Kirby has long been one of Nintendo and HAL Laboratory’s most versatile heroes, appearing in countless sequels and a number of genres over the years. Still, the mainline Kirby games have always been 2D or 2.5D affairs, which makes Kirby and the Forgotten Land for Switch all the more special. Not only does Kirby’s latest platformer feature a truly unique premise and setting, it also successfully translates the fun, precision, and creativity of a traditional Kirby game into the world of 3D platforming. Oh, and the 2-player local co-op’s not bad, either.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land opens with the titular hero and other residents of planet Popstar getting sucked into a mysterious void. Kirby awakens on a beach near an overgrown forest. After making his way through the dense vegetation, our pleasant pink puff steps into the outskirts of a ruined metropolis. What happened to the city and its missing residents? That narrative subtly drives the game. Players will notice environmental clues as they explore seven distinct regions consisting of abandoned amusement parks, malls, factories, and more. Solid answers won’t be found until the final portion of the game, but that’s part of the fun.
The initial “Point of Arrival” stage is a short single-player level that culminates with Kirby rescuing a small, flying creature called Elfillin from a pack of doglike Awoofies. As Kirby and Elfillin befriend each other, the stylishly dressed Bandana Waddle Dee joins up as well, unlocking co-op mode. From then on, a second player can join in as Kirby’s bandana-wearing sidekick at any time. It’s not unusual for a cooperative Kirby title to cast an enemy character as the hero’s partner, but Bandana Waddle Dee is a disappointingly mundane name for the sidekick in such an otherwise creative game.
Clearing the starting stage also unlocks Waddle Dee Town, the game’s hub world. The town begins with almost no population or buildings to speak of, but it will expand as Kirby rescues more Waddle Dees throughout the game. The town will eventually house a weapons shop where Kirby can switch to any forms he has unlocked, a café that sells healing items, a coliseum with challenging boss fights, several minigames, and more. The coliseum, the fishing minigame, and the café minigame (in which players must serve food items to torrents of customers) even support co-op, which is great.
The World Map functions like those of Super Mario World and many other games before it. The main player zooms around the map looking for levels and other activities. Each region contains numerous levels to complete. Beat all of the levels leading up to a boss stage and the rescued Waddle Dees will open up the boss stage by tearing down the gate in front of it, a very cool touch. Numerous Treasure Road stages can be found on the map by either clearing specific stages or simply clicking on spots where the stages are hidden. These challenging bonus stages offer valuable upgrade materials for Kirby’s various copied abilities. On the downside, only the primary player gets to play them, not the co-op partner.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land plays just like a traditional Kirby game except in 3D. Kirby will run, jump, and float through various ruined environments, sucking up objects and enemies, spitting them out, and occasionally gaining unique powers by eating specific enemies. This entry features 12 abilities for Kirby to copy, all of which can be evolved at least once, upgrading their appearance and damage-dealing capabilities. Poor Bandana Waddle Dee doesn’t get to use copy abilities (a big step down from Kirby Star Allies), instead fighting with a spear. He has several unique moves, and he gains power when Kirby uses evolved abilities, but there’s clearly an imbalance in each player’s abilities.
The annoyingly asymmetrical nature of Forgotten Land’s co-op extends to the game’s biggest new feature as well: Mouthful Mode. Early in the game, Kirby sucks up a car, transforming into his beloved Carby form. This lets the player zoom across the level, running over enemies and jumping off ramps. The game boasts a total of 14 large, real-world items for Kirby to suck up via Mouthful mode, including a vending machine, a safety cone, stairs, a light-bulb, and more. Each of these is used to creatively overcome obstacles and solve simple puzzles, making them a blast to use.
The only downside to Mouthful Mode is, as mentioned earlier, that Bandana Waddle Dee can’t use it. In fact, when Kirby swallows a car, stairs, or several other large objects (not all of them), the second player automatically grabs onto the main player and can’t move independently. Thus, Mouthful Mode, the game’s best feature, sometimes becomes a drag in co-op. Mouthful Mode doesn’t last that long, as Kirby always has to leave his embiggened form behind in order to progress in a stage, and it’s only a few of the transformations that immobilize the second player. These issues don’t really ruin the experience – the second player just needs to be prepared for some occasional downtime.
Most of the time, co-op is an uneven but fun experience for both players. The levels themselves are extremely well designed, full of interesting things to see and discover. The game offers two difficulty levels: Wild (default) and Spring Breeze, which is easier but grindier because Star Coins become less abundant. Wild Mode becomes genuinely challenging as the game progresses, especially in the “Isolated Isles” postgame. Bringing along a partner to fight bad guys and deadly bosses certainly helps even the odds. A downed partner will automatically respawn after a set time, keeping the co-op going even in the toughest times.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land‘s cooperative multiplayer experience is a step back from that of Kirby Star Allies, with a lower player count and less things for the co-op partner to do. That said, Forgotten Land is easily the better game overall. The amazingly bleak but beautiful setting make this adventure feel like that of a Studio Ghibli film; the beautiful theme song and score also help. Every level is filled with delightful 3D platforming goodness, and they’re all worth revisiting to find hidden their Waddle Dees. Kirby games have always been good, but Forgotten Land surprised me by becoming a serious contender for my game of the year. Go in with appropriate co-op expectations (or simply as a solo player), and you won’t be disappointed.
The Co-Op Experience: Pass a Joy-Con controller to a buddy to play as the spear-wielding Bandana Waddle Dee and help each other explore and battle through this colorful world. While Kirby can float and inhale enemies, Bandana Waddle Dee can spin and stab with his sturdy spear. Find friendship in this forgotten world and save the Waddle Dees!
Co-Optimus game reviews focus on the cooperative experience of a game, our final score graphic represents this experience along with an average score for the game overall. For an explanation of our scores please check our Review Score Explanation Guide.