If you press the Start button in Kirby: Planet Robobot while Kirby is in his default form, there’s an interesting message on the pause screen.
It reads “Kirby… possesses infinite power and can inhale enemies to copy their abilities.” That second part we all know. It’s the first claim that gets me. This is the first game in which his power has been canonically quantified as “infinite”. Naturally, this revelation sent me into a spiraling crisis of identity and faith. What does it mean to be infinite? If Kirby – an infinite being – can be defeated by enemies, are they also infinite? And if he is capable of mowing them down by the hundreds, does that make him infinitely more infinite than them? These philosophical quandaries seasoned my entire romp through this most recent adventure across Planet Popstar.
Kirby: Planet Robobot newest game joins the expanding resurgence of mecha entertainment in global media. The plot (always a pleasant surprise in Kirby games) revolves around an evil corporation attempting to cause the mass extinction of Planet Popstar. Our pink pudge refuses to take this lying down and launches a solo scorched Earth campaign against them. To do so, he takes over one of their heavy Robobot suits and uses it to plow through their ranks. Why not? What can stop you when you’re infinitely powerful and even Majin Buu has fallen by your hand?
But I digress. “Should I get this?” a prospective buyer may ask. “I played Kirby: Triple Deluxe back in 2014. Is this worth it?” Well, my imaginary skeptical reader, fret not. Kirby: Planet Robobot sets a new gold standard in a franchise already renowned for excellent platforming.
This series has always bounced back and forth between reinventing the wheel and inventing new wheels altogether. Kirby’s Adventure gave us copy abilities. Super Star provided a plethora of extra mini-games and bonus modes. Kirby 64 took the fluff-ball into the third dimension. Amazing Mirror tried out a Metroidvania tack. Canvas Curse did… strange things, and Epic Yarn did… even stranger things, but they’re all solid titles. While many recent Kirby games have delivered masterful level design, they’ve mostly felt like rehashes of those older titles.
Not so with Kirby: Planet Robobot. In addition to 24 returning powerups, this game gives us three new core copy abilities: Doctor, Poison, and ESP (my new favourite), as well as a whopping 13 transformations for the Robobot. These aren’t just cosmetic, either. Every ability has a moveset comparable to a Smash Bros. character. And two Robobot transformations actually change the gameplay style completely.
However, what impressed me the most were the stage designs. Planet Popstar has undergone some series renovations in the past few years to look even more like a surrealist painting. Trees grow inside giant lightbulbs on top of mountains, where they act as the filaments. Huge forks act as telephone poles with coiled spaghetti functioning as the wires, while massive juice blenders stand tall like tors in the sand. Soft serve machines churn out twisty cones that fall in the foreground and splatter over the screen. Waterfalls pour from overturned soda cans and Rubik’s cubes hover around inside the evil corporation’s hub. If you arrange the sentences of this paragraph into lines, it sounds like a poem, but all I’ve done is describe the environments. I never expected a Kirby game would be one of the most artistically evocative I would ever play.
Kirby: Planet Robobot also contains a surprising amount of content. Even bosses have such intricate attack patterns you’ll rarely see the same move twice. True, the main campaign only takes maybe six or seven hours for a full completion. However, there is an entire second campaign with Meta Knight, as well as two boss rush arenas. But that’s not all. There are also two extra mini-games, a wave-based battle mode and a multiplayer “hunt” RPG. To do everything should take around ten to eleven hours.
For those seeking a challenge, I have good news and bad news. The bad news: you could probably blitz through the story without taking damage once. The good news: the True Arena is one of the most grueling gauntlets I’ve undergone in recent memory. Healing items only appear every two to three bosses, but they’re only weak cherries. I even cheesed my way through the first dozen by using the Archer’s hide ability. Despite this, the final boss, a 4-phase behemoth, trashed me.
If none of this is enough to convince you to play the game, here’s the failsafe card: it’s cute as hell. It starts adorably and never really backs down (well, aside from the 100% tragic backstories of two antagonists which you can only discover from the Pause menu during their True Arena battles). Some stages have robot/ice cream snowmen whose heads you have to return. When you level up in the RPG minigame you sometimes boost stats like “Kindness” and “Friendship.” One of the main antagonists, Susie, is precious and we must protect her. Even the final boss has sweet little baby eyes. And don’t get me started about the final cutscene.
One complaint I have for Kirby: Planet Robobot is in the “puzzle” design. As much as I may love this series, the “light a fuse with the Fire power and race to a cannon” shtick was overplayed by the end of the Game Boy Advance era. On the other hand, some of the “fresher” challenges, like unscrewing big wheels from their sockets, rely too much on the chance that you’ll sit there rotating the stick left for 30 seconds. And of the 100 Code Cubes scattered throughout stages, only two or three of them are hard to find.
I also found that many stages contain a lot of unused space. Think of some rooms as a square with a steady incline spreading like a diagonal across. Everything to the top left and bottom right of that diagonal are basically empty. Particularly smart games will normally reward you for exploring every nook and cranny, but here there’s nothing to find. The only purpose these areas serve is to provide an opportunity to fly over or under an entire level, and that’s no fun.
But none of those things were enough to dampen my experience with Kirby: Planet Robobot. Ever since the introduction of copy abilities, Kirby games have always been big playgrounds for testing out different powers and methods of motion. They rarely impede your progress, because they care more about rewarding discovery. Retrying a botched puzzle is normally as simple as leaving and re-entering the room rather than replaying the entire level. Robobot sections are peppered at infrequent enough intervals that they don’t overwhelm the game, yet still allow ample opportunity to toy with the new powers. It’s straightforward, but provides many ways to navigate that path.
I encountered a moment in Kirby: Planet Robobot when I realized Kirby had completely assimilated me into his infinite magnitude. I had stopped to listen to the music, something I hardly ever do. I watched the Waddle Dees drive their station wagons over a suspension bridge. A strange mantra appeared in my head. “I love Kirby. You love Kirby. Everyone loves Kirby.” I don’t know if this is true, but it feels right. I have become one with the pink demon, and you should too.