Super Kirby Clash Review

Economically rocky free-to-play celebrates Kirby series in cogent time-waster

Under review: Ver. 1.0.0
Time played: 7 hours
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Price: Free
Release date: 05/09/19

Super Kirby Clash, Nintendo’s latest “free-to-start” eShop offering, began as a bonus game in 2016’s Kirby: Planet Robobot for the 3DS; it is now expanded upon in this own-brand title, announced last week during Nintendo’s 04/09/19 Direct. The run-down is this: in effect, it is a boss-rush, channelling Monster Hunter in spirit but with a greater focus on co-op. Players fight alongside three other Kirbies (CPU controlled, local or online) split between four classes — Sword Hero, Hammer Lord, Beam Mage, Doctor Healmore — against oversized enemies, each encounter acting as its own mission via the hub world’s assignment board and featuring a revamped version of an enemy from the Kirby series. Playing a Quest costs the player some “Vigor,” a pseudo-currency which replenishes over time. Of course, this locks the player out of playing more than several missions in a row without either waiting for this bar to refill or spending a small amount of Gem Apples (the game’s “premium currency” in the style of a mobile game) to refill its bar. Vigor is split between Story Quests and Party Quests, the latter of which are playable with friends and other players online or wirelessly.

The game is fun, but it should be apparent from description that its ecosystem is wonky. Many of the game’s facets are designed around Gem Apples, which are additionally monetised: these are needed to upgrade equipment, purchase stickers, unlock higher-level missions, and replenish Vigor. Predictably, Gem Apples are not in abundance, with less than enough given to the player to warrant spending on everything that requires them. These are not the only currency, as other items are used in addition specifically when purchasing equipment, but are the cornerstone of the game’s economy. The experience could be dulled by the obstacle of microtransactions if the player wants to really get stuck-in with the title.

Due to the way that the game paces the acquisition of its currency, there is also a decent amount of replaying missions, as well as seeing the same bosses in rehash “Tough” versions of old Quests in order to sufficiently upgrade each of the four classes (your AI teammates use the equipment for their class that you have purchased — it gets expensive) for the escalating difficulty of new missions. This, combined with the increasing demands of the Vigor gauge as well as inherent repetition, means that, chemically, it is not really a game that favours extended sessions of play. Nintendo does its best, though, to keep users playing with the hub world’s Gem Apple tree which can be harvested every twelve hours for a small payout of currency, as well as cheap Vigor gauge refills alongside a free top-up every time the player hits a new level (relatively frequent). As such, the game finds functional ways to keep the player moving, and so the issue of virtual currency is not game-breaking, even if the arrangement is occasionally taxing.

Super Kirby Clash, then, is primarily reserved to the realms of a “spare-20-minutes pick-up-and-play” download, which, truthfully, it does rather successfully. The controls strike a good balance between tight and floaty — as is standard with the best of the Kirby series — with RPG elements kept minor and undeveloped but used with enough courtesy to pastiche the genre charmingly. The visuals are successful: vibrant backgrounds backdrop the stages and the designs of the supersized bosses are kept faithful to the series (Mr. Frosty has never looked so radiant!). Indeed, at this point in the Kirby series, a standalone boss-rush spin-off feels very appropriate, and works as a celebration of the series’ long lineage of neatly designed enemy characters.

In addition, the awarding of bronze, silver, gold and platinum medals based on the speed of completion makes the game’s sometimes-grindy (as mentioned above) favouring of replay more bearable, helping to turn the mission board into more of a checklist of completion — something for which I’m personally a sucker. I also enjoy the simply paced upgrade system, with the player unlocking the ability to purchase better weapons and armor as they level up with experience points gained from defeating bosses. The game additionally rewards the player with an experience boost when playing with friends or online, encouraging cooperative play, which is a nice touch, and makes poor online performance more tolerable.

The game’s Adventurer Bell feature is also a tidy addition to the title’s emphasis on cooperation. Also included in the small hub world, interacting with it every twenty-four hours will search for online players (who have also ‘rung’ the bell) in the same vein as the 3DS’s StreetPass, adding a copy of those players to your plaza to fight alongside you in Story Quests instead of a generic CPU-generated Kirby. It doesn’t change the gameplay, as these players’ copy versions are still controlled by AI and act similarly, but adds a way to temporarily circumvent the currency-demanding activity of consistently purchasing new weapons/armor for all three of your CPU teammates, as the Bell’s player copies bring their own equipment. It helps gamers to whistle less expensively but also less efficiently through the Story Quests by focusing on upgrading only one of the four classes, if this is an approach the player wishes to adopt. It adds a further level of charm and personality, too — I like it a lot.

Working against this feeling of thoughtfulness, though, is the title’s occasionally irritating over-use of menus and splash notifications – the after-Quest updates are displayed individually and with a separate animation for each that indicates the extent of gain (XP, newly completed quest logs, items, etc.). It could all could be contained more neatly within a single screen, for example. Worse are the loading screens that connect the hub world to simple checks of the shop or mission board, book-ended by unnecessary dialogue, as well as the game telling the player much more than it really needs to via screens of speech from NPCs (it leaves no room for visual communication and spoon-feeds gratuitous information such as instructions for simply navigating the menu), especially in the game’s earlier portions. This would be fine if the game were shooting for RPG-syle world-building, but it isn’t: in a pick-up-and-play title such as this one, cumbersome navigation can be a frustration. It does not ruin the experience, but it is worth revision.

Super Kirby Clash, as an overall package, is a lot of fun. It’s fairly moreish and, especially for a free-to-play title (I would be valuing it differently if I had paid), a loveable time-waster. While perhaps held back by an imbalanced ecosystem of virtual currency and replay, monetisation avoids getting in the way and the game does enough to combat the grind for players who are treating the product as a casual, short-burst experience, played for brief spells. From my perspective, this is the territory in which the title exists most comfortably. The game has its issues, and I don’t quite wish to see Nintendo’s first-party continue to pursue the “free-to-start” model with many other of its mainline IP, but, hey — not bad.

Header image: Nintendo

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