44 Reviews liked by fsh
Bottom line: it’s fine. My 8 year old nephew 100%’d this game twice, and that feels like all that should matter. But - this game makes me uncomfortable. Because my nephew did not 100% Super Mario Odyssey, or any game before this, which provides the lens I need to dig into this game’s funny feeling.
That funny feeling started as soon as the game booted up and asked me to share my data. I know many games do this, but seeing it in the context of Kirby planted this seed in my head of “market testing.” That seed blossomed as I played the game and thought about how this game was marketed, how it reviewed, and it’s now franchise record sales. There are so many touchpoints that made me feel like I was playing game product as much as an actual game.
Forgotten Land’s whole gimmick, of Mouthful Mode, feels like a reaction to Mario Odyssey as much as an imitation. People responded well to the weirdness of Mario becoming a photo-realistic T-Rex and chilling in New York City. And by well, I mean twitter loved it. And by loved it, I mean it had high engagement. The weirdness was gif-able. My real world friends are still weirded out by the real people in Odyssey’s New York City. (I hate them!)
And so we get Carby. Carby is weird. It’s transgressive. It’s meme-able in the same way Mario’s capture mechanic was. Making characters that can glom onto any real world thing or object is marketing genius for building unexpected associations with your character and product. The merchandising potential is high while having to maintain few new character trademarks. Gimmicky transformations are nothing new to Kirby. Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Planet Robobot featured plenty. But something about the way they are used in Forgotten Land put me on edge. And I think that’s because the basic gameplay of playing as Kirby in the Forgotten Land is boring.
The best Kirby games have smooth movement and a wide range of character actions for Kirby that make it fun to explore his otherwise simple levels. Transitioning to 3D in Forgotten Land came with some compromises that took away freedom of movement without offering substitutes. Kirby can no longer fly vertically infinitely. It’s perfectly viable to fly over levels in most 2D Kirby games, but the act of mashing the jump button gets tiring enough that you’ll eventually fall back to properly engaging with the game. Kirby no longer can run. The input for doing so in 2D was a double tap, something that can’t be registered as easily in 3D. So instead of adding another button for running, Kirby’s stuck on one speed.
As a result of these restrictions, the level design is plain. The camera lets you tickle it, but the levels are linear enough you’ll forget the option exists. Walk around, projectile spam with the same-y feeling copy abilities at enemies who mostly stand around giving the stink eye. Wait for a gap in canon ball blasts, hop over a bottomless pit. After enough of these elements have been remixed to feel like a game level, it usually ends with a Mouthful Mode transformation sequence. Yes, its funny when Kirby becomes a vending machine or a set of stairs, but you’re kinda wandering through barren levels getting pointless trinkets until something funny happens and then the level ends. Because if the level ends on something funny, that’s what you remember, so it must have been a fun time, yeah?
Forgotten Land reminded me of the difference between how critics and customers play games. Critics binge games, so love tangible details that are easy to write about. Variety and novelty work well on them because they are unlikely to replay levels, and games with lots of different powers and meme-able moments are easier to remember and describe to fill space. For me, it feels like the set pieces and gimmicks are to distract from the fact the base interactivity of the game character just isn't that fun or engaging.
Nothing sparks my intuition for a game’s insecurity like checklists, and Forgotten Land is brazen. Finishing any level immediately shoves a scorecard in your face with everything you did and did not accomplish. I appreciate games that let you track trinkets, but the presentation belies the intent. Unlike Mario Odyssey that hid its checklist in a menu you had to seek out, Forgotten Land is constantly making you aware of your “progress.” The main pause menu has a big completion percentage taking up more screen space than anything else. And to finish a world, you need to have accomplished a certain number of checklist items to challenge that world’s boss. These multiple systems in place guiding you to think about playing a level again, mere seconds after you’ve finished it the first time, irk me.
These systems irk me because they exist alongside other systems that feel even more sinister. Not in a vacuum, but because this is a Kirby game. Kirby can upgrade his copy abilities, but to do so, requires you find a trinket and amass quantities of two in-game currencies. One of these currencies is earned in separate challenge rooms from the main game levels. It feels so disconnected from the experience of playing the game one might ponder, “why couldn’t the hidden trinket just… be the ability upgrade, if we had to have one?” And the answer to that is to normalize children to the kind of game environments that have microtransactions.
Forgotten Land does not have microtransactions. However, it does have a “history of Kirby” book containing info about previous Kirby games. Notable, however, is it only shows Kirby games that are currently available for purchase on the 3DS, Wii U, and Nintendo Switch systems. Many of which are free-to-play spin-off games with currencies, upgrades, and menus very similar to the ones found in Forgotten Land - except these currencies cost real-world money. Notably absent from this picture book are older games like Kirby 64 and Kirby Super Star, which contain most of the inspiration in enemy and level design that Forgotten Land is aping.
This context also explains something odd that bothered me about the gacha-style collectible figures in Forgotten Land. (Another system that is pointless and dumb in any video game and is here being used to normalize gambling in a children’s game.) Figurines of enemies and bosses have pointless fluff Pokedex descriptions, but only those introduced in Forgotten Land. Series mainstays have no descriptions, lest they mention their origins and engender curiosity for these older, self-contained, non-monetizable games. (A departure from the historically themed collectables from the 3DS games, I might add.)
