Developer - HAL Laboratory
Publisher - Nintendo
Platform - 3DS
Price - £Variable
Genre - Platform
Kirby is a shapeshifter. Hardly shocking news, but we're not just talking about his ability to inhale enemies and nab their powers, fab though it is. Kirby is a genre shapeshifter too: in addition to many platform games over the years, the pink puffball has been a pinball, a golf ball and a fighter. Even his platformers vary wildly: compare Kirby Mass Attack to Kirby's Adventure or Kirby and the Rainbow Curse to Kirby's Epic Yarn (which was originally never even going to star the hungry little fella). Like opening Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, when you start a Kirby game, you never know what you're gonna get.
Planet Robobot is pretty much a traditional Kirby game (bubble burst!) with one big addition to separate it from the pack, more of which later. Yer man has all his normal powers plus three new Copy Abilities: Doctor, which sees you attack with a sonic screwdriv - we can't back that up. You throw pills, like Dr. Mario's, which bounce like a Mario fireball. There's also ESP, which lets you turn invisible and fire electric bubbles, and Poison, which gifts you with the ability to create toxic puddles for enemies to run onto and hurt themselves real bad. Most of the classic abilities return too, like Sword, Cutter, Wheel, Stone... the whole gang!
Planet Robobot's trump card is the mech: the Robobot Armour. Most levels let you pilot one for a little while - the originally grey robot gets a pink makeover as Kirby hops aboard. It also has a version of Kirby's Copy ability - scanning baddies powers it up to, mainly, sort out some nearby light puzzling elements. That's dismissive, because being in the Robobot Armour is the best part of the game. Its set pieces beat Triple Deluxe's Hypernova moments as they're more subtle and more common. It's almost sad when you have to hand this brilliant toy back to carry on as 'mere' Kirby. Maybe we love the Robobot Armour so much because it's the closest the Kirby series has come to its own version of Yoshi; in any case, we hope to see more of it in the future.
Progression through the game's worlds isn't just tied to completing levels. You can only face a world's final boss if you've found enough Code Cubes (just like Triple Deluxe's Sun Stones) in the levels leading up to it. In fact, much of the game feels similar to Triple Deluxe: not a surprise, as Planet Robobot uses many of its assets and the foreground/background jumping idea that adds depth - and depth! - to both games. Owners of the 2014 gulp-'em-up will feel right at home but still be impressed and surprised, which is what MasterChef's John Torode would call "a lovely thing".
In addition to the Story Mode, a couple of minigames do what NintendoLife reviewers would call 'round out the package'. The first is a top-down action game called Kirby 3D Rumble, where you have to inhale and spit out enemies quickly or you'll be overrun. Next there's the much more interesting Team Kirby Clash, an RPG where four Kirbies take on traditional series bosses (you know the Whispy ones we mean) in different roles: healer, spellcaster, megabuff barbarian and bikini-clad waif (we can't back that last one up either). Both of these are sweet additions to the game but you can see why they're minigames - major work would need to be done to both before a solo commercial release could be considered.
The sad thing is that Kirby games need these extras to support 'the package' (could have phrased that better) because the Story Modes are usually on the easy side. Planet Robobot is no exception - the main campaign can be (rainbow paint)brushed aside in about four hours. On the other hand, you will not earn 100% completion and the 3DS has few games with as much pure, undiluted fun. If you've dismissed Kirby in the past, this might be a good time to check out what you've been missing.
Just before the final verdict, a word about functionality. Scanning an amiibo will give Kirbs a Copy ability (Leaf from Isabellibo and Toadibo, Fire from Maribo, etc.) and a wave of the plastic figurines were even released to tie in with the game (seriously, Nintendo, stop it now - oh, a new set was announced at E3. As you were). StreetPass hits manifest as friends lobbing health-giving items in levels that you can save for a rainy day on the touch screen. Play Coins can be swapped for stickers that can be used to decorate the Robobot Armour (you can find stickers in play, too)... in short, HAL pulled out all the functionality stops as well as all the gameplay stops.
Final Verdict: A lush 2D platformer that 3DS owners can use to wash away the pain of Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash. Bursting with classic Kirby joy and the extra gameplay opportunities afforded by the brilliant Robobot Armour, the only danger is that, much like Kirby himself, you'll swallow the game whole in no time at all.