The long-lasting video game icons, the ones that have been around for more than 20 years now, each have a straightforward gimmick to keep them memorable and unique. Mario jumps. (His original name was Jumpman.) Sonic runs fast. Kirby? Well, he sucks. He sucks in fantastic, implausible ways, inhaling and swallowing most any obstacle that comes in his path. Now, in Kirby: Triple Deluxe, the pink puffball is supercharged to suck more than ever before, and while it stands to reason that more sucking would make Kirby even better, in practice, more sucking just kind of—what’s a colloquial term for “isn’t great”?
Kirby: Triple Deluxe is fairly straightforward and easily one of Kirby’s shortest jaunts in recent memory. Run left and right, inhale baddies, copy their powers, repeat. The game’s title doesn’t mean much aside from being a phrase that easily abbreviates to Kirby: 3D. That implied sense of dimension is the biggest difference between Triple Deluxe and past entries in the series. Most of the levels in this adventure are made up of multiple parallel planes, like two city streets with a vast gap between them (instead of the buildings that you might expect to be there). Usually the background plane is populated by enemies that toss weapons toward the foreground for Kirby to dodge, and there are intermittent warp stars that carry our hero back and forth between depths.
The result of this added third dimension is a compression of the Kirby experience. Gone, for instance, are the hallways that might connect two disparate areas in a single level. Now there are suspicious stretches of empty foreground while the action happens on another stage that’s farther away from the audience. While collectibles and secret doors used to require exploration and experimentation to find, now they mostly just show up in the background, although it still takes a bit of ingenuity to reach them.
The irony is that, by adding visual depth, Kirby: Triple Deluxe all but eliminates the need for players to dig deeper into the quest. Layering the playfield should create more nooks and crannies to explore, but everything the player wants to find is right there on the surface—or surfaces, as the case may be. While the Kirby series has always been accessible to Nintendo’s youngest and least strategic players, Triple Deluxe seems to go out of its way to make sure the audience will see and do everything the game has to offer with practically conflict—completion without the sense of accomplishment.
There is a point near the end of the adventure where Kirby goes through the requisite “boss rush,” a series of corridors and small spaces filled with all the imposing mini-bosses you faced earlier. Usually, these sorts of trials test players’ mettle, to see if you’ve learned the enemies’ patterns and developed sound strategies. This time, though, Kirby is blessed with a special “hypernova” ability, which transforms him into a chromed-out rainbow puff capable of inhaling an entire screen’s worth of baddies in one go. So even if a particular villain might have posed a sizable threat just minutes ago, a hypernova-enhanced Kirby can swallows four behemoths at once without a second thought. The energetic music and rapid pace suggests that this should be empowering, as if you’ve mastered the game, but there’s little mastery required with an instant “you win” power-up. Kirby even inhales a boss’s life meter right off the screen, breaking the fourth wall in a moment that should feel awesome but comes across as hollow because the game is doing little more than playing itself.
There are a few extra side activities beyond the standard Kirby fare. A fight-all-the-bosses arena is pretty typical for the series, but it’s still a welcome challenge for hardcore players, as is an option to play through the entire adventure as the perpetual thorn in Kirby’s side, King Dedede. The paunchy monarch also gets his own rhythm game that is tantalizingly short with only three stages of classic Kirby tunes. The only additional mode worth a repeat visit is “Kirby Fighters,” a mini-game in the Smash Bros. mold that pits each of Kirby’s copied abilities against one another in the field of combat. There’s not a great deal of content or complexity, but this mode could serve as a nice preview for anybody curious to see how the new Smash Bros. will play when it comes to their handheld for the first time this summer.
Kirby: Triple Deluxe is, for better or worse, little more than a serviceable game in the Kirby series. It lacks the full-force joie de vivre of Kirby: Canvas Curse and Kirby’s Epic Yarn, the depth of Kirby’s Adventure and Kirby: Speak Squad, and the variety of Kirby Super Star and Kirby: Mass Attack. So the biggest mark against this game is the uniform excellence of its lineage. If most of Kirby’s adventures were ice cream cake, Triple Deluxe is Jell-O: quick and sweet, likable but insubstantial. It won’t stay with you the way Fudgie The Whale would.
Kirby: Triple Deluxe
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Platform: Nintendo 3DS