Nintendo’s next generation console, codenamed “NX,” is on the horizon and both the Wii U console and Nintendo 3DS family of handhelds are starting to wind down with game releases. The release schedule for the Nintendo 3DS is looking slimmer in 2016 with little on the schedule in 2017. Gamers are at a point where they’re scrounging for brand new titles to play on the 3DS and this year may be one of the last for big releases. During a Nintendo Direct earlier this year, a few new titles like Kirby: Planet Robobot and Pokemon Sun & Moon were announced, with Kirby being the odd one in the bunch. The 3DS already received one big Kirby title in the form of Kirby: Triple Deluxe and this new Kirby title felt like a game nobody asked for. Thankfully, to my surprise, the interesting twist in the gameplay works wonderfully for Nintendo’s pink puff man and I’m here to tell you that Planet Robobot is easily the best 3DS title I’ve played in 2016.
Running off of the same engine as 2014’s Kirby: Triple Deluxe, Planet Robobot feels very similar in the graphics, platforming physics and content departments. In many ways, Robobot feels like a direct sequel to Triple Deluxe since it shares the same sticker collecting mini-game, style of level progression and nifty 3D effects. While Triple Deluxe was a solid Kirby game, it also felt too similar to previous entries and severely lacked strong level design, ultimately making the game feel boring and too easy. Thankfully, Nintendo really pumped the creativity into Planet Robobot and improved everything about Triple Deluxe that made it a forgettable title while also taking its strengths and making them stand out even more than before.
In Planet Robobot, Kirby is tasked to save Dreamland from a robotic threat that plans to suck the resources out of the world and transform it into an industrialized shell of its former self. How can Kirby accomplish such a monumental task with his usual skill set? By piloting mechs stolen from the enemy that allow him to copy the abilities of the usual baddies which will transform his mech into various powerful machines of destruction. The premise seems odd for a Kirby title, but honestly in practice it feels very unique for the franchise and happens to be the breath of fresh air the series desperately needed. While the core gameplay is still intact, every so often Kirby can pilot a mech, transform it into various forms and use it to blast away obstacles, enemies and solve puzzles.
Each mech that Kirby can pilot has certain abilities that allow the player to solve puzzles and progress through certain obstacles. Once in a mech, the game works pretty much the same as before by attacking an enemy, stealing its ability and transforming into something new. The player can press the X button or tap the touch screen to drop the ability on-the-fly in order to swap it out for a new one. Kirby can transform his mech into a dual sword wielding robot, a flying ship that switches gears into a SHMUP style of gameplay, a bomb tossing force of destruction and more. The mechs aren’t typically used to fight bosses and mostly stay within the courses themselves. Other than the mechs, the game is pretty much status quo Kirby, but man do those mech portions add a ton of variety to a somewhat stale gameplay style. Each stage feels more expertly crafted than before, making for a much more enjoyable experience tackling each of the game’s 30 courses.
A hub world that consists of a giant robot who’s attached itself to Dreamland is the element that connects all of the game’s 30 stages together. Level progression works like any standard platformer with a hub world by moving down the path to the next unlocked stage. Each stage has hidden stickers to collect and three data cubes to find that are needed to unlock the boss door in each area. Only seven of the 15 data cubes in each area are needed to progress to the boss. Once the boss is defeated, a leg of the robot is destroyed and Kirby moves on to the next area. The bosses in Planet Robobot are much more layered than Triple Deluxe’s and while still fairly easy, they’re much more interesting to fight. Kirby has a few new abilities too, including a doctor form that chucks Dr. Mario-esque pills and a poison form that spews puddles of poison all over the ground. I loved using the poison form on mini-bosses since it makes quick work of anything in your path.
Triple Deluxe used the 3DS’ glasses-free 3D capabilities in some very cool ways by using items that interacted with the foreground and the backgrounds of the stages. Planet Robobot uses similar items, but in more unique ways like allowing enemies and items to fly into the screen while also having debris break into chunks and float into the screen in certain vehicular portions of the game. A few stages in the game include streets that cars drive through vertically through the screen while Kirby progresses through them and attempts to avoid getting ran over. The developer utilizes camera angles in cool ways too like changing different camera perspectives in certain situations and spiraling the camera around large structures as Kirby climbs them.
The art design is much stronger here too with some downright beautiful stages and neat little graphical effects that seriously impressed me for a 3DS title. Strolling through a field of towers illuminated by green lightbulbs and jumping around in the neon glow of a computerized starship was a treat on the eyes. Nintendo took Kirby’s cutesy fantasy world and infused it with a mechanical and digital aesthetic that transforms the world into some sort of charming yet gritty technological Frankenstein’s experiment. I also really enjoyed the music here too, which retains the Kirby charm without getting too dark or gritty. The whole presentation makes for a very unique Kirby title which adds some surprising elements to the series that we don’t normally get out of this franchise. Huge kudos to the art design team here.
In terms of a total package, Planet Robobot offers a lot for the asking price. The story mode will take around 6 hours to complete and even more if the player plans on collecting all of the goodies. Two mini games are included in the form of Kirby 3D Rumble and Team Kirby Clash. Both games are a fun diversion but nothing with lasting power. The more interesting of the two is Kirby 3D Rumble, which gives us a glimpse of what Kirby would play like if it was in full 3D. Once the core game is completed, two new modes are unlocked that extend the experience a bit more. One of them is the extremely cool Meta Knightmare Returns mode that allows the player to speedrun through the entire game continuously without any pause to the hub world as Meta Knight with new powers and abilities. The other is The Area, which is essentially a boss rush mode.
All of this praising doesn’t mean that the game isn’t without its faults. The game, like most in the series, is still very easy with little to no challenge aside from one boss towards the end and a couple of later courses. Also, the final boss has somewhere around five to six forms before it is finally defeated, which made that boss battle feel like a test of endurance that I desperately wanted to end three forms prior. Luckily, the second half of the boss fight has a save point and the final few forms basically turns Planet Robobot into a Star Fox game, which was pretty interesting. Planet Robobot also suffers from some framerate drops at times but they’re infrequent enough to not become a problem and none of them hindered the gameplay experience. I also felt like the game shoehorned in too many mini-bosses within the stages and I would have liked more mech-based puzzles to replace those instead of fighting the same boring mini-bosses.
As a whole, Kirby: Planet Robobot is an extremely solid platformer that takes the standard Kirby formula and injects a bit of attitude and uniqueness by giving Kirby some serious firepower this time around. The level design is much stronger than its predecessor, the art design is more charming and creative and the variety packed in each stage gives the game a stronger pacing that never fails at being fun. The challenge is still lacking which makes all but a few later stages a breeze to progress through, but the fun is consistent throughout. If you’re finding that your 3DS is beginning to collect more dust than you would like, I highly recommend picking Planet Robobot up. It’s seriously one of the best platformers I’ve played in years.