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Kirby: Mass Attack preview: Kirby's other avalanche


For the first few minutes of my Kirby: Mass Attack demo, I felt bad. I felt bad for the Kirby series for leading to this failed experiment. I felt bad for the DS for having something so irritating as its swan song. I felt bad for the poor booth attendant who was tethered to this game and forced to stand around as people played it all day. And I felt bad for myself for playing this.

By the end of the demo, I was totally, unreservedly into it. It built up steadily from something awkward to something elegant. I still felt bad for the woman corded to that demo DS, though.

Gallery: Kirby: Mass Attack (E3 2011) | 23 Photos

The Kirby series has been a testbed for weird ideas for a long time, with results like Kirby Tilt 'n Tumble, Kirby Canvas Curse and Kirby's Epic Yarn. This DS game carries on that tradition, by being a fully stylus-controlled sidescrolling platformer in which you can have up to ten Kirbies on screen at a time. What?

You move Kirby around by clicking on a destination, or holding the stylus down in a direction. You swipe over him to make him jump (and break blocks), and can click on an enemy to make Kirby grab onto it and fight. You can also click on objects to make Kirby grab onto them, like giant hanging roots that can be pulled down to reveal hidden powerup items.

Those powerup items are mostly limited to food. Kirby can find giant apples hanging on trees, left behind by enemies, inside hidden blocks, etc. Each one fills up a meter a small amount; other food items will fill it up more, with a Maxim Tomato filling it immediately to 100%, at which point ... another Kirby appears! You can have up to ten running around at a time, all controlled by the same pointing and clicking. And because it can be difficult to swipe ten Kirbies and make them jump up the same cliff, you can hold the stylus over the group, pick up the whole coterie and drag it around.

With many Kirbies, it becomes possible to pull down heavier roots, destroy more blocks at a time, and overwhelm enemies in a really adorable massacre. With one Kirby, the game feels like a slightly awkward touch-controlled platformer; with ten, it's choreographed, wholesale destruction of the Kirby universe by a gang of pink puffballs. HAL Laboratory is aware of the thrill that comes from the snowball-like buildup from one Kirby to ten. As the stage progressed, an ever-increasing amount of fruit pickups were available, so that it took a few minutes to build up to two Kirbies, a bit less to get the third, and then my Kirby gang cascaded into a full lineup in a far briefer time. And just as my menagerby increased in number, my smile increased in rictus-like intensity. Which ... probably wasn't comfortable for that put-upon booth attendant ...

Nintendo is working on producing copies of Kirby (enclosed in copies of Kirby: Mass Attack) for all interested parties for release on September 19.

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