The crux of the Kirby series is that it simply peaked too early. While it wasn't the first game in Nintendo and HAL's popular series, Kirby's Adventure was the first a lot of people played, and it is coming up on being 20 years old. After all this time, it still plays like the same timeless masterpiece that, quite frankly, makes every game that came after come up short by comparison.
Mario has escaped such a fate by improving, evolving, and attempting new ideas with each release. On the other hand, Kirby can't quite escape the formula which has made his platformers so popular over the years. In fact, he often gets the most praise when trying to break away from the formula with games like Kirby's Epic Yarn and Kirby Canvas Curve.
With that in mind, HAL Laboratory is in a constant struggle to find that exact creative formula and recreate it. It's come close on many occasions with some pretty fun games, and Kirby: Triple Deluxe is the latest game to step up to the plate. How does it fare?
A New Bag of Tricks
As with every Kirby game, our pink friend's main gimmick comes from swallowing his unfortunate enemies whole and stealing their powers. Kirby: Triple Deluxe sticks to the tried and true with a huge arsenal of weapons, each with a handful of devastating techniques of their own.
Ninja Kirby can throw kunai and attach to walls. Archer Kirby can stealth behind wooden objects he pulls from his pockets. Stone Kirby morphs into indestructible objects. Spear Kirby can twirl his polearm above his head and glide as if using a helicopter.
Kirby is far and away Nintendo's most versatile character in the gameplay department, even beating out dungeon diving Link in terms of tools and weapons, and there is no shortage of ways or approaches you can use in taking him into battle.
There are both positives and negatives to such design choices, of course. Options are always key in a video game these days, but as with most things in life, too much can lead to excess. Not all of Kirby's moves are particularly useful for one thing as each has a more simple solution.
Attaching to the wall as a ninja sounds great, but I never really ran into a situation where it was needed. Hiding behind a wooden bush as an archer never saved me in battle. The helicopter technique works, but ultimately Kirby's native fying ability works just as well.
Besides a side gimmick or two, most of Kirby's movesets also never feel that different from one another. Hiding behind the wooden objects provides just as much defense as the stone move, and the rapid fire feather weapon doesn't feel all that different from just holding a spear, which also has a rapid fire function.
The point is that what made Kirby's Adventure so exciting is that each and every power had a particular use. Whether it was making a boss easier, uncovering a secret, or getting past a challenging section of a level, not a single power felt wasted. You really felt like you achieved something, an ounce of genius perhaps, if you uncovered the correct power to exploit a certain situation.
Some events even challenged you to go digging through other levels to find a particular power before bringing it into another level to find the secret, forcing you to be extra careful not to lose it. It's a situation that really makes you feel you've earned a reward of not only discovering the secret, but activating it too. I ran into this only once in Kirby: Triple Deluxe.
The hypernova ability that Nintendo has put in the commercials is also not a normal Kirby ability. He picks it up at scripted locations, meaning it only works when the game calls for it to work. You can't take it into other areas of the game and experiment with it, and you can't use it beyond what Hal Laboratory gives you. Most of the enemies and fun animations you come across are strictly contained within the brief instances where Nintendo allows you that fun.
With each of Kirby's movesets overloaded with abilities, none of them seem to be more necessary than the next. Each secret can be uncovered using Archer, Hammer, Ninja, or Circus, just as each boss can be beaten easily with any weapon. While they certainly provide easy thrills and an easy way to blast through levels, it is the limitations and weight each power-up provides in the best Kirby games which made them so special.
Kirby's new powers, while fun, lack that unique quality, making them each seem like a dime-a-dozen when put against the others. More often than not, I used the Archer when I could, and whatever was at hand when I couldn't. I never sought out skills or thought "You know, Ice would work very well in this situation," because any ability could have worked just as well.
I even forgot some powers existed while running through the game. Beam? Spark? Bomb? Who needs them?
The Thrill of Design
Kirby's Adventure is also legendary for its level design, making perfect use of the 8-bit color range to create some deviously difficult design choices. For example, HAL Laboratory hid doors behind the moon, which it does in Kirby: Triple Deluxe as well in one level, but it comes off more of a tribute than an original idea.
It managed to put secret passages in paintings or behind waterfalls, have interconnected rooms loaded with doors and passageways, and it featured some genuinely smart level design. Race to the end of a stage with the wheel technique to beat an exploding chain reaction. Bounce lasers off of angled walls to set the cannon on fire. Drop down this pit and freeze the blocks to find a door. Oh man, those were the days.
