My favorite professor in college once told me that My Neighbor Totoro is the cutest thing you can watch without throwing up. Kirby and the Forgotten Land gives Totoro a run for his money on cuteness — but what happens when the cute starts to run out?
What starts as a new adventure filled with wonder and discovery quickly becomes a bit of a slog in Forgotten Land, and I found myself using simple and familiar powers to solve simple and familiar puzzles. Despite Kirby and the Forgotten Land’s new 3D camera perspective, its creepily cute Mouthful Mode, and adorable art direction, the game failed to show me anything new after its opening hours. Even Kirby’s adorable world couldn’t save him from monotony.
Forgotten Land starts with the titular pink puffball getting transported off of Planet Popstar and onto a planet more like Earth. But this isn’t New Donk City, and there are no weirdly realistic humans crowding the sidewalks. No, this is an Earth-like planet far past its prime — urban buildings overtaken by plant life, factories overflowing with unused lava, a slightly haunted amusement park. And each nook and cranny is hiding one of Kirby’s friends: the recently kidnapped Waddle Dees.
This secret-focused level design is where Kirby and the Forgotten Land really works, at least in short bursts. Navigating a new area and finding all the optional objectives hidden therein kept me focused and eagle-eyed during each level. Unfortunately, the hidden nature of these quests — some of which are only revealed after I finish a mission — meant that I occasionally got to the end of a level only to learn I’d missed something, prompting an immediate, cloying replay. When I eventually gave up on fully completing every stage before moving onto the next, I fell in love with each hidden alley I came across. Some lead to puzzles, while others lead to powerful upgrades.
Image: HAL Laboratory/Nintendo
The post-apocalyptic setting also gives Forgotten Land levels an oddly serene sense of place. Using puffs of air to push a boat around a half-submerged building makes for an unexpected scene when paired with the game’s cutesy art style. Because it’s Kirby, the post-apocalypse is never sad; it’s just a bright take on a planet where something went wrong. Kirby doesn’t seem to care what happened here (outside of his friends being kidnapped), and I don’t really, either. Nature has retaken the world from whatever society built these structures, and Kirby and the Forgotten Land finds the brightly colored beauty in that.
Exploring Kirby and the Forgotten Land is compelling, but moving from enemy encounter to enemy encounter is not. Kirby games have always kept the gameplay simple to make juggling the hero’s wide variety of powers easier — for the most part, Kirby’s abilities only have two moves, depending on whether you’re in the air or on the ground. That remains true in Kirby and the Forgotten Land, but with a drastically reduced power slate.
Kirby has access to just 12 copy abilities, and two of them disappear after using them once: Sleep and Crash. The others are mostly classics, with only a few new additions. Sword, Hammer, and Bomb are all here, but so is the new Ranger power, which gives Kirby a gun. Some beloved and iconic powers like Plasma, Wheel, and even Beam are absent.
Image: HAL Laboratory/Nintendo
In other Kirby games, it was rare to run into a foe I couldn’t absorb a power from. But in Kirby and the Forgotten Land, these power-lacking enemies are the norm. Enemies with powers are rare enough that I almost always absorb them, just for a taste of something different. Without the variety I’m used to from a Kirby game, the simple act of mashing the A button to slice through the 10 enemies in a battle grated on me quickly, especially in marathon sessions.
Part of this power vacuum is supplemented with the new Mouthful Mode vehicles. These are kind of like giant copy abilities, where Kirby sucks up a car or a big lightbulb, usually to solve an environmental puzzle. However, because the items are too big, Kirby can’t fully absorb them, so they act more like temporary vehicles than powers you can carry throughout the level — for those familiar with 2016’s Kirby: Planet Robobot, they’re like far less flexible (but cuter) versions of Kirby’s mech in that game. It’s an adorable and hilarious visual, watching Kirby’s little feet trail behind a moving car, or stretch out on the sides of a stairwell. But as with the copy abilities, there are too few Mouthful moments. And by the third world, Forgotten Land had shown me almost every new object I could inhale. What started as an exciting feature quickly became stale.
In 2017, Nintendo’s own Super Mario Odyssey — arguably the best Kirby-like game in years — consistently delivered new enemies to possess, even in its final levels. And other Kirby titles have used a huge group of abilities to offer a consistent dopamine drip throughout their various worlds. So it’s here that Forgotten Land stumbles the hardest. The moment-to-moment gameplay is so monotonous and simple that it kills the pace. With nothing new to look forward to and such a small number of tools at my disposal, I can’t focus on the majesty of the world or how cute its protagonist is.
Every time Kirby and the Forgotten Land showed me something new, I loved it. I smiled from ear to ear the first time I watched Kirby become a traffic cone, or throw his gob over a water tower. I loved that opening moment in each new area where I could run around the overworld and get peeks into the new areas I’d be venturing into. The cutscenes are gorgeous, and watching Kirby and friends take a nap in his little house is adorable (as it always is). But Kirby and the Forgotten Land burns too brightly, too soon, and that initial joy was hard to recall by the time the credits rolled.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land will be released March 25 on Nintendo Switch. The game was reviewed on Switch using a pre-release download code provided by Nintendo. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.
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