Playing it Safe, but Playing it Well: Kirby: Plant Robobot

kirbyplanetrobobot-titleIn June, Nintendo released Kirby: Planet Robobot for the 3DS, their second Kirby title for the system. This new title pits Kirby against an army of robotic alien invaders who are industrializing Kirby’s home planet of Pop Star. However, Kirby turns the tables on his enemies by using their mechanical armor for himself and infuses it with his trademark Copy ability. Before the game’s release, I was excited to see how this new robot armor mechanic would work and if it would enhance the Kirby formula. Would the introduction of the robotic suit of armor bring about a new change for the series or would it prove to be an uninteresting gimmick?KirbyPlanetRobobot-scrn1

Let’s delve into the game and see how the armor fares. The main game has six (seven if you count the very ending to the game) stages, each of which is divided into four or five sections and a boss fight. These stages are fairly easy but there are collectible Code Cubes (which unlock the path to each stage’s boss) and stickers to put on your armor hidden in each level. Finding all of the stickers and Cubes is no easy task and some of them require fairly precise platforming and solving confusing puzzles. The game gives the player quite a bit of freedom in determining how easy or difficult they want the game to be: do you just want to relax and have a pleasant adventure with Kirby? Then ignore most of the Code Cubes and forget about the stickers. Or do you want a bit of a challenge? Then try 100%-ing the game. Giving the player the option to determine the game’s difficulty in this way shows how well-designed the game is overall. kirby-planet-robobot-sticker

Let me say a bit more about the stages themselves. Most of the stages in the game are typical Kirby-platforming faire (you jump, Copy and float your way to victory), pitting Kirby against familiar enemies from the series like Waddle-Dees but most of them have gotten a new robo-makeover. The biggest change is the introduction of the robotic suit of armor. In certain sections of the game, Kirby will discover abandoned robotic armor that he can ride. While piloting the armor, Kirby can alter its functions using his Copy ability. For example, absorbing a sword-wielding enemy will grant Kirby’s armor a pair of lightsabers while absorbing a stone enemy will grant the armor a pair of rock-smashing fists. The game has several puzzles which require the player to make use of a particular power of the armor and these puzzles bring to light just how well-designed each power is and how versatile each of them can be. If the robot suit were only used for combat then I probably would have dismissed it as a gimmick. But the many puzzle sections that the game throws at the player make you use the armor in ways that you didn’t expect and keep you on your toes. There are even some stages that have you piloting the armor as a jet or a car through a side-scrolling shoot-‘em-up or a race track, respectively. While vehicle stages are nothing new in Kirby games, these sections are some of the best that I’ve played in the series and again attest to just how versatile the armor is.

Like other Kirby games, this one has modes other than the main story. There’s one mode called 3D Rumble that has Kirby moving in a 3D space and challenges you to defeat as many enemies as you can using the smallest amount of hits that you can. This mode is quite short and feels like an experiment in moving Kirby in a fully 3D game. I think that there is potential there–to have Kirby in 3 as opposed to 2 dimension, but the 3D Rumble doesn’t give the player enough of a taste to say for sure. There’s also an Arena mode, like most other Kirby games, which pits Kirby against many foes. Spoiler alert – after beating the main game, you can play through it again this time guiding the mysterious Meta Knight, in a time-attack mode called Meta-Knightmare mode. Meta Knight controls much differently from Kirby and the emphasis on speed changes the game quite a bit. The challenge for Meta Knight is not to find each stage’s collectibles but rather to clear them as quickly as possible while fighting through tougher enemies with less items drops. Meta-Knightmare turns the game on its head even though the stages don’t change too much between the modes. The game is just so well-designed that it can accommodate these two different styles of play.  Finally, there is a solo and local-multiplayer mode called Team Clash that has RPG elements. This mode is interesting with four roles for Kirby and a team-meteor attack. This is a nice addition to the Kirby series and I hope that Nintendo returns to it in some form in the future.

Despite all of the positive aspects of the game I’ve noted above, there are some drawbacks. First of all, despite all of those modes, the game is a bit short. I wish that the main game were longer as the supplemental modes go by much too quickly. I also found the game to be a bit too easy. Even if you choose to 100% the game, you’ll never run into too steep a challenge. I know that Kirby games are known for being among Nintendo’s easier platformers, it would be nice if this game were just a bit more difficult. While the robot suit is a welcome change, it does nothing to alter the established Kirby formula. I think that Nintendo should branch out a bit in its Kirby games. It’s been a while since Nintendo has released a Kirby game that wasn’t a platformer. I’m not suggesting that Nintendo never experiments with Kirby: they did change his look with Epic Yarn and they did change up some of the gameplay aspects with Mass Attack, Canvas Curse and Rainbow Curse but all of these games roughly fit into the platforming genre. Games like Dream Course, the Kirby golf game and Air Ride, the racing game, were the type of experimentation that I would like to see more of in the future. Try something new; let Kirby do something else other than platform. I’m sure he’d appreciate the change of pace. Why not try a Kirby RPG? Or a sequel to Air Rider? Something! I don’t think that Nintendo should stop making Kirby platformers as they are consistently excellent but they shouldn’t be afraid to let Kirby take on new roles in different genres. He’s so well suited for it: he changes his form all the time when he copies his enemies so why not let him absorb an RPG game or a racing game from time to time?

Overall, I think that Kirby: Planet Robobot is a fantastic entry to the Kirby series. The robot suit is well-implemented and the game’s various modes all enhance the experience. Despite how good the game is, it is a bit short and a bit too easy. Planet Robobot makes me want a new type of Kirby game but it also reminds me of why I’ve been playing Kirby platformers for so many years: they’re just that good.


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