Review – Kirby Mass Attack

Review Kirby Mass Attack
HAL Laboratory was the first developer to truly show just how cool games could be on the Nintendo DS. Those of us who survived the dark, dreary days that were the DS’s first few months of existence know how slim the pickings were. But, like the sun breaking after a long night, along came Kirby Canvas Curse, and gone was any buyer’s remorse we had been feeling.

Canvas Curse skillfully demonstrated that the DS’s touch screen could be used for more than gimmicky mini-games, while also taking the Kirby series in an interesting new direction. I still play it on a regular basis all these years later – it is fabulous, and if you haven’t played it, do yourself a favor and track it down immediately.

Now we find ourselves in the twilight of the Nintendo DS’s reign, and HAL returns once again with an absolute knockout release. Kirby Mass Attack, like its cousin Canvas Curse, does away with a traditional control scheme and opts instead for stylus-driven control. Thankfully, the wizards at HAL superbly integrated this type of control scheme into engaging and intelligent level design and aesthetics, and the end result is one of the most interesting, innovative, and fun games to hit the Nintendo DS in quite some time.

The standout feature of Mass Attack is that you don’t just control one Kirby, but you can take charge of up to ten of the cute little pink guys at once. The game opens with a mercifully-short story sequence that explains all this – Kirby was maxin’ and relaxin’ one fine afternoon, when out of nowhere some bad guy shows up and blasts Kirby with a lightning bolt, causing him to split into ten little versions of himself. Not willing to sit idly by, the Kirbys embark on a mission to clean that villain’s clock before he can wreak havoc upon the land.

If you’re worried that controlling up to ten Kirbys at a time sounds like a nightmare, you can relax. As HAL already demonstrated with Canvas Curse, they are quite capable of creating a full-fledged Kirby game with stylus-only control, and the development team is on par once again with Mass Attack. The game’s first few stages do an outstanding job of easing players into the action, too, helping to ensure control becomes intuitive and second-nature. Just a few stages into the game and you’ll be a master at controlling your little Kirby army.

Just in case you want the full scoop on how the controls work, here are the details. Hold the stylus near the sides of the screen and your horde of Kirbys will move toward it. Double tap anywhere on the screen and they’ll sprint to that location and stay there. Tap an enemy and your Kirby team will group up and begin to pummel your foe. Hold the stylus over your gang of Kirbys and they’ll cling together, allowing you to guide them along for a limited period of time. Flick the stylus to send individual Kirbys soaring in the direction you want so they can attack an adversary or crush an obstacle. All things considered, the controls work beautifully and there was nary a moment during my playthrough where any of my inputs felt imprecise or unresponsive.

You begin the game (as well as each of the game’s major areas) with only one Kirby, though you can add another member to your team for each 100 pieces of fruit you eat. Fruit is abundant around the stages, so it doesn’t take too long to fill out your squad. This is good news, because each stage has a requirement for the number of Kirbys required to enter it. With that in mind, trying to keep ten members in your group at all times is recommended. Thankfully this isn’t too difficult to do, and you can even revive fallen Kirbys if you’re quick enough. If a Kirby gets hit once, its color changes from pink to blue. If it gets hit a second time, it turns into the most adorable angel you’ve ever seen and begins its ascent to the heavens. Fling one of your living Kirbys at its fallen brother and it will pull it to earth and turn it back into a blue Kirby. So heartwarming!

As with the other Kirby games, picking up a piece of candy gives you invincibility. In Mass Attack, the Kirbys become two to three times as large as they normally are, and you can smash blocks and other obstacles that were previously impenetrable. It’s a little reminiscent of getting the Super Star in Super Paper Mario, though not quite as chaotic. Rather, if you see a piece of candy in Mass Attack, you can make a safe bet that there is some hidden goody nearby that is otherwise inaccessible without that invincible status.

