Kirby and the Forgotten Land puts to bed any doubt that Nintendo’s pink puffball can more than carry his own 3D adventure game.
Despite its semi-open-world setting, the game doesn’t get swallowed by the vastness of its new format. For clarity, Forgotten Land is not technically an open-world game as its areas are segmented—but for the sake of brevity, we will describe it as such. Forgotten Land is intuitive without holding your hand, allows you to explore the gameplay the way you want, and is stuffed with a ton of formidable enemies and hidden environmental details in between.
One day while chilling in Dream Land, a rift tears open in the sky and sucks up Waddle Dees. In an attempt to rescue the Waddle Dees, our hero Kirby winds up getting isekai’d into a dystopian world that resembles our own.
Immediately, Forgotten Land distances itself from prior Kirby games with the injection of a perilous anti-utopia. While previous titles amounted to breezy Kirby visual novels, Forgotten Land is a Greek epic chocked full of imposing titans Kirby must conquer, and gone are the on-the-rails tours through picturesque side-scrolling landscapes where you overcome enemies with the power of friendship and Kirby’s bottomless lung capacity. Now, you must boldly march into the unknown armed as the throat goat while investing time and resources into upgrading powers of your choosing. This dark change of pace made Forgotten Land an invigorating adventure from start to finish without becoming overly-melancholy.
The game begins with a rapture, sure, but Kirby’s baby coos when discovering new landscapes and triumphant dances after completing a level make the Forgotten Land feel more like the more upbeat Kirby games of the past. That is until you begin exploring other areas that become increasingly dark.
Areas that were once idyllic paradises transform into hellscapes. Each brave pitter-patter from Kirby’s tiny feet plunges him deeper into Forgotten Land’s progressively harsh climates, barren landscapes, and warmongering wildlife.
The doom-and-gloom lurking around every corner of Forgotten Land is neatly underscored by the game’s foreboding soundtrack. Whether it be an abandoned carnival, a desert vista, or a foggy Silent Hill stretch across a snowy bridge, Kirby’s soundtrack accentuates each land with its own unique vibe. Forgotten Land’s music effectively foreshadows the looming threat hidden in each environment while being pretty damn catchy to boot.
Forgotten Land makes it clear that the entire game is just one extended rescue mission. Yet it manages to keep gameplay fresh by pacing out challenges and giving maps their own mechanics. Forgotten Land lets you pick and choose what gameplay you want to explore most. There are Treasure Hunt time trials for platforming fans, collaborative play for those who don’t want to go it alone, and of course, the optional open-world objectives that will make a completionist’s heart sing.
All of these elements can help in your mission, whether that’s in the form of upgrades, a helping hand in fights, or acquiring new loot. But Forgotten Land never forces you to delve into these playstyles, leaving you to make the game your own.
The game entices you to at least try exploring the different objectives, though, with a smart use of cues at the start of levels. Players are prompted with messages like, “There are five objectives you can complete,” which encouraged me to scour every crack in the wall or mysteriously-Kirby-shaped anomaly for a hidden pathway or mysterious item.
While Kirby games aren’t known for their difficulty, Forgotten Land adds a sense of nuance to traversal and combat. After completing an area, the game reveals objectives that you missed like finding a secret pathway or defeating a boss with a specific power without being hit or floating off the ground. Though you can mainline the game by blitzing through areas like skipping through a board game, the game’s optional objectives transform into a checklist that encourages more thorough exploration of the game’s 3D world and mastery of Kirby’s abilities. But the game more heavy-handedly encourages this growth through its Treasure Hunt side quests.
Though I initially dreaded Treasure Hunts for dropping me into an obstacle course devoid of the game’s many inventive worlds, they quickly became my favorite aspect of Forgotten Land for the challenge they presented when my brain-rotten Devil May Cry-esque swordsmanship made the first couple of worlds a cakewalk to get through. It also didn’t hurt that grinding through them allowed me to quickly level up my go-to Kirby powers.
That being said, Forgotten Land isn’t without its issues.
The platforming can be finicky. While a running start before jumping would usually give you more distance, Kirby interprets that input as you walking forward with no intention of jumping, leading Kirby to take the plunge into the unforgiving depths. Platforming Johns aside, you can rest assured that each stumble and stride during the trials and tribulations of Kirby are generously rewarded in Forgotten Land’s bombastic finale.
And while Forgotten Land is rich with hazardous landscapes and foreboding music, it is bereft of compelling new characters. Kirby’s newest companion, Elfilin, never becomes more than a cheerleader and guide. And Meta Knight’s appearance is a cheap cameo in a coin-farming tournament.
King Dedede, however, is an absolute standout. Prior to Forgotten Land, he was portrayed merely as a lazy, unjust king. But Forgotten Land breaks the mold by giving the old curmudgeon a chance for redemption in a stunning “Go ahead, I’ll hold them back” scene that could have been pulled straight from an action film. Subtle moments like Dedede’s chivalry or Kirby’s many bug-eyed surprised faces provide short-hand characterization and provide much-needed levity in between Kirby’s treacherous globetrotting. And he’s essentially the last vestige of humanity before bonkers space shit happens
Finally, Forgotten Land’s final act is balls-to-the-walls high-octane action alongside some third-act smörgåsbord of elements that evoked thoughts of Akira, Bayonetta, and even Halo 3. While any other game’s attempt at such an overblown twist might buckle under the weight of its own ambition, Forgotten Land’s finale never did. Because Kirby is already an eldritch horror himself, everything within Forgotten Land’s bat-shit crazy ending felt like a slow boil of concepts the game drip-fed you until finally blowing its lid in spectacular fashion showcasing every gameplay mechanic at its maximum potential within the final act.
From its rapture beginnings to its M. Night Shyamalan-like twist ending, Kirby and the Forgotten Land is a shining example that Kirby warrants his lion’s share of open-world treatment alongside other Nintendo properties like Legend of Zelda and Mario.
Update: 4/21/22 11:24 a.m. ET: This review has been updated to clarify that Kirby and the Forgotten Land is not technically an open-world game, though it is colloquially referred to as such here and elsewhere.