As I start this latest cutesy adventure with the adorable pink blob Kirby, I’ve just returned from a journey of my own – and with an unwelcome stowaway, in the form of whatever variant of Covid I picked up on the trip. As Kirby is whisked away to an overgrown world that looks eerily like a post-apocalyptic Earth, the skies outside my flat turn an ominous grey. Happily, Kirby’s colourful capers prove to be just the tonic I need. From an opening sequence in which our perky pink blob transforms into a car and cruises along to a Japanese pop song (complete with karaoke-ready lyrics) to the bouncing ball’s signature level-completion moonwalk, Kirby and the Forgotten Land is a delight from start to finish.
What I really enjoyed about this kid-friendly adventure is that Nintendo gets endearingly weird. Throughout the 10-hour romp, there are several moments where I have to double check I’m not having a Covid-induced fever dream. One moment I’ve become a walking vending machine, leading a gaggle of happily waddling ducklings back to their concerned mother, the next I’m thrown into a post-apocalyptic shopping mall, cleaving snarling creatures in two with a gigantic sword.
It’s this utterly bizarre dichotomy that keeps me interested, despite the absence of challenge. Where Nintendo’s perky pink mascot jumped and swallowed his way through expectedly bright, abstract levels in previous versions, this cutesy take on a post-apocalyptic wasteland abandons all that for overgrown theme parks and eerily abandoned research facilities. They’re landscapes that feel less like Mario, and more as if they have been torn from the code of 2017’s trippy Nier: Automata.
By the time you reach the end, things escalate sharply for our poor pink pal. The Forgotten Land’s finale feels closer to something you’d expect from Final Fantasy. From scaling overgrown tower blocks to navigating ghost-ridden haunted house rides in a creature-infested theme park, it feels endlessly inventive.
After decades of fun but fairly forgettable adventures, Kirby is emerging from Mario’s shadow. The Forgotten Land has surprisingly cinematic flair, and many of the levels are broken up by impressively slick cutscenes. A rip-roaring orchestral soundtrack also helps elevate this adorable hero’s outing from his usual mid-budget fare; it stands shoulder to shoulder with Mario Kart 8’s brassy bangers.
You can play the entire game in co-op, too – given that I was ridden with the ’rona, though, I bounced, jumped and swallowed alone. Still, it says a lot about The Forgotten Land’s charms that even Covid didn’t kirb my enthusiasm. If you’re looking for a sliver of joy in bleak times, Nintendo always delivers.