HAL Laboratory delivers a brilliant chemistry set of a 2D platformer.
Perhaps the biggest marvel of Kirby Star Allies is that games like this still exist at all. This is an unashamedly old-school platformer, brought home with the kind of sparkle and polish that's synonymous with Nintendo and its close affiliates, yet wipe away that syrupy surface and you've got something deliciously weird - a fever dream of a game, with sugar sweet backdrops patrolled by waddling electrical plugs that are just begging to be swallowed and consumed so that you might absorb their powers and spit out sparks of your own.
It's brilliantly strange, the kind of thing that was ten-a-penny back in the early 90s from which Kirby's roots grow - and the very 2D platformer roots which Star Allies strives to go back to. At the core, this is a continuation of the series when it was still under creator Masahiro Sakurai's stewardship, and it maintains his everything and the kitchen sink approach to design where there's a chaos of delicate details, delivered in some wilfully light action.
It holds an innocence that was once thought lost, but in truth there's been an abundance of it in recent years - Star Allies is the latest in a line of revivals that began with 2008's Super Star Ultra (itself a remake of the SNES' Super Star), subsequently carried on with Return to Dream Land and the brilliant 3DS duo of Triple Deluxe and Planet Robobot. That gaggle's director, Shinya Kumazaki, returns with Star Allies to revive some of that same magic again, while throwing a few more ingredients into the pot.
If you've already spotted parallels with the New Super Mario Bros. series, another 2D Nintendo revival, then Star Allies cements the link even further with its focus on multiplayer. This is a game built around four people coming together - when played solo, CPU takes up the vacant slots - and creating a noisier brand of chaos than we've seen in more recent Kirby games. When everything's bubbling along together, it's an effervescent mix.
Star Allies, at its heart, feels like the 2D platformer reimagined as a fantastical chemistry set. As Kirby, you can once again inhale and absorb the abilities of your enemies (and on doing so, you've a fairly broad new moveset to draw upon). You can friend enemies, tossing a little heart over their heads that summons them into your group, and - in a direct lift from the DS' Squeak Squad and Kirby 64 - you can mix abilities together. The alchemy can seem at times endless.
Which can sit a little awkwardly with the breeziness that's a part of every Kirby game. Star Allies is a pushover of a game that never really presents any real difficulty and given how so many other 2D platformer revivals - think the likes of Celeste or Super Meat Boy - are all about the challenge, something like Kirby is always going to bemuse as many as it bewitches. You get out what you put in, though; Kirby Star Allies is the kind of game you could happily muddle through without ever engaging with any of its considerable breadth, or you could just as easily take your time to tinker with each little element and delight in the pops, fizzes and bangs that result.
The latter approach is essential to finding every unlockable and little secret that's nestled within Star Allies' many levels, and this is often where the game's at its best, presenting fun-sized puzzles where you're invited to figure out whatever compound of abilities is necessary to access jigsaw pieces or entire new levels. Beyond that, the fundamentals of Star Allies' platforming are a tad floaty and imprecise - or, indeed, you could choose to float over many obstacles by simply puffing up Kirby's cheeks - but this isn't ever really about pixel-perfect leaps. Developer HAL Laboratory does much of the heavy lifting for you, allowing you to kick back and splendour in Star Allies' gentle breeze.
And that breeze whisks you all the way to Star Allies' electric climax - I won't spoil it, of course, but it is fantastic - in a half dozen hours or so. There's more beyond that, of course - double that figure if you want to go back and unlock everything, while there's also a gaggle of mini-games, the best of which are saved for post-game unlocks and where you can even find something approaching a challenge. Really, those later modes just serve to underline how well-crafted the myriad details are in Kirby - how each character and their associated abilities, of which there at least 28, offers a new way to play.
There are some caveats, of course - after the 60fps action of the 3DS outings for Kirby, it's a strangely retrograde experience seeing Star Allies stick to something around 30fps for its action, a move that smarts all the more seeing as the game's menus and post-level screens play out at 60fps themselves. There's also the fact that many will bounce off Kirby's soft edges, not seeing the point of a game in which you're caressed through and one that never really asks too much of the player. It's kid's stuff, really - but if you've any love left for the kinds of far-fetched wonder we all used to play as kids, then Kirby Star Allies can be pretty sensational.