one straight out of the park, and I can’t wait to see how they top this one. If you’re a fan of Kirby and especially if you enjoyed Kirby Triple Deluxe, this is a must-have, and I feel reasonably confident saying that gamers of all ages, genders, and whatever else should be able to enjoy this title.
If there is any serious fault I might find with the game, it’s that I’m not sure anything else on the horizon for the Nintendo 3DS following this will be able to rank this highly in my eyes. Actually, make that two faults: I want a line of Robobot Armor toys in the worst way now, but I haven’t seen anything about one yet. Hopefully Jakks Pacific will get on that in their World of Nintendo line!
Finally, to bring this full circle: Whether Capcom does it themselves or contracts it out, if another Mega Man X game comes along someday, I hope that whoever makes it is taking notes, because the bar has unquestionably been raised.
A review copy was provided by Nintendo of Canada.
David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you’re interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.