Kirby Mass Attack arrives first on the existing DS next month, marking what's probably one of Nintendo's last meaningful contributions to the handheld that transformed the company. Considering Kirby himself debuted on the NES during the period where most of Nintendo's efforts had turned towards the SNES (Kirby's Dream Land in 1992, followed by Kirby's Adventure in 1993), it's rather fitting.
It's notable in a much more profound way, too.
Kirby Canvas Curse remains one of the first and best instances of stylus-controlled gameplay on the DS. There really was nothing like it, and it quickly underscored what was so different about Nintendo's new conceptualization of video games. Sadly, very few other games, even ones produced by Nintendo, really expanded on the groundwork laid by Kirby Canvas Curse. Except, of course, when Nintendo decided to circle back to Kirby.
I played a few stages of a nearly-finished translated version of Kirby Mass Attack (it was released in Japan earlier this month) a few days back on the beast of a machine that is the Nintendo DSi XL. You forget how monstrous that thing is until you've gone a few months without playing around with one.
None of the buttons on the DS have any impact on gameplay in Kirby Mass Attack; it's all stylus, all the time. Given the superfluous nature of most games' stylus use, the outright reliance here is refreshing and liberating. You have touch-based control over not just one Kirby but potentially 10 of them at once. Yes, 10. There's a story that I won't discuss because there's really no reason to get into it. It justifies Kirby being split into pieces or something--I was getting flashes of Lord Voldemort. Basically, collect fruit, convert said fruit into points, then collect 100 points to add another Kirby to your lineup. You max out at 10, and besides the interesting effects on gameplay, you'll need more Kirbys to unlock more and more stages.
Did I just get into a story element of a Kirby game? My apologies.
Tap on the screen to have your Kirbys walk in one direction, tap another to reverse course. Double tap to run. Hold the stylus over them to initiate the same drag-the-stylus mechanic from Kirby Canvas Curse. Even in situations where the game didn't call for using this feature, I found myself yanking them across the screen with pointless nostalgia. It ended up killing off a bunch of my guys, and now I'm left to wonder whether "killing" is acceptable nomenclature in the Kirbyverse. To avoid certain death, you'll have to flick individual Kirbys around the screen to instigate attacks against enemies. Sometimes, you flick them and they attack automatically. Other times, clicking the enemy will speed up the process.
When you've maxed out your team to the full slate of Kirbys, the whole process can feel a bit unruly and chaotic at times. After missing a jump for the third time, you may find yourself pining for a d-pad.
But we should both resist that urge. Controlling the chaos became more and more manageable with time, and as the moment approached that mastery seemed in reach, the DS was taken from my hands.
Fortunately, the finished game is only weeks out.
It's good to have another quality DS game. It's even better to have a spiritual sequel to Kirby Canvas Curse. Welcome back, friend.