HAL Laboratories and Nintendo’s newest entry in the long running Kirby franchise, Kirby and the Forgotten Land, represents a bold step for the series – it marks the franchise’s first 3D adventure. So there’s a bit of pressure on the game implicit in the expectations that come from almost 25 years of waiting and anticipation. People have been waiting for a 3D Kirby game for a long time. Forgotten Land not only has to meet whatever image of what a 3D Kirby game looks like people have built up in their heads, it also needs to do so while maintaining the straightforward simplicity, accessibility, and charm that have made the series a mainstay with so many demographics, and a fixture of the gaming landscape.
It’s remarkable that Forgotten Land hits it out of the park so thoroughly. Forgotten Land isn’t pioneering a new paradigm of game design or blazing a new trail. There are almost three decades of learnings and an established language of what a 3D game, and a 3D platformer, plays like. All Kirby and the Forgotten Land needs to do is look at those, execute on them successfully, and do so without losing the spirit of what makes Kirby, Kirby. And while that’s still more complicated that that breakdown may make it seem, it pulls it off with aplomb.
“People have been waiting for a 3D Kirby game for a long time. Forgotten Land not only has to meet whatever image of what a 3D Kirby game looks like people have built up in their heads, it also needs to do so while maintaining the straightforward simplicity, accessibility, and charm that have made the series a mainstay with so many demographics, and a fixture of the gaming landscape.”
Forgotten Land has multiple linear (but big) 3D levels to go through, each usually part of the broader world’s “theme”, and each nonetheless incorporating enough secrets and hidden nooks and crannies to reward exploration. The levels are wonderful, and we’ll get to that in a second – but ultimately, they are what they are because of the incredible, remarkable controls and movement and ability set Kirby has in this game.
Forgotten Land is a joy to control. Movement, jumping, floating, Kirby’s signature sucking move which bestows upon him the characteristics of whatever he inhaled- all translate over into the third dimension beautifully, and there’s a wonderful immediacy to the pink puffball’s movement that makes simply moving him around in the game’s levels a joy. More complicated maneuvers, such as projectile shooting, aiming, and even close-ranged combat, are also effortlessly translated to the game’s controls – and all of this is done while keeping said control scheme incredibly simple, which is of course an important requirement for a series that very young kids will also play (but of course, something adults can also appreciate).
Kirby’s moveset also informs the design of those levels themselves. These levels are packed with all sorts of things – loads of enemies to defeat (and potentially take powers from) allowing for some great paced encounters, sure, but also, just, all sorts of stuff. You’ll see what seems like scenery and props, and you walk up to it, and you can interact with it – depending on what power up you have, you may be able to interact with it in all sorts of ways, in fact. And interacting with the environment in Forgotten Land is always an enjoyable affair, because much like so many Nintendo games of the Switch era, your curiosity is always rewarded, whether it be by a few coins or heals hidden out of sight, secret collectibles, or entirely hidden away parts of the level, often with their own unique challenges for you to play through. It doesn’t matter what it is – if you see something in Forgotten Land, you can probably interact with it, and if you can interact with it, you will probably be rewarded with something. If nothing else, you’ll be rewarded with a stunning degree of responsiveness from the environment owing to an amazing level of attention to detail.
“Interacting with the environment in Forgotten Land is always an enjoyable affair, because much like so many Nintendo games of the Switch era, your curiosity is always rewarded, whether it be by a few coins or heals hidden out of sight, secret collectibles, or entirely hidden away parts of the level, often with their own unique challenges for you to play through. It doesn’t matter what it is – if you see something in Forgotten Land, you can probably interact with it, and if you can interact with it, you will probably be rewarded with something.”
