Kirby is approaching Mario and Sonic in terms of ubiquity. The little guy has starred in three games in as many years, all without a drop in quality. The newest game, the Nintendo 3DS’ Planet Robobot, is the best of the three.
In the new game, the usually overpowered Kirby is even mightier. He can still inhale enemies to absorb their powers and fly over entire levels for players who don’t feel like jumping. But now he can now also drive a big robot suit, then scan enemies and transform that suit into a block-punching, flame-throwing behemoth. The hardest thing in Planet Robobot is figuring out how to actually die.
Fortunately, the challenge and the fun of the game really isn’t in surviving. It’s in seeing how the levels unfold and in exploring their nooks and crannies to find the “code cubes” and sticker collectibles hidden in them. Played this way, Planet Robobot is a constant delight. The game has hidden its treasures, but not hidden them so well that an attentive player won’t notice the suspicious break in the wall, or the pathway into a level’s background, or the myriad other ways the designers have tucked things away.
The plot is as thin as any other Kirby game. This time, Dream Land is being invaded by high-tech enemies who have given many of the series’ regular waddling enemies technological power-ups: little cars and helmets.The game’s worlds have names such as Gigabyte Grounds and Resolution Road. Levels in general are more tech-based. You’ll run through levels filled with cars driving perpendicular to your pathway. You’ll run through computer-driven complexes and guide partner characters with a little Game Boy the Kirby holds over his head. You’ll use the robot as a plane or turn it into a car that can hop from the game’s foreground to its background and back.
The new game builds on the design of 2014's Kirby Triple Deluxe, which was designed, as its title suggests, to demonstrate the gameplay possibilities of stereoscopic 3D graphics. Like that game, the new one heavily relies on the concept of a sidescroller that has terrain in the foreground as well as in the background. Enemies and items can be on either pathway, and figuring how to get to either plane or seeing how the game guides you from one to the other is a lot of the fun. Triple Deluxe sometimes let Kirby wield a pole that was sort of like a tight-rope walker’s. It stretched from foreground to background and could hurt enemy or poke blocks on either plane. That idea returns in the new game, which mixes in other concepts like giant ice cream cones that are made in the background, collapse into the foreground and then virtually splat on the screen.
The main campaign is six fun worlds long and is bolstered by a batch of bonus modes. Two are unlocked from the start: a one-to-four-player, stat-based sequence of battles called Team Kirby Clash and a polygonal solo arena brawler called Kirby 3D Battle. Both are fun but just a handful of levels long. Expansions to either would be welcome. More modes unlock after you finish, which helps beef the game up.
Volume of content, though, isn’t what one typically comes to a Kirby game for. One comes for happiness. This is a no-sweat series that can have, in this installment, the kind of flash you would expect more from a studio like Platinum Games than HAL, but can still play like a breeze. These are games made to make you smile as you discover their not-very-hidden secrets. They’re designed to make you laugh, as I did the first time I activated Planet Robobot’s new clipboard and chemistry-set wielding doctor Kirby transformation.
You won’t struggle playing Planet Robobot. You’ll smile. The people who made it knew just what they were doing, and they’ve made one of the 3DS’ most delightful games.