Kirby and The Amazing Mirror : Through A Kirby, Darkly
Of all the major Nintendo franchises (Sorry F-Zero fans, I ain’t counting that as a major franchise), Kirby is probably the one I’ve had the least experience with. Now, don’t get me wrong - Kirby is cute and all, there’s no denying that, but his franchise is just one that’s never really clicked with me. Dream Land 2, Return to Dream Land, Epic Yarn… I’m not sure if it’s the low difficulty or just the style of platformer that Kirby is, but I’ve never been more than lukewarm on the games. My partner, who is a huge Kirby fan, told me that one of the ‘weirder’ Kirby games might be more my speed, and recommended Kirby and the Amazing Mirror to me, saying it was almost totally unlike any other Kirby experience thus far. I went in expecting another breezing, middling platformer, but by god, this really is something different.
Kirby and the Amazing Mirror has two notable diversions from the normal, side-scrolling gameplay of the greater Kirby franchise. Firstly, the entire game takes place in a gigantic maze, divided into nine distinct zones, each of which has a boss and a piece of the titular Amazing Mirror hidden within. Rather then attacking the zones in a sequential order, after the initial zone the game adapts into a quasi-open world format, with each of the zones criss crossing into one another - Kirby is only limited by solving mini-puzzles, and having access to certain Copy Abilities - which, to you non-Kirby fans, is when Kirby eats a certain enemy, and gains their powers. I’ve heard people describe The Amazing Mirror as a Metroidvania, but it really just feels like a more explorable, open-air Kirby game then anything else, as you really don’t get any new, permanent, abilities across the game’s playtime, sans a couple of extra health sections from chests. Sidebar - can Nintendo make some more Metroidvanias, please? They know how good Metroid Dread is, just give the people what they want. The other major shakeup - at least of the time - is the fact that Kirby has been divided into four different Kirbys. Now, for the average player, who I assume will be playing this game solo, our main Kirby - Kirby Prime, if you will - will be the one the player takes control of, though he can literally call the other Kirbys on the phone to come and assist him in fights. But if you were one of the rare people to have a Game Boy Advance, a Link Cable… and three other people who owned GBAs and The Amazing Mirror, you could team up and have four players, concurrently exploring the greater maze and working together to solve puzzles and find the shards of the Amazing Mirror. I can’t imagine many people took advantage of this system, but it’s fascinating nonetheless.
The basic gameplay of The Amazing Mirror is pretty similar to the rest of the greater Kirby franchise, just simply retooled for the open-ish world format. Kirby will be charging, jumping, and eating his way through the nine zones of the world, making use of absorbing enemies to gain their abilities through his own Copy ability. Each zone is laid in a grid-like format, with each ‘room’ of a zone being connected to one, two, or even three different rooms. The ultimate goal of each zone is simple - find the boss room, defeat the boss who lurks within, and claim the shard of the Amazing Mirror that Meta Knight is held captive within, defeating the Great Old One in the process. Because it’s a Kirby game, you just gotta have some kind of existential terror as a final boss.
Oh yeah. This, uh, game has a story. Basically, an evil Meta Knight came out of a mirror, cut Kirby into four different coloured Kirbys, and fled with the real Meta Knight into the titular Amazing Mirror. That’s literally it. If you’re playing Kirby for the story, you are a wiser and greater person than myself.
Anyway, Amazing Mirror’s structure is pretty clear cut; navigate the various mazes of the criss-crossing zones, beat the bosses, get the mirror shards. There isn’t a ton to say about its basic structure - it honestly just a more lateral Kirby experience, and if you’ve seen one Kirby game, you’ve seen most of them - though I’ll just say the game feels simply good to play. Finding your way through the labyrinth is satisfying, strategically carving your way through foes is delightful, and the experience of the game is perfectly paced, never feeling padded nor rushed. As an aside, I clocked in at about five hours to get 69% (heh) completion, so your mileage will probably vary from the four to seven hour mark, depending on your skills and how far you want to take your time with this game. Earning a full 100% completion will unlock the traditional Boss Rush mode, though in all honesty I didn’t reach this point. It’s a boss rush, I’m sure it’s what you’d expect it to be.
Copy Abilities are Kirby’s bread and butter; the majority of the enemies in this game can be sucked up and absorbed, granting their ability - or a similar ability - to our little cute puffball. These can range from a wand that shoots beams, a Ryu-esque fighting form, throwing bombs, or even a UFO. God god, I love the UFO so much - not only is he FREAKING ADORABLE, but he’s also arguably the most useful Copy Ability in the game, able to deal with most puzzles with ease. There’s even an ability, gained by absorbing the boss Master Hand, where Kirby gets a basic version of his Super Smash Bros. moveset! It’s not the best in the game, but it’s such a cute inclusion I had to mention it. Basically, no matter what kind of play style you prefer, there’ll be a Copy Ability tailored to you and your situation - and besides, calling up a squad of the other Kirbys, all outfitted with their own Copy Abilities to go ham on a boss never gets old.
