HAL Laboratory’s string of Kirby 3DS spin-offs has reached a grand total of five titles, and with Kirby Battle Royale likely closing the book on the puffball’s 3DS adventures, it’s only fitting it’s the one spin-off to get a physical release. Why, exactly, America had to wait two months after everyone else to enjoy his latest romp remains a mystery, but I suppose I can’t complain when the main course (Kirby: Star Allies for Switch) will be receiving a simultaneous launch this March. Regardless, let us not already dismiss Battle Royale like most other gaming critics: yes, it makes some missteps along the way, but they hardly sink what’s yet another solid little affair entry to Kirby canon.
Being the Kirby buff I am, I feel it pivotal to point out Battle Royale is done by the same team that brought us Kirby: Mass Attack and Kirby and the Rainbow Curse; meaning, what we have here is still pretty great, just not on the level of excellence as Triple Deluxe and Planet Robobot. So if you go in expecting something on the same level as, say, Return to Dream Land‘s surge of nostalgia or Planet Robobot‘s rousing endgame, you’ll want to temper your expectations; this is a multiplayer party game, after all, and with 10 frantic sub-games to partake in, Battle Royale has enough Kirby-filled content to keep you busy.
And bear in mind it’s good content, too: there is not one dud among the 10 modes, as the tactics within lend an unexpected amount of strategy. Take Apple Scramble: two teams are tasked with carrying as many apples as they can from Whispy Woods back to your base’s chute, whereupon you pull the lever to score. However, it’s not just a simple task of running back and forth: you can attack your enemies and steal their apples, invade their chutes and pluck their apples, pull the lever while they’re stealing your apples and making them fall into the abyss, and (my favorite) pick up a stunned opponent and toss them into the brambles (or even their hard-earned apples). Needless to say, it’s a hysterical romp that never fails in inducing laughs, be it an online match or CPU shenanigans.
Similar tactics also occur in Rocket Rumble (a well-placed TNT explosive robbing your opponent’s fuel at the very last second) and Ore Express (nab that Kirby’s ore and cash in before the train takes off!), although Battle Royale isn’t all about collecting: Flagball, a take on beach volleyball, is another one prime for comedy, as carrying your opponent’s goal flag means you may accidentally end up dunking on the opposing team’s flag, which is never not humiliating. Meanwhile, Slam Hockey has the Kirbys smash around an oversized hockey puck into one another, and a roulette’s tendency to mark players for extra points adds some goofy tension (one may also discover this is the game where Whip Kirby’s penchant to grab things truly shines). There’s also Crazy Theater, where a random series of tasks (stand on the answer! dodge asteroids!) encourages every contestant to attack each other so they can fail.
What’s interesting about Kirby Battle Royale is how its sub-games shift between 2D and 3D play: as you’d expect, the 2D bouts of Flagball and Attack Riders should feel innately familiar, yet it the majority of games focus on 3D, utilizing Kirby’s trademark Copy Abilities can take some getting used to. Some fare the transition better than others: swarming around the arenas as Beetle Kirby and piledriving the opposition never gets old, whereas it’s difficult to properly aim with Bomb Kirby and the reduced moveset for Mirror leaves an especially underwhelming impression as the first free DLC (it only possesses three attacks). Regardless, that it emphasizes 3D so much is further evidence of HAL shifting ever closer to a 3D Kirby; could we finally be on the cusp of a series revolution?
We also witness this in Battle Royale‘s Story Mode and its interactive hub, wherein Kirby and Bandana Waddle Dee participate in King Dedede’s Cake Royale. It serves as the tutorial for the various sub-games and other features (Boost Orbs, which temporarily enhance your abilities) as you progress through the leagues, gradually adding challenging stipulations to each and every match (don’t let the other Kirby score during Apple Scramble, for instance). As you’d expect, it’s host to a cute story: King Dedede is up to his old tricks, Kirby ruins his plans, Meta Knight is following his own agenda, and Waddle Dee stands around being adorable. That the Waddle Dee spectators are host to most of the dialogue almost makes me feel sorry for pounding on them all the time. Almost.
Battle Royale is also Kirby‘s first online venture, but alas, it is its weakest component. The occasional lag is forgivable, but that it’s strictly confined to Ranked Matches is not, and I’m confounded as to why HAL didn’t bother including roommaking for friend matches; y’know, the number one reason to play games online in the first place! Even Ranked Match itself feels neutered, as while you can choose modes, they’re randomized into orders of three, and even then they’re put up to a vote. The actual modes themselves are still susceptible to backhanded chaos, but when considering the lack of options, it just feels like a hassle to undergo.
Still, it’s hard to argue with what the rest of the game has to offer: The Medal achievement list can keep you busy for weeks, Battle Coins earned from matches and medals can be spent on unlocking Boost Orbs and familiar outfits, and Shogo Sakai’s score remains the best thing about HAL’s B-Team’s output. This is hardly Kirby at its best, but why ask it to be? At its core, it’s a rousing good time with not one flop among its festivities, and that alone is something to be grateful for.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Nintendo 3DS; Publisher: Nintendo; Developer: HAL Laboratory; Players: 1-4 ; Released: January 19th, 2017; ESRB: E10+; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Kirby Battle Royale