The loveable pink puffball returns for another stylus-only adventure in Kirby: Mass Attack for the Nintendo DS, proving that gameplay overhauls when executed properly can result in a fantastic new game experience.
While off exploring the Popopo Islands, our happy-go-lucky hero decides to take a leisurely nap only to find himself unceremoniously awaken by a dark cloud filling the sky. A menacing figure emerges from the blackened sky, revealing himself as Necrodeus, leader of the brood of evildoers known as the Skull Gang. Realizing that the incredible power of Kirby could pose a threat to his world domination plans, Necrodeus places a hex on the defenseless Kirby with his magic staff, splitting the poor puffball into ten smaller versions of himself. The evil overlord manages to eliminate all but one defiant Kirby that manages to escape in the nick of time. The lone Kirby sets out to find his pink counterparts in hope of reuniting his power into one and putting an end the maniacal Necrodeus' plans.
Like Kirby: Canvas Curse, the game relies heavily on drag and flick stylus controls to move Kirby from location to location as you progress through each level. Normally stylus-only games feel a bit clunky to control (especially platforming games) and I end up wishing there was a D-pad option, however while playing Kirby: Mass Effect I had no such thoughts. The controls are extremely precise and serve to prove that Nintendo has really learned over the seven years lifespan of the Nintendo DS how to create fun, original touch pad experiences.
Instead of the usual power absorbing ability we're used to in previous Kirby games, this time around the main play mechanic involves eating enough fruits to spawn additional mini Kirbys. Up to ten Kirbys can be birthed at any given time, and all of them will appear on-screen simultaneously and will be under your control. It may seem cumbersome to have to control ten characters at once, but thanks to clever stylus inputs that let you gather and group your army into a unit it's remarkable simple -- and fun. Attacking enemies is as simple as tapping on them and then watching your gang of Kirbys surround them with fists flailing. Your Kirbys can also perform a bash attack by touching them with your stylus and performing a flick of the wrist. There are a handful of other moves, ranging from simple jumps to quick speed dashes that all are very simple to do and rewarding in practice.
Throughout the five worlds (called Islands in this game) you'll encounter many areas that require a certain number of Kirbys in your legion in order to execute certain maneuvers. These range from rudimentary pressure plates that unlock new paths to giant vegetables that necessitates a number of Kirbys to pool their strength together to uproot. Level design in the game is nothing short of brilliant, with nearly each level having new and innovative ways to use your Kirbys to facilitate progress. In one memorable level that has you ascend a wobbly, decrepit tree, you use you Kirbys to shift their weight and stabilize the hunk of wood. There are many more interesting ways to utilize your Kirbys, including some of the coolest boss battle ever seen in the series. Each boss encounter is wildly different from the next, and learning the intricate strategies for success takes a bit of time and is never too overbearing to hinder the gameplay.
Managing your group of Kirbys is pretty simple given that each member of your team can get hit twice before being KO'ed. After the first hit your mini Kirby will turn blue, and after a second run-in with an enemy your Kirby will turn into a ghost and slowly float towards the heavens; however if this does happen you're given a brief moment to rescue your deceased Kirby if you can grab them and pull them back down quick enough. In case you Kirbys do get harmed, mid-way through each stage is a Recovery Ring that heals your Kirbys back to pink after hopping through.
A Kirby game wouldn't be complete without collectibles and there are plenty abound in this game. Each stage has hidden Kirby Medals, and when enough is found bonus content is unlocked such as cool new mini-games ranging from the extremely fun Strato Patrol EOS shoot-em up to the addictive Kirby Brawlball pinball game. The main game is already enjoyable enough so adding in all these surprisingly playable mini-games just adds a touch of honey to this sweet mix. There are also 35 secret Tasks to complete during the main quest, such as reaching the goal with 10 Kirbys or getting your first gold star, and feel similar to Xbox achievements or PlayStation trophies.
I could go on and on about all the great aspects of Kirby: Mass Attack but the bottom line here is that for $29.99 this game deserves to be on every Nintendo DS owner's shelf. Given Nintendo's focus now on their new 3DS system I was half expecting a watered down Kirby experience, but what we have here is one of the best that's ever graced a handheld and quite possibly the last big first-party hurrah for the Nintendo DS.
For more information on Kirby: Mass Attack, or to purchase a copy of game on futureshop.ca, check out the product page here.
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