Also, incredibly, this game is actually kind of difficult for a Kirby game! This less comes from the basic moment-to-moment gameplay itself, but rather the positioning of enemies throughout the various zones, the puzzles requiring certain Copy Abilities or a certain eye for platforming, and most of all, the boss fights. Enemies will lurk in narrow passages, requiring you to time your movements, or attacks, to avoid losing your precious UFO Copy Ability. Puzzles can sometimes be mean, with attractive looking pathways locking you off from another, more useful pathway, or suddenly dropping you into a more dangerous situation. There’s never a dull moment in The Amazing Mirror - and whilst some of the traps and tricks of the maze can be a little frustrating, it’s good fun to actually be challenged by a Kirby game. On that note, the bosses are one of the stars of the show here as well, being a mostly new cast of foes unseen in previous Kirby games. These are honestly rather tricky encounters, since many of them have a -lot- of HP and can hit you hard and fast. Some, like the Metal Golem can’t even be taken down with conventional tactics, resulting in a genuinely cool fight where you slowly have to push him backwards into an electrical fence. Considering in the other KIrby games I’ve played, which essentially were you button mashers to steamroll the bosses, having to actually think what Copy Abilities would work best against The Amazing Mirror’s bosses were a genuine breath of fresh air - though, to be honest, I’m not sure if I needed to fight the final boss four times in a row. Kind of a weird choice there, IMO.
It’s not all Amazing, though. My biggest struggles with this came in the early hours, and I think this is the time that will make or break someone's enjoyment with the game. The fact is, early on this game is confusing as all hell. Multiple pathways are common throughout The Amazing Mirror, really contributing to the maze-like structure of the game’s world. In some ways, it’s kind of cool, since actually locating secrets and bosses and whatnot can feel really rewarding. On the other hand, the sheer existence of one-way doors and passages that essentially lock you into the path you’re going, many of which only lead to a ‘Goal’ room that’ll just dump you back in the hub world to start with. The lack of a proper map until you find one in each Zone, instead displaying Kirby on a sea of undefined, confusing squares, makes navigation in the early game horrendous. You can technically see the map rooms on the ‘bootleg’ non-map screen, but it’s almost impossible to gauge exactly how you’ll get there. It has a fun-ish sense of discovery attached to that, but the fact that the one-way doors exist kind of breaks it a bit for me. If I could more easily travel between rooms and not be kind of rail-roaded down a path, my issues with world navigation could have been lessened immensely.
This issue of confusion is compounded by the fact that each of the various Zones mazes do not have a single exit - not all paths lead to the boss. Each zone has multiple ‘Goal’ exits, which replicate the bonus stages from earlier Kirby games, giving you the chance to gain health items and 1-Ups… before unceremoniously dumping you back in the hub chamber. I genuinely, genuinely don’t know why these are in the game, and why they take you back to the start. If the game had the Zone maps available from the very start, these Goal rooms would be a lot less frustrating, since you can actually plan your route through the maze, not just mindlessly wandering, praying you’re heading in the right direction… and before you know it, you’re back where you started. Once I’d gotten the maps for the Zones, these occurrences became a lot less frequent, and more importantly, my own fault if I fell into these inadvertent traps.
On an audio-visual level, however, I have not a single complaint. This game looks and sounds incredible. Without a doubt, I think this ‘era’ of Kirby graphics might be the best of the series, having genuinely beautiful spritework and a wide variety of detailed, memorable enemies and locations alike. Kirby games in the past can have an element of sameness throughout the various stages they take place in, but since you’re constantly criss-crossing betweens zones, the game constantly mixes up its general aesthetics. There are a few areas that have a bit of cross-over in themes, like several castles or caves and whatnot, but these moments are few and far enough between to not really be an issue. The soundtrack is nothing short of brilliant - every song was a toe-tapper, drenched in a happy-go-lucky tone that Kirby should and is be associated with. One of the earliest songs once you first enter the maze proper has been stuck in my head all week, and thanks to this video below this paragraph, I hope it’ll worm its way into your ear too. So, uh, enjoy that.
Finally, and this is less a hit against the game rather the reality of GBA gaming in the modern age, but one of the biggest draws of this game - playing with friends as the multiple Kirbys - just isn’t really an option anymore. The concept is amazing - splitting up to try and solve the various mazes, only to come together to battle bosses sounds like sooooo much fun, but the fact is that just isn’t going to happen unless you know some real hardcore GBA collectors, or a bunch of friends who both owned Kirby, a link cable, and still have all these things to this day. It makes the multiple Kirby gimmick kind of weak in retrospect, feeling a little tacked on as a single player experience, but having even the AI-controlled Kirbys joining in for the last couple of boss fights was a big hit of dopamine, and the fact that the game still gives you the ability to call in assistance from them - through the strange little phone mechanic - was nice.
Kirby and the Amazing Mirror is the Kirby game that finally made me enjoy this series. It’s a far more active experience then other entries in the franchise, both before and since, and its attempts and blending a more open setting with the traditional platforming action associated with Kirby was for the most part a success. It can be a little too confounding at times, with perhaps its usage of the map being its biggest failing, and there’s the sad fact that one of its key features just isn’t reasonably accessible in this day and age. Despite these small trappings, Kirby and the Amazing Mirror is a satisfying and exciting spin on the Kirby franchise, one in which I found that the more I played, the more I came to enjoy, and the more I loved our pink little boy. If you’re on the fence about Kirby, give this one a shot - I don’t think you can go wrong.
Thank you so much for reading The Game Boy Abyss! Sorry reviews have been a little irregular recently - work has been more then a bit stressful, and I just haven’t had the time to play GBA games as much as I’d like. At the very least, I’ll have a new review every fortnight, but I’ll still aim towards once a week. Next week… well, we’re trudging back into where the Game Boy Abyss truly shines… licensed game hell! As always, you can find me over at Twitter @Lemmy7003, or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks again for reading, and I’ll see you in my next review.