It’s weird how quickly fans of the Kirby series were willing to accept the idea of the pink puffball piloting a robot. Normally, a deviation from the norm is a sure-fire way to incite unwarranted anger in people. I mean, look at some other franchises.
When The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was announced with its cel-shaded graphics and kid-friendly appearance, it was immediately deemed by some fans as the worst game ever. When Banjo & Kazooie made their triumphant return with some weird racing-but-not-really-racing game, gamers everywhere vomited profusely at the mere sight of it. And do I even need to mention how nearly every Sonic the Hedgehog game since the early 2000s splits the fanbase in half?
Yet with this title, Kirby: Planet Robobot, nobody seemed to have a bad thing to say about the idea. I’m sure there’s at least one person who saw the inclusion of a robot as some kind of assault on their childhood but I personally never saw any criticism regarding the concept. But was all this acceptance well placed? Were we right to be so confident in this new idea? Well, that’s what this review’s all about.
First, the plot, which is naturally incredibly simple considering it’s a Kirby game. The Planet Popstar finds itself invaded by the Haltmann Works Company, who proceed to mechanise the planet with the intention to harness its resources. Obviously, it falls to Kirby to single-handedly send the invaders packing with his various Copy Abilities, as well as the the company’s own Robobot Armour that Kirby is able to hijack.
I don’t want to spend too much time talking about the story since it’s not the main focus but it perfectly highlights a certain trend the Kirby games seem to have regarding their plots, especially in the more recent games. Despite being very simple to sum up and having rather basic characterisation, they have a surprising amount of depth to them that can only be found out by accessing the pause screen during boss battles. And even without this additional info, the scenarios that are presented can become borderline terrifying when you really think about them. Hell, the Kirby series possesses some incredibly intimidating antagonists. I won’t spoil anything but let’s just say there is some rather sinister stuff within this game. Don’t ever let the cute face on the box fool you.
Anyway, onto the actual game. It’s… pretty much what you’d expect, especially if you’re familiar with the series. It’s a 2D platformer that makes you use all of Kirby’s skills to manoeuvre through the stage, defeat enemies and solve any puzzles that get in your way. Kirby handles exactly like he always has and he’s got a whole host of familiar and new Copy Abilities to use. You’ve got the likes of the classic Sword and Beam, some more modern powers like Leaf and Archer and a few brand new ones – Doctor, ESP and Poison. Personally, the latter two are great additions and I was particularly happy to see the aforementioned Leaf and Archer be kept in. Though I don’t get why the Circus ability from Triple Deluxe was brought back when that game had the far superior Beetle ability.
Speaking of Triple Deluxe, I was surprised to see how much was lifted from that game in terms of assets. Enemies, the 3D stars that send Kirby to the foreground or background, obstacles that can smack Kirby into the screen – even the bonus mini-game you play after clearing a level is exactly the same. In fact, the general layout is identical in terms of progressing through each area.
See, in Triple Deluxe, each level had three Sun Stones that could be collected, and you needed to have a certain amount in order to access the boss level at the end of an area. Here, the Sun Stones are replaced with CodeCubes which serve the exact same purpose. They even replaced the collectible Keychains with Stickers that you can stick on your Robobot Armour, which is an admittedly neat, little feature (even if you’re limited to only sticking them on the two arms).
Apparently, the game was originally intended as a direct sequel to Triple Deluxe which explains the similarities, but if you have only just finished playing Triple Deluxe, this game will feel less like a sequel and more of an extension. Though that’s not to say Planet Robobot is completely bereft of new ideas. Case in point: the very thing Kirby’s driving on the box art.
The Robobot Armour is what gives this game its own identity. Whereas Triple Deluxe‘s Miracle Fruit was saved only for the end part of certain levels, the Robobot Armour (while still restricted to specific levels) can be used more freely. Some levels require you to use the armour in a specific way to progress or it can be found hidden away for you to use to find hidden CodeCubes and Stickers. The armour controls fine and is a great alternative to Kirby’s basic move-set thanks to its powerful punches. It can’t fly like Kirby can (it’s limited to a double-jump) but you’re unlikely to find yourself struggling over bottomless pits and the like.
But what really makes the armour great is the fact that it’s not just a glorified power-up, since it too is capable of copying enemy abilities and using them to solve new kinds of puzzles. For example, the Parasol power can be used to remove toxic gas that would otherwise hurt Kirby. The Bomb power has the armour drop a small drone that can climb up walls and fit through small gaps to hit switches. Most of the powers are otherwise pretty basic, though, and serve as more powerful versions of the original abilities but they’re still incredibly satisfying to use.
The only real downside is that the number of Copy Abilities the armour can use is less than what Kirby can use, which is a little disappointing – I’d have loved to see what form the armour would take with some other powers like Leaf or Mirror. However, it’s not exactly noticeable (hell, I didn’t notice it until I beat the game) and the armour still has enough diversity going for it so it never gets boring.
Speaking of, don’t expect the main game to give you much of a challenge. Granted, it’s a Kirby title and they’ve always been pretty easy and the lack of challenge doesn’t detract from the fun. The boss fights (especially the later ones) can be pretty tricky. But if you are looking for some extra difficulty, the other modes you can unlock will probably scratch that itch.
First is Meta Knightmare Returns, which is essentially a speed-run of the whole game only you’re playing as Meta Knight, which is cool. Though he obviously can’t copy enemy abilities, his sword skills are enough to take on enemies. Plus, you can build up points collected from enemies and spend them on unique powers. He can speed himself up, heal himself or pull off one of two super-powerful attacks; one of them even being his Final Smash from Super Smash Bros.
It’s certainly a lot trickier than the main game, especially in regards to the boss fights, but even then, you’re unlikely to have any trouble with it. The real difficulty lies in the returning Arena and True Arena modes. They’re both boss rushes but what separates them is that the former only has you fight the bosses from the main story, while also giving you healing items in between each fight.
True Arena has you fight the upgraded bosses from Meta Knightmare Returns, including the bonus bosses AND a new form for the final boss whilst giving you healing items that don’t really heal all that much. This is the mode you play if you want a challenge/hate yourself.
The game also comes with two other extra modes that are available right from the start. The first is Kirby 3D Rumble, which essentially has you fight enemy waves in an enclosed, 3D environment to rack up as many points as you can. While it’s cool to control Kirby in a 3D space for the first time, it doesn’t have all that much going for it. You could easily clear every level in less than half an hour.
The second, Team Kirby Clash, is a bit more exciting but benefits from multiplayer. This mode has you and a team of three other Kirbys working together to defeat a tough boss enemy (all from previous games in the series). It’s done in an RPG kind of style since each Kirby can be assigned to a different role – a swordsman, a hammer lord, a healer or a beam mage. Also, with each successful victory, you receive experience points and level up your stats. I had a bit of fun in this mode, even with AI partners but, again, it’s one of those modes that’s more fun to play if you’ve got some buddies with you. And, of course, there’s no online multiplayer – has to be local.
Overall, Planet Robobot plays things very safe, even with the inclusion of a personal mech suit but if you’ve enjoyed Kirby’s previous adventures, chances are you’ll enjoy this one just as much. I wouldn’t recommend playing it immediately after Triple Deluxe due to the aforementioned similarities but it’s still a fun, albeit short, title that proves that you don’t always need to reinvent the wheel to have a good time.