Top 50 Challenge 2014 – Kirby: Triple Deluxe
I don't know who the Kirby fans are out there. There's Game Informer's Kimberley Wallace, but she'd be a fan of a wet towel on a bathroom floor if it was pink, so I don't know if she really counts. I vaguely remember enjoying Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land on the Game Boy Advance, but most other entries strike me as a couple of notches above a LeapFrog game. I love the presentation of Kirby's Epic Yarn, but that appeal had little to do with the Kirby license. I was surprised by Kyle Hilliard's high review score for the new game this year, and I was equally surprised by how few people mentioned the game after release. When Kyle decided to champion the game for our top 50 games of the year list, I quietly raised my hand preparing to wade into the luke-warm waters of Kirby's next adventure.
After finishing the game, I'm still not confident I know why it's called Kirby: Triple Deluxe. It's most likely for the inclusion of the two modes outside the story. Dedede's Drum Dash is a relatively boring rhythm-action mini-game and Kirby Fighters feels like Smash Bros. for kindergartners. Then there's the main story mode that kicks things off with an audio-less cutscene that looks like CG made for television in 1996. I'm not entirely sure what the story premise is, but it has something to do with King Dedede and a beanstalk.
The first world in the game didn't wow me. It was the standard Kirby affair, absorbing familiar abilities and generously floating over the environment. I did notice, however, they capped the ceiling off in this game at a much shorter altitude so you aren't able to just float over every obstacle. Throughout the first world I kept asking myself how they could possibly make Kirby interesting. In this entry Kirby can suck in a giant nut from a tree and gain the Hpernova ability to suck in larger objects throughout the levels. I thought it was a neat little gimmick, but ultimately I was starting to wonder if Kyle's daughter had warped his mind and made him too fond of kiddy nonsense.
Above: You can watch our episode of Test Chamber on the game with Kyle Hilliard and some guy named Dan Ryckert.
Throughout the game's second world, new additions and small touches started to add up. The game takes advantage of the handheld's 3D capabilities in a load of creative ways. You shift back and forth between planes, hold deadly poles extending into the background annihilating enemies along the way, or the game tosses waves of enemies at you requiring the 3D to correctly navigate the obstacles. The game also becomes a little more complex than I expected, including one area where I discovered a secret room containing a time bomb allowing me to blow up the bridge a mini-boss was standing on to prematurely kill him. The creativity of the level design continues to step up throughout the game, occasionally pulling elements like floating water cubes from Mario Galaxy or rotating barrels from Donkey Kong Country. Even the Hypernova ability becomes more interested than just a screen-wiping inhale. One Hypernova section has players destroying a straw, stick, and then a enemy sentient robot house, while another has Kirby suck giant worms through tubes with a satisfyingly animated struggle.
I was initially annoyed when the game gated my progress because I had not collected enough Sun Stones – the equivalent of Mario stars – but, being forced to retrace my progress in levels to discover the secret areas made me appreciate them even more. I would never consider it a difficult game, but finding the Sun Stones occasionally required some creative puzzle-solving or crafty exploration.
I enjoyed the game the more I played it, and I finished it in multiple sittings on a single day. The game does contain an obligatory boss rush challenge and some other recycling of previous levels in the final world, but it ends on a strong note with the Hypernova ability eventually stealing the show. Also, just a tip, always choose the circus ability when given the choice. It makes at least one stage of the final boss much easier.
Kirby: Triple Deluxe was impressive. While not quite achieving the same mark of quality, the amount of variety and creativity on display in these levels makes it feel like the Donkey Kong Country Returns of the Kirby series. There are lots of great games on our list of the 50 best games of the year, but I could definitely see Kirby filling a slot. There also haven't been a ton of great platformers this year, and it would be nice to see Kirby make the list. While I don't think it's a slam-dunk for the Top 50, I had a good time playing Kirby: Triple Deluxe and I no longer think Kyle's mind is rotting inside of his red-haired skull.