The Nintendo Switch has a potent library for family game nights, but Kirby and the Forgotten Land is a cut above the rest when it comes to introducing your kids to the hobby.
Nintendo’s pink, spherical icon debuted thirty years ago in Kirby’s Dream Land on the Game Boy, a simple adventure game that was designed to be “a great game anyone could enjoy,” accessible for young or otherwise inexperienced gamers. Since then his series of games has largely kept this philosophy in mind, welcoming new generations with fulfilling, but not necessarily difficult, experiences.
I can personally attest to the effectiveness of this approach. Kirby’s Adventure on the NES was probably the first game that I beat front to back by myself. I was consumed by it for a brief time, especially as I neared the final boss, and conquering that ultimate challenge did a lot to solidify my interest in games for life. For years, it remained one of my favourite games to pop in the NES for an afternoon.
But it’s the series’ latest entry, this year’s Kirby and the Forgotten Land, that might truly achieve the mission Kirby’s Dream Land set out on three decades ago. It’s not only a great game that should be enjoyable to a lot of people, it offers a phenomenal way to develop your children’s skills and confidence.
The premise is simple: some unknown threat has whisked Kirby and the other inhabitants of his homeworld, the Waddle Dees, to a new place, seemingly in the ruins of a civilization like our own; there he meets the spritely Elfilin, and the two embark on a quest to stop the bad guys and free the Waddle Dees. For the first time in the series, levels are fully 3D. Kirby’s signature ability to inhale enemies and copy their abilities returns with an added twist—sometimes he can inhale certain large, inanimate objects like cars or vending machines, and use the unique skills they impart to solve puzzles or bypass obstacles.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land is one of the best-designed entries in the franchise, if not in the entire Nintendo Switch library. Each level ends with retrieving a cage full of Waddle Dees; charge through the stage, and you’ll eventually set a few free. However, there are other Waddle Dees hidden in secret areas or behind challenges, and even more can be freed by performing certain tasks unique to that level. The game doesn’t tell you all of these objectives at first, leaving you to experiment and search, but will eventually reveal them if you replay the level a couple of times.
These challenges are hidden in such a way that they aren’t obvious if you’re sprinting through. With a little observation and thought, however, you’ll notice a small hint that there’s something at the edge of the screen, leading to a whole new path. The game doesn’t make them blatant, but after a while you start to anticipate where new secrets might be, and the challenges ramp up very gradually through the main game (and there’s an Easy Mode if things are still too hairy).
At just about any time, a second player can jump in as Bandana Waddle Dee, one of Kirby’s main allies. If Kirby gets knocked out and a life is lost, you get sent back to the most recent checkpoint, but if Bandana gets knocked out, he just respawns in a few moments. He can’t copy abilities, but he has a spear with a versatile moveset, and his strength scales with Kirby’s. This makes him great for kids to play without having the pressure of restarting a level because they died.
When I brought this game home, my daughter (6 years old at the time) was immediately caught up in the cuteness and all. But when I handed her a second controller, and she stepped into Bandana Waddle Dee’s shoes, a switch flipped, and we were immediately having a ton of fun. We’ve played the Yoshi games’ co-op modes, but those can be frustrating affairs even with the easy mode enabled—it’s too easy to get in each other’s way. Kirby and the Forgotten Land is much more forgiving.
In the past I’ve seen her struggle with controlling the character’s movement with the left thumb and pressing buttons for specific actions with the right; at times it’s like watching an older person hunt-and-peck to type. This has even happened in 2D games like Super Mario Bros., and Animal Crossing New Horizons was previously the height of her capabilities in this regard. (Isn’t it odd how kids can ace tablet controls from the time they’re two, but can’t have their thumbs multitask to move and jump at the same time?)
“She got to learn the ropes with no consequences for failure, while sharing in the experience and victories.”
But with Kirby and the Forgotten Land, all that changed. There was a slight adjustment period, and every so often she might get overwhelmed if too much happened on screen, but otherwise she got pretty adept at steering Bandana. If all else fails, the second player will transport to the first player/Kirby’s side if they fall behind.
As a team, we made quick work of the main game in short chunks. By being the sidekick, all the responsibility was lifted from her shoulders. She got to learn the ropes with no consequences for failure, while sharing in the experience and victories.
That well-sculpted game design escalates subtly through Kirby and the Forgotten Land‘s main game, as does the narrative, as—without spoiling anything—Kirby is given fresh motivation, and a bigger picture takes shape in the last zone. It all builds to a challenging and fulfilling final boss, by kids’ standards, and starts to venture into some spooky, otherworldly territory.
But the end of Kirby and the Forgotten Land isn’t truly the end; a new set of challenges opens up postgame, mashing elements of each level into a gauntlet of remixed challenges. Clearing this postgame and the truly epic final, final boss that followed with my daughter has been the highlight of my year in gaming so far. Through it all she felt the heat of the increased challenge but was never demoralized, as I could keep her in the game by playing as Kirby.
We would unwind after each session by exploring Kirby and the Forgotten Land‘s hub, Waddle Dee Town. A handful of mini-games and an arena mode open as you progress, and there are four series of gachapon-style figurines to collect, offering a relaxing change of pace to round out the whole package.
“Clearing this postgame and the truly epic final, final boss that followed with my daughter has been the highlight of my year in gaming so far.”
Since we completed the game 100% we’ve checked out 2018’s Kirby Star Allies, which was similarly fulfilling but not quite up to the same high bar of accessibility and design. Going back to Yoshi’s Crafted World‘s multiplayer feels almost competitive by comparison now. But thanks to Kirby and the Forgotten Land, we have a new activity to share, and we keep looking for new co-op opportunities. She’s even taken the player one spot to control Kirby instead, and her control has improved considerably.
Thanks to an extremely well-paced design and co-operative mode that allows kids to be involved in the game without being either coddled or bullied by it, as well as a vivid world that should make players of all ages smile, I cannot recommend Kirby and the Forgotten Land highly enough for parents who want to share this hobby with their young kids. They’ll hone their motor skills, reflexes, and strategic thinking by walking in Bandana Waddle Dee’s shoes, and you’ll have a great time bonding via teamwork.