"Cloned Marshmallow Goodness"
The first game to truly take advantage of the DS’ touch screen was the 2005 title Kirby: Canvas Curse. While the launch titles were limited to N64 ports and glorified mini-games, Canvas Curse took a novel idea – using the stylus to create bridges for a spherical Kirby – and fleshed it out as an imaginative and lengthy game. So it’s only fitting that the original DS, in the end of its life-cycle, should be sent off with another wonderfully bizarre Kirby platformer.
Like the aforementioned Canvas Curse, Kirby: Mass Attack eschews the traditional Kirby formula by messing with the pink puff’s physiology. Thanks to the machinations of the Skull Gang (who are about as subtle as you’d expect), Kirby has been magically split into several weaker copies of himself. Thus, the player is given the task of steering the horde of Kirbys through the various platform levels until they can get him amalgamated once more. And again like Canvas Curse, all of the action is controlled by the touch screen, with the stylus acting as a cursor to direct the Kirbys.
- Boss attacks and challenging puzzles await -
The basic concept may sound similar to Lemmings or Mario vs. Donkey Kong, steering a bunch of mindless creatures away from their doom. However, Mass Attack differs because the Kirbys are far from harmless. Though each Kirby is relatively weak, it can still dash, jump, and attack like any respectable platform hero. What’s more, all ten Kirbys simultaneously follow the player’s commands, so they operate in unison. Their standard formation is that of a big blob of pink marshmallow creatures, but individual Kirbys can be delegated to different areas of the screen, so your attacks can be distributed most efficiently.
Thus, Kirby: Mass Attack plays like a mixture between a conventional platformer and a real-time strategy game. Properly managing your marshmallowy minions is just as important as having the reflexes to avoid enemy attacks. This may take some getting used to, as this particular mix of gameplay styles isn’t something seen very often, and the two genres each attract completely disparate types of players. But the stylus controls implemented by HAL Laboratory are fluid enough to give you immediate responses to your Kirbys' fates, and each Kirby has a developed enough AI not to wander off towards their doom. The interface still leaves room for some difficulties managing the Kirbys, but given the ambition behind the design, it’s very difficult to hold these small irritants against HAL.
But the best part of Kirby: Mass Attack isn’t the concept itself, but how far it’s taken. While most Kirby games have been criticized for being too short and/or too easy, the Mass Attack game card is thoroughly packed with content. There are dozens of levels, and most of them are massive and labyrinthine. They offer multiple paths to the end, but these paths have to be opened by solving puzzles. For example, one section of a level might have players delegating Kirbys to hold onto various levers, requiring the right balance of weight on each in order to pull them down. The puzzles can get difficult, and many players will simply go for the quickest route to the goal. Fortunately, HAL offers some extremely strong incentives for the players who thoroughly explore Mass Attack.
- Controls are solid even though Kirby's been split into minis -
At the ends of these hidden paths are special medals that, similar to Canvas Curse, can be traded in for unlockable rewards. But the rewards for the Kirby: Mass Attack medals aren’t just extra obstacle courses or character models, as players receive entire side-games for their efforts. The side-games vary in content and length, and some are fairly simple, such as the Whack-a-Mole clone or the memorization game. However, some of the side-games are long enough that they would’ve been full games back in the original Nintendo era. There’s a pinball game with several bosses, and a multi-level vertical shooter that has the army of Kirbys spitting bullets at flying enemies. Each of these games features references to the series’ long history, ranging from the obvious to the arcane (even including cameos from the anime). This makes Kirby: Mass Attack an absolutely required purchase for fans of Kirby games.
For everyone else, including those who might think Kirby is too cutesy to be worthwhile, I also strongly recommend Kirby: Mass Attack. It’s an extremely fun and imaginative platformer that oozes charisma from every pixel. The success of the original DS was largely spurred by the creativity facilitated by the touch screen, and Mass Attack is a prime example of how that technology can be used to full effect.
GameDynamo's Score for Kirby Mass Attack (DS/DSi)
Neil Kapit is a freelance writer, cartoonist, and "La Li Lu Le Lo" agent based in Los Angeles. His work can be seen on www.therubynation.com.
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