All of this modern gaming garbage - the achievements, the crafting, the currencies, the gacha, the base building, the incessantly chittering NPCs, the extreme number of reminders to upgrade, the data collection, the ads - I just hate it. And I know it works. It wouldn’t be here if it didn’t work.
When my nephew played Mario Odyssey, he’d find a challenge he thought was fun, and do it over and over again. He didn’t care that he didn’t get a moon. He didn’t need to collect every dumb hat, or scour the world for every trinket. The gameplay caught his interest, and the menus stayed out of his way. With Kirby, I know that isn’t the case, which makes me go from “wow, he really loved Forgotten Land!” to a sense of unease I can’t quantify.
In my rating system, 2 stars represents an average, C rank game. Kirby and the Forgotten Land is… fine. If you’re the type of person who only has time to play a level or two after work, it’s fine. If you are trying to get someone into gaming, it’s fine. (The co-op sucks. (Why no upgrades for Bandana Waddle Dee?)) But it’s not good. It’s expensive without feeling quality. I have no nostalgia for it, but Kirby Super Star is still the best Kirby game on the Switch. I find this expensively-produced mediocrity so weird.
Someone worked very hard on vector graphic animations for every level, (something that also feels like a response to Odyssey’s travel stickers), but the levels are so insipid in concept that the decals do nothing to help you remember what happens within them. The sound design lacks punch, relying on sound effects that have been in use for decades without expanding the soundscape to match the graphical fidelity of a 3D player space. The main theme song is hummable not due to its musical merits, but because it is reused and remixed in so many environments. One rendition has a guitar “wail” so embarrassing it conjures to mind parodies of Christian rock.
There is no greatness in Kirby and the Forgotten Land. There is no pulse that implies the work of great artists, but plenty of fingerprints left by corporate entities. I can more easily imagine the meetings of suits discussing what transformations to be shown in a Nintendo Direct than I can whoever drew the terrible boss designs. It feels like a project not striving to make something good, but a well-managed, well-funded project that allowed its average minds ample time to finish their tasks. I hope none of this nonsense represents KIrby in the next Super Smash Bros. game.
iS: internal section
After 10 years I'm starting to think the fact that a serial abuser, four groomers/pedos, an e-beggar, an alt-right chud, and two actual sociopaths in my life all loved osu! might not be a coincidence.
Also when I watched some official osu! tournament in like 2013-2014 on Twitch, the presenter accidentally went to their desktop and the background was some
loli in a bikini so there's that. I guess that's not very surprising though since every other map has scantily-clad lolis as the background.
At least I had fun for the thousands of hours I put into this oh wait no I didn't, good riddance, give me back 250GB+ of hard drive space on your way out
"You don't have to be insane to kill someone. You just have to think you're right." - Yoko Taro, Creative director of NieR and NieR Replicant Ver.1.22.
NieR (2010) was a very depressing game: It centered around the dusk of humanity, slowly dying out to an incurable disease as monsters roamed the countryside. More often than not, the quests our hero would embark on ended in tragedy, or in one extreme case, with the game itself seemingly mocking you for being the altruistic hero expected of the genre. The party is full of misfits, outcast from society, born into unfair circumstances beyond their control. Halfway through the game, the world itself began to feel bleak. Ugly. Cynical.
NieR (2010) was a game about compassion. The world was bleak, yes, but the people in it found the will to continue because of the people around them. Our hero, who's undying love for his family drives his every action, even when the world has kicked him while he was down, until every scrap of altruism and goodwill is used to justify his violent and self-destructive actions. Our party of misfits, who find true companionship in each other, even if they are all deeply flawed individuals. The people and townsfolk who still find it in them to look out for those closest to them, even in the roughest of times. The Shades you slaughter wholesale, who may be more like the party than any of them would ever like to believe. NieR was unique in that it's condemnation of violence did not start and end with the act itself, but rather the fact that everyone has something to fight for, whether you realize it or not. The horror comes from how easy it is to dehumanize, to dissociate from the slaughter, to kill, when you truly believe you are just in your every action.
Ver.1.22 at its core, is still the same game it was 11 years ago. I felt for the characters like I did with the original, every emotional beat hit just as hard as it hit in the 2010 original, and the new story content slotted into the existing story perfectly. But I worry what Ver.1.22 means for the franchise going forward.
The characters have been dolled up and made more accurate to the original illustrations, and yet the charm of uncanny people in an uncanny world (even if it was unintentional) was lost. The combat has been made silky-smooth like Automata, with fancy lock-on and big sweeping flourishes, and yet the heavy, brutal nature and weight of the original's combat that really sold the impact and viscera has been lost for the sake of flashy extravagance. The soundtrack has been souped up with more instruments, additional passages and a cinematic flair, and yet the original's sense of aggression, quiet and intimacy have been lost (looking at you "Shadowlord"). NieR was admittedly rough around the edges, and not every change was bad necessarily, but NieR has been made to conform to its much more successful younger sibling Automata, and in doing so, has lost some of it's original edge and feel. It's the Yakuza Kiwami to Automata's Yakuza Zero.
Ver.1.22 is no Demon Souls' (PS5), it's no Silent Hill HD Collection, it's no Conker Live & Reloaded. It's still a fantastic game, and a great way to enjoy the story of NieR and its characters. But in our era of re-releases and remasters, we're so blinded by the ideal of progress that we seem to be losing sight of what made our games unique in the first place.