For those familiar with the Kirby brand of games, there will be no surprises here. I’ll say it straight away. You are Kirby, a little squishy pink creature from a land where hills are made of candy canes and the laws of physics mean nothing.
Obviously, if you’re after a serious storyline or any depth to your gaming experience at all – avoid.
Superstar Ultra can best be described as a compilation of existing Kirby titles, arcade style minigames and the added bonus of multiplayer mayhem. Traditional style Kirby adventures have you setting off across bubblegum fantasy landscapes battling evil-doers of all kinds from corrupt kings to giant birds. The minigames include a shooting gallery and racing games, while multiplayer is essentially a co-op mash-up of the single player options.
To get a bit of a warm-up for this title, I launched straight into the first adventure, aimed squarely at beginners. Since I hadn’t seriously played a Kirby platformer since primary school I felt I needed to refresh my memory. It didn’t take long. While some games like Abe’s Odyssey and Super Mario Galaxy have made platformers a vibrant genre for the 21st century, Kirby is rooted firmly in the past. Avoid obstacles, defeat minor foes, find power-up, defeat boss. That’s it. A bit of variation is thrown in my allowing Kirby to absorb the abilities of his adversaries, but it certainly doesn’t make for an engrossing game.
I am not an overly skilled gamer. I have trouble with patience and often require a few goes at levels in order to pass. Not with Kirby. On all but the most difficult levels, I sailed through losing one or two lives per level. Max. While this isn’t technically a problem, it can feel a little disappointing to spend money on a game only to burn through 40% of the content in one night. The harder levels will keep you occupied, but with no real driving force to keep you playing other than some arbitrary high-score, you could be forgiven for giving up when the going gets too tough. At this stage it’s important to remember that this game is for kids. Kids who will get fed up with playing what amounts to the same level, over and over again, before hitting a wall.
The gameplay (as ancient as it can feel) is smooth. Nintendo must be commended for the beautifully animated and coloured worlds Kirby floats through. They suit the tone of the game beautifully and are meticulously detailed. Despite being a DS title, the core game has existed in some form since the two-button Gameboy. This means the DS’s fancy touchpad is unused for the most part. This doesn’t matter at all; in fact it’s a welcome change from some of the screen scratching overuse we’ve seen in the last year. The buttons you do use are responsive and you always feel in control.
The same can’t be said for the sound and cut scenes, which feel dated beyond belief. Why, when blessed with a system as powerful and competent as the DS, does Nintendo release games with 16bit sound effects and crummy FMV video clips? Why not use some of their talented animators and put together something charming and memorable? I don’t know, but the approach taken with Superstar Ultra doesn’t do it any favours. The best thing about the cut scenes is you can skip them.
Multiplayer adds a dimension to this game that makes it worth owning, even if only for a while. In standard Kirby adventure mode you can get a buddy to play along with you, battling the same enemies and seeing the sights together. Nintendo must be commended on their netcode, multiplayer felt smooth and unencumbered. This would be great for young kids travelling long distance, it’s really quite entertaining.
Minigames are the only ‘innovative’ feature tacked onto this title. Utilizing the DS’s touch-screen, you play through a variety of ‘side-show’ style games, which required you to think and act pretty fast in order to win. These games add an extra dimension to the somewhat tired platformer, increasing the bang for buck. While I’m pleased they were included, ultimately they are short lived fun and will be easily forgotten.
I think my last sentence there sums things up well. Short lived and easily forgotten. For a big fan of Kirby portable titles, this is probably a good way to gain access to a wealth of Kirby adventures, possibly making it a good purchase. For younger people or those not sold on mundane platformers, avoid. Get something more modern, innovative and fun.