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Kirby and the Forgotten Land is the anti-Elden Ring

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Across its 30 year history, there’s never really been a Kirby game like the Forgotten Land – a fully 3D adventure that’s quite the departure for a series that’s always revelled in its simplicity, this is a showstopping effort from HAL Laboratory that’s come from leftfield. It’s not quite the revelation that Super Mario was when it added the Y axis into its playbook, but for a series with as long a history as Kirby it’s still quite the jolt.

Having played through the opening world of Kirby and the Forgotten Land – a short collection of five self-contained stages, plus a few bonus levels with tight time restrictions to boot – it’s clear that HAL Laboratory has landed the transition. It’s also clear that this is a Kirby game through and through – and given how Kirby and the Forgotten Land might have attracted the interest of players who’ve not touched a Kirby game before, it’s worth running over exactly what that means.

Kirby games are almost entirely frictionless things, where syrupy simplicity is the order of the day. Play through something like Kirby Star Allies and the challenge is non-existent – which, to be clear, I’m more than happy with. At a time when Elden Ring is kicking our collective arses – and doing it artfully and with some grace – it’s been refreshing to dip into something that’s more a whole gentle vibe than an act of violence upon its players.

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Kirby and the Forgotten Land does make some moves in this area, though. The release of every FromSoft game tends to lead to the inevitable requests for an easy mode, so it’s amusing to see that this time out Kirby’s acquired a hard mode – or Wild Mode, as it’s called, which ramps up the enemy placement and how hard they hit. Calling it a hard mode is perhaps overstating things a little, mind – with Wild Mode activated, running through Kirby and the Forgotten Land’s levels is easy rather than effortless.

A co-op mode sees the second player as a spear-wielding Waddle Dee – it’s avaiable from the off and is a nice way to share the Kirby experience.

It’s a lot of fun, too, thanks to the mouthful mode that’s been at the centre of Kirby and the Forgotten Land’s pre-release marketing. For someone who’s always wanted to ingest an automobile, it’s something of a dream come true and it helps that zooming around the narrow levels is something of a blast too. These mouthful moments are fairly sparing, but add a nice wrinkle to the traditional 3D platforming while fuelling some of the bonus levels where the challenge is even tougher still – those time constraints are extremely tight, pushing you to optimise your line and plan of attack for each level until it’s almost like playing a racing game.

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Which makes me happy, obviously, as does the simple pleasure of playing a new Kirby game. It’s basic thrills it offers up, but it does them with such conviction – and with such a sunny disposition – that it’s a joy to get washed away by it all. How exactly it maintains that throughout the rest of its runtime remains to be seen, but I’m optimistic it’ll keep my interest – and in Kirby fashion there’s plenty of other distractions, like a slowly unfurling hub world attended by the Waddle Dees you discover in each level, or a gacha machine that spits out simple toys for you to collect.

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The levels themselves are fairly narrow, with small secrets deposited just away from the main path. Don’t expect to be challenged or get lost, basically – but do expect to be entertained.

Kirby’s something of a simple toy itself, and the Forgotten Land looks like it’s taking that trend and expanding it outwards a little. Right now it’s an approach that works. Oh, and there’s an uplifting opening music number that sets the tone just perfectly (and I’d advise you to wait until getting hands-on with this to experience it for yourself). It’s a sunny, smiley vibe of a thing, and amidst the rush of new games we’re enjoying at the moment it looks like Kirby might have found its own happy little space when it’s out later this month.

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