Again, Kirby: Triple Deluxe is decent in this department, but doesn't come off nearly as smart. Kirby's Adventure introduced the idea to include switches in certain levels, and when you found and slammed into a switch, a secret piece of the world would open. Granted, it still leads to the same conclusion opening a single secret stage, but Kirby: Triple Deluxe devolves this idea down into the "Yoshi Coins."
Three or four coins in every level. You find all of them you get a bonus stage. Straight up. No museums, no minigames, no teleporters. Not really much of a reason to do it other than for completion sake.
That's not to say that this game is devoid of new ideas. Not at all. Some stages make smart use of the 3D space and show flashes of the brilliance of Kirby's Adventure, like guiding wayward keys with lightning rods that extend over two-planes of gameplay or tilting the Nintendo 3DS to make a clear path for arrows.
What holds Kirby: Triple Deluxe from being great is simply too much reliance on the technology at hand.
For one thing, call it nitpicking, but Kirby is also really REALLY big on the screen, making the stages around him seem cramped by comparison, when they should be wide open. Remember how small he was back on the NES? Not anymore.
These cramped levels allow very little in vertical stage scrolling, meaning Kirby moves in a horizontal manner for most of the game, a huge no-no for a Kirby game. To replace it, HAL steps up the 3D effects to allow Kirby to jump in and out of the background, which works in most cases, but doesn't begin to compare with the layout of other great Kirby games.
Don't be fooled by my negativity. There are some really fun stages with some great puzzles, but just like the power-ups, nothing really feels like it has any weight. Kirby never deviates too far from his path to unlock secrets, but should he do so, a single retread should be enough to see everything a stage has to offer.
Is it fair to judge Kirby: Triple Deluxe alongside Kirby's Adventure and the 20 years of flawless legacy it carries with it?
Which comes to the main point of this review. Is it fair to judge Kirby: Triple Deluxe alongside Kirby's Adventure and the 20 years of flawless legacy it carries with it? Or is it best to judge Kirby: Triple Deluxe on its own merits?
For that matter, Kirby: Triple Deluxe has a lot of character, great music, fun platforming, and a handful of decent puzzles. I'd call it one of the better platforming games on the Nintendo 3DS, even though I had a little more fun with Yoshi's New Island. I'll give it all the credit in the world where its due.
It's also kind of challenging in some regards, and I didn't finish the game with the surplus 200+ 1ups I do with most modern Mario games.
HAL Laboratory has a decent little game here for the taking but I never felt compelled to play or drawn in like I do with other games.
However, here we have a special case in which why Kirby: Triple Deluxe is open for comparison, and that is because both games are available through the exact same means, digital download through the Nintendo 3DS eShop. Kirby: Triple Deluxe is a nice little game that's going to set you back $39.99 on release.
Kirby's Adventure is a $6.99 purchase through the Nintendo 3DS' 3D Classics line-up, and not only does it do everything that Kirby: Triple Deluxe does, it does it a lot better. Both have 3D graphics, both star Kirby, but one is a timeless classic and the other is a fleeting moment of a game.
The bigger choice is where do you want to start? Obviously if you are a Kirby fan, you've played Kirby's Adventure and might want something new, so Kirby: Triple Deluxe is the way to go. If you just want a fun little platformer to kill some time, then by all means, it's worth checking out.
If you are new to the franchise though? Do you cough up the smaller entry fee to play one of the greatest games ever made, or do you play the newer, slightly inferior, game first at a more expensive price?
Seems like an obvious call to me to go with the older one, but that also comes with the cost of being cynically jaded when it comes to the rest of the Kirby franchise. If I had never sunk so many hours into Kirby's Adventure over the years, I might be able to appreciate Kirby: Triple Deluxe, and the rest of the Kirby games for that matter, without my mind involuntarily drawing comparisons.
Do yourself a favor and check out at least one other Kirby game before jumping into Kirby's Adventure. Kirby: Triple Deluxe a nice little entry point to the series, and it should be your first stop before diving into the stronger older games. It's loyal enough to their design, and it sacrifices only small elements veterans will pick up.
Newcomers will enjoy it to pieces, and it will open up the gates to one of Nintendo's most cherished franchises.
We were supplied with a copy of Kirby: Triple Deluxe by Nintendo and played the game's story mode through completion for this review.