The Hunger Pangs
Best described as a mix of Mario Party minigames and a brawler, Kirby: Battle Royale released last month on 3DS as a belated part of the franchise’s 25th anniversary. While some reviews for the game popped up, the response has been sleepy at best. As someone who follows gaming news daily, even I wasn’t sure what this game was, or that it released at retail. Beyond a mention in September’s Nintendo Direct, you’d have to closely follow Nintendo of America’s Twitter to see anything resembling consistent coverage on it. With Kirby: Star Allies release on the Switch next month, one would think there’d be some incentive to hype up one game to advertise the other, but this has not been the case. This begs the question – what is this game, and why did Nintendo release it this way?
Like most Kirby games, the premise is simple: Kirby enters a tournament set up by King Dedede to win the grand prize. Swayed by the promise said prize will be cake, Kirby must face off against clones of himself that Dedede produces in this “Cake Royale”. There are ten different minigames to compete in across four levels of the tournament, and as they’re encountered again and again, the game throws in special objectives to complete, and certain handicaps for the AI that keep them somewhat challenging as the game progresses.
That is the whole game, and as a result the single player campaign can be beaten in a day. All of the other modes, whether they’re local or online mutiplayer, playing against the AI, or training, all lead to the same ten minigames. Once you tire of those, there’s nothing else. There are in-game achievements to earn, but hunting them requires a certain patience and resignation to the fact that you will likely play these minigames hundreds of times before that checklist is complete.
For some people, the amount of content can be a big issue – and maybe that’s why Nintendo didn’t promote the game so heavily. In addition to being on a system that is slowly winding down with the popularity of the Switch, the game lacks a Mario Party-like hook where the board game aspect at least kept multiplayer matches going for hours at a time. For those of you out there looking for a reason to keep holding on to your 3DS, I don’t think Kirby: Battle Royale will be enough to satisfy you. However, those who plan on playing on the handheld no matter what will probably have a bit more fun, provided they can get together with others and play.
On a technical level, Battle Royale does have some highlights. Graphically, the game is as vibrant and colorful as can be, and the backgrounds in particular stand out for being crisp and nicely detailed. The 3D effect is entirely absent and, honestly, not missed. The soundtrack is appropriately light and happy, featuring various remixes of perennial Kirby themes. The controls are responsive and mostly touch-screen free, coming only in the late game when temporary buffs and power-ups unlock in the final level of the tournament. Though they can switch up the dynamic of the minigames beyond being able to choose which color and ability Kirby has before a match (no, he doesn’t suck up anything in this game), having to fumble with the touch-screen can be a hassle in a game more focused on button-mashing.
Something that is nice to note though, is that unlike some more recent 3DS releases, Battle Royale runs just fine on older 3DS systems. I experienced minimal framerate drops. The only time I experienced any sort of lag was when playing online. About half of my matches had severe latency issues, while the rest ran without a problem. This is, of course, when I could find matches at all. During the day, matchmaking worked quickly, getting me in a match in a couple of minutes, while at night, I sometimes had to wait upwards of fifteen or twenty minutes. Part of the blame here rests on the fact that there is no option to play against AI – four people must join a room before the match can start. While it is nice to see a focus on having players team up 2v2 or go at it free-for-all, having only two options can feel limiting when the game literally will not start until either of these conditions are met.
Overall, Battle Royale works for what it is. There isn’t a great amount of content, but most everything works as it should, and there is at least some fun to be mined out of this. I think this game would probably do best with kids, as long as they had enough friends to play together. It isn’t going to set the world on fire, but I don’t see enough reason why Nintendo decided to give it such a minimal marketing push. It’s not bad, it’s not great, but it’s Kirby, and with the 25th anniversary celebrations over, and Kirby: Star Allies out on Switch next month, you’d think there’d be more reason to push people toward it. If this is the future of 3DS releases though, I’m afraid games down the line might get ignored even more.