Earlier today we got our first chance since the chaos of E3 to actually sit down and play Kirby Mass Attack in a quiet room at Nintendo's offices. If you haven't yet made the plunge and invested in a 3DS, you'll be pleased to hear that Mass Attack comes out for plain ol' DS this September and looks great from what we've seen so far. The gameplay is quite a departure from the classic Kirby we know and love though.
Despite how different it looks gameplay-wise, we immediately had high hopes for Mass Attack, mainly because Canvas Curse, which was also rather different from the usual Kirby, set the bar for excellent stylus controls back in 2005. Like Canvas Curse, you don't control Kirby directly in Mass Attack, but rather you direct where he goes by tapping or moving the stylus in front of him.
Here's where Mass Attack is totally different though: you aren't just directing one Kirby, but up to ten of them at a time. As you progress through the level, you collect fruit that fills a meter, and every time the meter fills another Kirby joins your team. Your stylus makes a star at the point where it touches the screen, and you can either tap it to direct the Kirby team forward or hold it to create a star that the Kirbies will all jump onto and take for a ride wherever you drag the stylus. Dragging the stylus makes a line on the screen similar to Canvas Curse where you can see the path the Kirby star will take, and the rainbow colors, starting at purple and followed by blue, green, yellow, orange and finally red, tell you how long before it runs out. You can also flick the stylus to get Kirby to jump and destroy obstacles.
Above: Kirby's numerical advantage seems unsportsmanlike at times, but in a good way
What makes the stylus controls work so well is that you don't have to micromanage each Kirby – when you tap on an enemy, whichever Kirby is free will take care of it for you, so you don't have to tap a Kirby then tap the enemy and possibly accidentally cancel out another action. And although the build we played was in Japanese, even without reading the text in the tutorial the controls were intuitive.
Instead of a health meter, each Kirby has one hit point before he turns blue, and if he gets hit again he turns into a little angel and starts to fly away, at which point you can save him by flicking another Kirby at him to bring him back to the group. A tomato item will add another Kirby to your crew instead of healing you, and so in place of a healing item you'll find hoops here and there that turn all your blue Kirbies back to pink when you jump through it.
As you'd guess, the goal is to complete each stage with the maximum complement of ten Kirbies, but we also saw parts of the level where you need at least a certain amount to access some areas. We saw vines hanging down at various spots within the area we played, and some of them required the weight of at least five Kirbies to pull down successfully. Each Kirby definitely has his own weight too, and as our squad grew we could definitely feel the difference in heaviness as they all piled on to the star to move around.
So despite the lack of the usual Kirby trappings – no inhaling enemies to absorb their powers and no holding Kirby's breath to float around endlessly – we're really optimistic about how Mass Attack plays so far. Looks for more details as we get closer to its September release.
Jul 11, 2011