That attention to detail and responsiveness, and the environments’ overall beckoning nature to the player, ultimately all comes down to just how unexpectedly great Forgotten Land looks. It’s a frankly stunning game, with some extremely smart usage of tech matched with a gorgeous art style executed to eye catching perfection. See, Kirby and the Forgotten Land is set on – well, let’s not beat around the bush here, it’s very evidently set on a post-apocalyptic Earth. And while humans and our culture and society have all gone, and much has been reclaimed by nature, everything we built remains. So Kirby’s levels are wildly imaginative takes on mundane and everyday locations and concepts – a level based on a shopping mall, for example, or a house of horrors in an amusement park, or a beach resort. Obviously I’m not going to spoil all of them, but there are a lot of great levels here – and they are all packed with tons of attention to detail, and rendered in gorgeous, beautiful glory. Signage in the background, trash cans, litter, benches, old lanterns, lockers, water pipes, there’s just so much to find in these levels. And you can ignore a lot of it safely and still finish the game – but if you choose to investigate, there’s always a nice little reward tucked out of the way for you, presented with a charmingly beautiful attention to detail.
As great as Kirby looks, the graphics are only a part of the overall package when it comes to presentation. Forgotten Land is just a very well presented game, reeking of high budget, and an attention to detail that usually accompanies a high budget, all around the place. The soundtrack is great (including some surprisingly soulful renditions), the menus and UI are stylish, the cutscenes look great and are extremely well produced, the writing is sharp, and the game even supports Dolby Surround Sound, which few Switch games do.
The incredible thing with Forgotten Land isn’t just how well it executes on a traditional Kirby game in 3D space, though – it’s also how much it goes above and beyond to appeal to everyone. I will be honest, I have fallen off the Kirby wagon over the last few years. The mainline entries often tend to play very similar, and are typically very easy and very short – and make no mistake, I don’t have any issues with any of that, I know the series has a massive fanbase that loves it for those exact reasons. It’s just that I’ve felt the last few games haven’t been for me. But Forgotten Land really goes out of its way to endear itself to everyone, including players who might be looking for something more involved. As already mentioned, it’s a game with a stunning degree of interactivity that rewards the player with all sorts of great content. And, obviously, there are advertised features from this game that have already placed a larger spotlight on it than the series traditionally enjoys, such as the excellent mouthful mode, which is when Kirby swallows something whole but can’t quite swallow it, and so just sort of becomes that object (leading to some excellent and imaginative gameplay possibilities).
“That attention to detail and responsiveness, and the environments’ overall beckoning nature to the player, ultimately all comes down to just how unexpectedly great Forgotten Land looks. It’s a frankly stunning game, with some extremely smart usage of tech matched with a gorgeous art style executed to eye catching perfection.”
But there are other, less advertised things about the game too – for example, just how much content it is packing. In addition to the main campaign, the game also includes a staggering amount of collectibles and optional missions to complete, side levels to uncover and beat, and a whole meta game built into it. The meta game involves you building up a village the more collectibles you get, and getting more facilities available to you in the village the more collectibles you fish out – and these facilities can be extremely helpful, from letting you upgrade power ups to just engage in a series of brawls in a coliseum. While Forgotten Land can be completed relatively quickly, there’s simply a lot here, enough that you’ll find enough reason to return to it time and time again. And that’s without mentioning the co-op!
Forgotten Land’s missteps are fairly minor, thankfully, and none really detract from how much of a joy the game is elsewhere. The co-op mode mentioned is, for example, local only (which is an unfortunate and unforced error that Nintendo games make often). As mentioned, if you choose to just stick with the critical path content, the game is definitely going to be fairly short. And there are times when some of the seams begin to show on the game’s presentation side of things – for example, when you look in the distance, you might see something animated at a far lower frame rate than objects in the foreground are (this is, again, an increasingly frequent technique in Switch games these days). But these are all legitimately extremely minor problems, and should not deter anyone interested from giving the game a go.
When playing through Kirby and the Forgotten Land, there was one word that came to my mind repeatedly, over and over again – “delightful”. It might sound like a bit of a cliched refrain, but it really fits. Everything the game does just made me smile. Yes, there are a few minor unnecessary errors, but I honestly stopped trying to keep track of those, and went along for the ride. And what a delightful, joyous, smile inducing ride it has been. If happiness was distilled into a video game, it would be Kirby and the Forgotten Land.
This game was reviewed on Nintendo Switch.