In a few weeks time, Nintendo and HAL Laboratory will be officially launching the first mainline 3D platformer in the Kirby series of games. This very title will be the adorable Kirby and the Forgotten Land, a vibrant and charming platformer that showcases the iconic pink puffball in a way that we haven't really ever seen before. With launch looming, I've had the luxury of being able to dive into this adventure a little early, as part of a preview where the entirety of the first world is on offer.
The story behind this game sees Kirby going about his usual business before a strange rift opens in the sky and sucks up the loveable protagonist and the local population of Waddle Dees. After a strenuous trip, Kirby winds up on a deserted beach, with little to no idea as to where it actually finds itself, but after wandering into a lush jungle nearby, our squishy hero discovers a lost civilization that has since been overtaken by nature, as well as an armada of foes who have begun capturing Kirby's defenceless Waddle Dee companions. Leaping to action, Kirby begins exploring the island to free its friends and unravel the mysteries that this forgotten world holds.
As this is a 3D platformer, Kirby and the Forgotten Land sets itself apart from former Kirby games by giving the player more freedom in how you approach a level. It's similar to what is on offer in Super Mario 3D World, where levels are quite linear and basic, but there's plenty of secrets to unravel and daft mechanics to put to use to expand the gameplay significantly. You can wander around and check nooks and crannies for hidden goodies, you can smash a variety of objects, and interact with all manners of the level, including flowers and tall grass, all to unearth Star Coins and other helpful items. In this essence it's quite alike the more simplistic 3D Mario games, but if anything even more accessible and easy to pick up and play.
And I say this as Kirby and the Forgotten Land is a very easy game through and through. The levels are not designed to be complex, the puzzles not constructed in a way that will leave you frustrated, and in fact the few areas that do require a bit of effort, usually have the safety net of being basically impossible to actually fail. This is, from what the first world shows, a game that is meant to be whimsical and fundamentally delightful to play, regardless of your gaming abilities and prior experiences.
But don't let this distract from the fact that Kirby's latest adventure is thoroughly entertaining. The Forgotten Land is lush and colourful (it looks wondrous on an OLED Switch), and is diverse and holds so many ways to explore it. World 1 has five levels to dive into, each with a unique design, be it a shopping centre, a verdant grassland, or a dark tunnel, as well as a major boss level right at the end, with the first being the previously shown giant gorilla, Gorimondo, who sports a cage of Waddle Dees around his neck.
While the aim is to simply get to the end of a level, there's plenty of other tasks to accomplish, including various side objectives that once checked off will see another Waddle Dee saved and returned to the safety of the hub location of Waddle Dee Town. These could be obvious tasks, such as finding lost Waddle Dees within a level, or perhaps something more obscure like removing a wanted poster or lighting lanterns over the course of a level. Sometimes you'll stumble upon these side tasks and complete them by simply exploring, whereas other times it won't be until you replay a level do you realise what the objective is and where exactly it is within a level. For the most part though, these objectives are tied to the various power-ups Kirby can acquire, which when it comes to the Forgotten Land, there are more than a few to talk about.
First things first, Kirby can acquire two different kinds of power-ups. One is the traditional style that sees Kirby suck up an enemy or an item to gain its skills, which could be a The Legend of Zelda-looking Sword, or the ability to launch fireballs, bladed boomerangs, bombs, ice, or more. Each of these upgrades usually has a couple of moves to use to your advantage, for example the Sword can be used to simply hack-and-slash through enemies, or can be charged up for one hefty, higher damage attack. For the most part, this is how Kirby will be identified in-game, as you rarely play as the vanilla version of Kirby, which is why it's ideal that you can upgrade and enhance these abilities by spending Star Coins and Rare Stones, earned by completing short time trials on the world map, to make these abilities slightly more effective. The Fire ability for example can be evolved to become Volcano Fire to deal more damage and gain a new look and visual effect.
The other major set of abilities revolve around the hilarious and adorable new Mouthful mode, which lets Kirby suck up certain objects to more or less become that object. This is different to the other abilities as Kirby can only do specific moves when using Mouthful mode, and likewise can only use certain Mouthful mode objects in certain places in each level. Take the instantly timeless car as an example. This allows Kirby to wrap his mouth around a car to be able to then drive around as that car and boost and leap around parts of a level, until the car no longer becomes useful. This is the exact same case as the Dome-Mouth ability, the vending machine and the cone, which have specific, truly delightful uses within specific levels, and otherwise are not used very frequently.
As a final note, the aforementioned hub location of Waddle Dee town is more than just a place to upgrade gear as it evolves over the course of the game. When Kirby first reaches the location of the town, it's a barren area without any real infrastructure, but by the time that World 1 has been conquered, the rescued Waddle Dees will have built a workshop (where you upgrade items), a theatre to re-watch cinematics, a café to play a daft mini-game and buy healing items if needed, as well as a house for Kirby, so the squishy saviour can relax if needs be. You can see that by moving on and saving more Waddle Dees, new buildings will be constructed in the surrounding area as well.
While I've only completed the first world, I'm already thoroughly infatuated by Kirby and the Forgotten Land. It's adorable, entertaining, approachable, hilarious, and has a charm unlike much else. Assuming the game manages to keep up the consistency when it comes to introducing more unique powers and engaging levels as further worlds unlock, it's going to be difficult to really dislike what HAL Laboratory has served up, as this is shaping up to be one of 2022's top platformers.