Kirby Mass Attack

Kirby Mass Attack
Kirby Mass Attack Cover
Platforms Nintendo DS
Genre Kirby times ten
Score 8  Clock score of 8
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Like the titular pink puff, the Kirby series has worn many hats in its nineteen years. Almost every 2D action-platformer has been partnered with an experimental pinball sim or an arcade racer or some amazing miniature golf mutation. As much as I enjoy each iteration of the main Dream Land style, the spinoffs are what really intrigue me, even when they fail. Sure, Kirby Tilt 'n Tumble may be unplayable with the Game Boy Color's dark screen and restrictive viewing angle, but it broke ground for motion controls six years before Wii Sports taught us to waggle.

It's a good season for Kirby fans, as we get a bit of both sides in under two months. Kirby's Return to Dream Land in October looks like the long-awaited Super Star successor, and September sees Kirby get multiplied in Kirby Mass Attack. Revisiting the stylus-centrism of Canvas Curse, Mass Attack tasks players with flicking, dragging, and leading up to ten Kirbys at a time through a puzzle platforming adventure. It's not the most eye-opening Kirby spinoff -- the concept is essentially a pared-down Pikmin -- but it makes the most of a middling concept.

Kirby Canvas Curse was widely dubbed the Nintendo DS's first worthy purchase. Kirby Mass Attack may be its last.

In Mass Attack, an evil wizard splits Dream Land's longtime hero into ten weaker fragments, and it's your task to lead the Kirbys to the sorcerer's lair in order to save Dream Land and reassemble Kirby's greatness into a single form. The player doesn't directly control any Kirby, instead using the stylus to direct the swarm. Tap an area of the screen, and the Kirbys will saunter toward it; a double-tap triggers a sprint. If an enemy is in a Kirby's path, it will latch onto the foe and pummel it adorably, ending the assault with a body slam. Larger enemies either require persistence or numbers, as multiple Kirbys can attack the same creature to take it down faster. Individual Kirbys can also be flicked to reach higher areas or slam into breakable objects. Finally, you can gather the Kirbys into one clump and drag it slowly through the air for a limited distance.

Kirby Mass Attack bigThis tiny assortment of abilities quickly becomes second nature and mostly works without a hitch, but the intuitive simplicity is accompanied by a few drawbacks when complexities arise. Managing a full swarm of ten can prove cumbersome in sensitive situations, and stragglers that hesitate at ledges or get caught on terrain will keep the rest of the herd from moving forward. However, mistakes that may result from control limitations are lightly punished: each Kirby can be hit twice before its soul attempts to escape to marshmallow heaven, and these floating spirits can be dragged back down to the living by their comrades. Even when a Kirby is lost, a replacement is quickly spawned by devouring the plentiful fruit strewn about the landscape. Frustration will crop up when maneuvering a full horde in cramped quarters with limited options, but casualties are easily revived and effortlessly replaced.

In a game where your entire repertoire of skills is less than a handful, the onus is on the enemies and environments to provide variety, and Mass Attack is smorgasbord of puzzles and encounters. The 47 stages take the player through forests, volcanoes, theme parks, space stations, undersea caverns, and other typical and atypical platformer locales. Every stage seems to introduce a brand new monster, obstacle, or scenario to attack massively. Your Kirbys will find themselves inside an enormous, partially-chopped tree, climbing up its insides while shifting the swarm from side to side to keep the timber from falling. You'll march a parade of torch-wielders through snowy mountains to light a series of bonfires before the flames die. You'll go surfing, commandeer a tank, and even build and operate a UFO. The swarm-and-pummel tussles with lesser foes can drag the game's pace down every now and then, but you're never more than a minute or two away from creative some new set piece.

While the level design is comprised mostly of linear corridors and towers, exploring the occasional branching path or suspicious nook will yield either fruit to replenish your forces or collectable medals. Every stage has up to five medals to find and collect, most hidden in plain sight and baiting you into a small challenge. Medals primarily contribute to a running total that gradually unlocks extra features peripheral to the main game, but a certain rainbow medal in each stage is required to access the game's final confrontations. Other games are often dragged down by some endgame backtracking, but Mass Attack's rainbow medals are a minor offense. They tend to be the least demanding to acquire, and many stages that can be skipped on the first trip through the adventure are no trouble to visit for the first time later.

Kirby Mass Attack WhispyMass Attack's aesthetics will surprise nobody familiar with the series. Other than the surprisingly fearsome antagonist, the denizens of Dream Land are as bouncy and colorful as ever. The Kirby series has always been Nintendo's greatest showcase of sprite animation, and watching the gaggle of Kirbys waddle up to a flower enemy and clumsily flail their puny little nubbins at its face is an absolute delight. The sound effects are equally cute, headlined by Kirby's range of babyish grunts and wails. The soundtrack is mostly made up of brand new compositions in the same lighthearted adventure style of previous series entries, though a few familiar themes and tunes play every now and then. Finally, the oft-ignored top DS screen usually hosts medal and fruit counts, but occasionally provides extra real estate for the in-game action, usually in scenarios that benefit from a tall view of the action.

If you want to squeeze every ounce of joy out of the game, you'll want to make sure to pick up every medal you find. Among other unlockables like a sound test and story viewer, Kirby Mass Attack's extra features include a handful of mini-games, some of which are good enough to be prototypes of more Kirby spinoffs. Alongside the underwhelming Whack-a-Mole and Count-the-Kirbys distractions, you'll find a nice pinball table, a gauntlet of simple RPG-style battles (with success based on timing rather than strategy), and a shmup that is almost as creative and fun as the main game. For those enraptured by the core of Mass Attack, further incentives to play beyond the finale are the gold stars, earned by finishing a stage without taking any damage, and the 360 Achievement-like checklist, both of which provide more of a challenge than one would expect from a Kirby title. The core adventure alone will last roughly ten hours, and knocking out all of the medals and gold stars and checklist objectives should take upwards of fifteen. Even the minigames could easily swallow a few hours.

Final thoughts

Kirby Mass Attack is an excellent example of how to surround a tight, simple gameplay core with a wealth of lean set pieces. The barebones RTS base never really gains any complexities beyond the tutorial, but it serves as an effective vehicle to a multitude of fun, unique scenarios that mesh with the concept. And in typical Kirby fashion, the aesthetic sheen and extra bells and whistles are all appreciable in their own right. DS and 3DS owners alike should consider joining the Kirby gang for this fitting Nintendo DS swan song.

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