Kirby Mass Attack

Nintendo DS
rated E / $29.99
rel. September 2011

GOOD: full of surprises and bonuses

BAD: some rainbow medals hard to grab

FINAL: You NEED this game.
5 out of 5 stars

Courtesy Nintendo of America

Pink puffball Kirby has been Nintendo's testing ground for new gameplay concepts. Although he debuted with the unique ability to absorb enemy abilities, he has seen action as everything from a minigame host to a literal pinball. Last year's "Kirby's Epic Yarn" saw Kirby take on the form of a morphable circle of string. In "Kirby Mass Attack," new to the Nintendo DS line, he sees his boldest and most bizarre form yet - as one Kirby split into ten little Kirbys.

The visual is suitably ridiculous. Ten Kirbys will follow your stylus' every move, climbing all over each other like a heap of kittens. Click on an apple and the first Kirby to the fruit eats it. Click on a floating platform and the gang will form a pigpile to weigh it down. Of course, things get brutal when you click on one the game's many bright-eyed, you'd-think-they're-too-cute-to-be-bad enemies: the Kirby mob clings to the offender and pummels it into extinction.

"Kirby Mass Attack" is the story of Kirby trying to defeat the skull-faced bad guy that split him up, but you'll have so much fun manipulating the squad that you'll begin to wonder if you actually want to bring his unification quest to an end.

Each Kirby in the pack can also be individually tossed around, allowing you to assist in steep climbs and strategic boss battles. Each Kirby can take two hits before he floats off to puff heaven, but, in a brilliant move, you can have one of the surviving Kirbys pulls a ghost back to Earth to bring him back to life. This makes the hairier fights a chaotic mélange of heaving Kirbys at both the enemy and at the angelic dead.

While Kirby may not bring his usual vacuum-imitating powers to the table, at least one Kirby tradition is still in force: hidden collectibles. Each level contains three to five hidden medals, usually stashed in hard-to-reach treasure chests or at the end of secret paths. Many are locked behind routes that require a particular number of Kirbys (most commonly the maximum amount, ten) meaning you have to make sure you keep your troupe healthy.

Some of the hidden medals has a rainbow shimmer to it, and every single one of these (one per level) must be found in order to beat the game's final boss rush. Naturally, a few of these rainbow medals are tough to find, but most of the game focuses on exploration and Kirby-survival rather than frustrating replays of troublesome patches.

"Kirby Mass Attack" also enjoys fine level variety in both gameplay and visuals. Several areas take place amid dust clouds that create a silhouette effect. About two-thirds through the game, you'll hit several levels in a row that are more like controlled minigames. These little changeups keep your adventure fresh. To top it all off, each level can be replayed to chase high scores, as every chomped fruit and stomped baddie counts for your end-of-level score.

But most astonishing is the amount of bonus content. Gradually unlocked by collecting those hidden coins, "Kirby Mass Attack" includes a shocking assortment of extra games and modes. There's a pinball game, a space shooter, a reflex-based battle game… and while these are simple distractions compared to the main game, the sheer number and quality of them turns "Mass Attack" into a beefy, time-sucking package.

"Kirby Mass Attack" represents the Nintendo DS in full flower just as it hands the portable baton to the newer, flashier 3DS. You get excellent stylus control, gorgeously silly graphics, lengthy and challenging adventure, plus plenty of sidegames. Kirby may not be the biggest brand in Nintendo's stable, but the pink powerhouse is probably the most flexible and surprising of them all.

This review is based on product that was supplied by the game's publisher.