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Kirby and the Forgotten Land adds an adorable innovation to classic action

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Kirby and the Forgotten Land is the pink puffball’s big 3D outing on Switch. No longer confined to the side-scrolling nature of most of his games, Kirby is free to suck up enemies and waddle around far more open spaces than usual. But make no mistake: This isn’t Kirby’s Breath of the Wild or Elden Ring. In a world filled with gigantic sequels, where players can explore every nook and cranny of an expansive world, Kirby seems to be taking a more reserved approach, and I’m happy to see him dipping just a single pink toe into a wider world.

During a preview for Kirby and the Forgotten Land, I was able to play through the game’s first world and boss fight. But unlike previous Kirby games — which typically start with grassy fields and a pissed-off tree — Kirby and the Forgotten Land sees our hero gallivanting through a post-apocalyptic city. Lush vegetation has taken over roads, traffic lights, and the bones of a dilapidated mall.

While that’s a fresh setting on its own, the modern land also gives Kirby some interesting new tools. Enter: Mouthful Mode, Kirby’s creative solution for gigantic modern items that he can’t digest. Instead of sucking up a car and becoming the vehicle, Kirby will stretch his giant mouth over the entire thing, leaving his little eyes blinking on the front bumper and his feet flopping in the wind behind the exhaust. While in possession of this car, I could drive it around levels and over ramps, and reveal new secrets by crashing into cracked walls.

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a render of Kirby having swallowed a car in Kirby and the Forgotten Land

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Image: Nintendo/Twitch

Unlike the other Kirby powers (sword, flames, ice, the classics), Mouthful Mode items are largely scripted. I’ll suck in a traffic cone and use it to pierce a boss’ weak point, for example — then I’ll spit it out to move on with the level. Each new Mouthful Mode item delighted me, and even if the puzzle solutions were obvious, they always made for a nice change of pace. Watching Kirby stick his gob over a massive set of stairs or a water tower is such a joy that I’d intentionally spit the item out so I could see the animation again.

Outside of Mouthful Mode and the 3D movement around levels, Kirby and the Forgotten Land is structured just like a typical Kirby game. Using my Warp Star, I fly to new levels, collect captured Waddle Dees as I go, then move onto the next one. There’s no interconnectivity between the missions outside of their grassy post-apocalyptic theme, and each level is linear, with only slight deviations from the central path.

Kirby and the Forgotten Land is delightful in part because of this simplicity. It’s adorable, and looks gorgeous. (Apart from distant enemies, who move with single-digit frame rates.) Instead of reinventing the wheel, Forgotten Land is giving me just the slightest of twists on the Kirby formula I grew up loving. And when faced with so many other 50-hour-plus games this year, I’m enjoying the relaxing pace of Kirby’s 10-minute levels.

However, I also left my play session with a slight hint of dread. Because Kirby games are so simple, they tend to wear out their charm. It’s not that Kirby ever gets less cute — it’s that I don’t want to spend 10 hours making him do the same cute things ad nauseam. I’ve hit the ground running with Kirby games in the past, only to lose momentum when the game fails to show me anything new for multiple worlds in a row. However, despite the series’ historical propensity to be too simple, I’m optimistic and eager to play more.

In its first world, at least, Kirby and the Forgotten Land does a great job of camouflaging a lot of gameplay I’ve seen before, and it’s showing me just enough new layers that I can’t wait to play more. I just hope it will keep unveiling these new layers throughout its runtime.

The game will be released exclusively for Nintendo Switch on March 25th.

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