The excellent stylus-driven control would be worthless if the game itself wasn’t fun to play. But, my friends, I am pleased to report that HAL did not disappoint. Mass Attack is an absolute blast and is stuffed with content. HAL were on a creative high when they developed Mass Attack, it seems, and the game is bursting with fresh ideas. Just as Nintendo’s EAD Tokyo team took the idea of Mario in space and ran with it for the outstanding Mario Galaxy games, HAL thought long and hard about what they could do with Mass Attack’s concept and control scheme, and then built incredible levels that present new experiences at every turn. In that sense, I would argue Mass Attack is to the Kirby franchise what Galaxy is to Mario.

The game’s dozens of stages are lengthy and worth replaying in order to find all of their secrets. On top of that, the level design is extremely diverse and I anxiously kept playing just to see what came next. I was particularly fond of one stage that takes place in a giant hot air balloon. Moving your Kirby crew from one side of the carriage to the other steers the balloon as it drifts upward. The DS’s top screen displays a zoomed-out view of the action in order to help you plot your course, while the bottom screen is where the action takes place. During your ascent, unwelcome enemies board your craft, and your Kirbys will need to take them out while still maneuvering around so as to guide the balloon out of the path of dangerous obstacles. This type of clever level design is present throughout the entirety of the game, and it kept me engaged from beginning to end.

Boss battles in Mass Attack are exceptional. As with the level design, the thought and creativity that went into the boss sequences is admirable. One of the game’s early bosses, Whispy Woods, is a familiar foe in every Kirby game, though for possibly the first time ever he’s not a pushover, and he’s got some tricks up his sleeve that had a longtime fan of the series such as myself grinning from ear to ear. There is an abundance of bosses to face in Mass Attack—more than I can remember from any previous Kirby game—and they’re all pretty neat. You’ll want to face them more than once.

Mass Attack also shines in its presentation. HAL obviously put a lot of care and effort into crafting the aesthetics, and though at first glance Mass Attack may not blow you away, it is filled with subtle details in both the visual and sound departments. The game world is vivid, detailed, and diverse, and both the Kirbys and their foes all animate smoothly and with a great deal of emotion and expression. When one of your Kirbys gets shocked by an electric fish, for example, his eyes bulge and you can almost feel the extreme discomfort the poor little guy is experiencing. The game’s music is also a breath of fresh air, and while some of the series’ long-standing tunes are present, much of the game’s soundtrack is new. I loved the choir arrangements on one of the desert-inspired songs. Quite often I found myself using the game’s unlockable Music Player to enjoy some of my favorite tracks.

I definitely need to take a moment to expand upon Mass Attack’s unlockables as well. In this era of publishers finding ways to nickel and dime gamers at every instance, being provided with so much bonus content seems unreal. There are a handful of smaller mini-games, such as an addictive whack-a-mole clone, but the stars of the show are the meatier bonus games. Three bonus games in particular stood out, and I could imagine them easily being released as standalone eShop content.

One is a pinball game that should make fans of Kirby’s Pinball Land squeal with delight. Another is a series of RPG-like battles featuring timing-based attacks, reminiscent of the types of power meters usually found in golf videogames. And finally, there’s my personal favorite, which is a six-stage top-down shooter. It’s actually better than some recent standalone shooters gamers have paid big bucks to import from Japan. For some players, the bonus content alone may be more than worth the price of admission.

I’m sure some snooty gamers will find fault with Mass Attack though. I can just hear someone whining about the fact that Kirby can’t copy enemies’ attack abilities like he can in most other games in the series. Or I can imagine people complaining about the atypical control scheme and lamenting that they’d rather just use a d-pad and buttons. Oh well. You can’t please everyone, I suppose. But in my opinion, Kirby Mass Attack is an absolute masterpiece. Just as Canvas Curse served as the Nintendo DS’s ideal kickstarter, Mass Attack is the ultimate swansong. The game is practically perfect in every respect, and therefore deserves a score that echoes the number of Kirbys in the game. Thank you, HAL Laboratory, for ensuring the Nintendo DS goes out with a bang.

HAL Laboratory


Nintendo DS


Release Date
September 19, 2011

*A copy of this title was purchased by Gamesugar for review

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  • Jamie Love

    I need to pick this up stat. 

    Interesting fact, HAL Labs has my favorite logo of ever