Divide and Conquer
Originally released in 2011 on the original DS and now available on the Wii U’s Virtual Console, Kirby Mass Attack is probably as close to playing a Pikmin game on Nintendo’s handheld as can be. Although some level designs can be rather cheap and the overall quest is lengthy, the ending is essentially one giant “screw you” moment. However, the unlockable mini-games are shockingly fun and the colorful presentation is so gosh-darn charming.
Instead of harvesting little plant creatures as in Pikmin, the player essentially grows multiple Kirbys by collecting fruit. Using only stylus control, the player must tap and flick the little Kirbys to attack anything that moves and navigate their way through each stage. To keep gameplay interesting, the player can optionally collect hidden medals in each stage which are ultimately used as currency to unlock mini-games, a jukebox, and other passive and interactive features. And for a touch control-only game, the play control works surprisingly well outside of the occasional camera freakout when the screen is loaded with Kirbys that are spread out all over the screen.
Like the Wii U’s Kirby And the Rainbow Curse, some level designs are not as strong as they could be. On many occasions the player can miss a collectable medal by simply choosing the wrong branching path. With no way to go back, the player is forced to replay stages and use memorization if players are going for 100% completion. However, this melts right into my biggest gripe with Mass Attack – the game forces the player to go back and tediously collect the hidden rainbow medals in each stage to unlock the final area of the game. After putting in well over a dozen hours into the campaign and collecting about half the medals along the way, there was no way I was going to go back and replay the same stages, scouring every corner to find a few dumb medals just to unlock the final portion of the quest. This chore is Mass Attack’s biggest and most glaring flaw. The good news is many stages are more than just “run to the right.” Sometimes you are blasting through walls with the help of a canon, bringing baby chicks back to a big momma bird, or swimming through sunken passages looking for air bubbles. By the end of the game, some stage mechanics will repeat but never to the point of exhaustion.
Going back and forcing the player to search high and low to find all the hidden items is tedious and it also amplified from the fact that some stages are only accessible once a certain number of Kirbys is in your party at the time. For example, the eighth stage in a world might require seven Kirbys to be playable. But if you only have five in your party, the player has to waste more time replaying a previous stage in hopes to eat enough fruit to unlock that sixth and seventh Kirby. And all this without dying or losing another Kirby along the way. While I understand the level of progression and pacing ideas the developers were going for but forcing players to replay stages to find collectables or to lock-and-key them into certain stages is ultimately disrespectful and chore-ish to the player.
Luckily, as tedious as the artificial back-tracking tasks can be, everything is displayed through a bright and colorful visual presentation, topped off usually with a new take on classic bosses to fit the stylus-only control mechanic. The biggest surprise kicker, however, are the unlockable mini-games. Kirby Brawl Ball is a callback to 1993’s Kirby’s Pinball Land and is the best game of the bunch. Field Frenzy is a simple Whack-A-Mole clone, Kirby Curtain Call has the player quickly counting the number of on-screen Kirbys, Dash Course is like a Warioware-like mini-game that has the player tapping icons to make Kirby run, Strato Patrol EOS is a vertical 2D shooter that is actually way more fun than you would think, and Kirby Quest rounds out the package by using a timing mechanic not unlike the fastest draw game found in Kirby Superstar. If nothing else, it is great to see thoughtful unlockable content not tucked behind a paid DLC wall. Kirby Fighters and Dedede Drum Dash, for example, were unlockable mini games in Kirby Triple Deluxe but Nintendo released it as a stand-alone game on the eShop shortly after the game launched. Following this lead, I am not sure why they don’t release Brawl Ball and Strato Patrol EOS as a $1.99 downloadable eShop game because they are that good and worth a few bucks on their own.
I actually bought the physical copy of Mass Attack as the DS faded away to make room for the 3DS many years ago but has been sitting on my shelf ever since. But now that it is available on Wii U Virtual Console, I thought I should play this before it gets an older. Luckily, even though it is not a perfect game, it still holds up very well and worth checking out even today. It is easy to see this is a late DS game as the presentation values are high and makes some of the best uses of the touch screen the console every received. Now, if only the level design was as tight as Nintendo’s other recent platformer…
Not As Good As: Kirby Planet Robobot
Better Than: most touch screen only games
Wait For It: Pikmin 3DS
By: Zachary Gasiorowski, Editor in Chief myGamer.com