In ‘No Pay 2 Play’, we review free video games (whether they’re riddled with microtransactions and season passes or not) and then answer the golden question: is it worth adding to your game library?
Developed by HAL Entertainment Laboratory and published by Nintendo. Released in September 2019. Available on Switch.
Is it really free?
Yes, but there are microtransactions for one of the types of currency – those being apples – though these are optional and unnecessary to progress.
What’s it all about?
Much like its predecessor – Team Kirby Clash Deluxe for the 3DS – this is a spin-off title set in a parallel universe, where a squad of Kirby clones spar with evil beings invading the Dream Kingdom. This free-to-play cooperative fighting game has you and up to three allies, be they online players or AI companions, fighting a whole slew of bosses. While hardly an essential title, it’s still an entertaining enough freebie to distract yourself with, so long as you avoid online play.
Visually, it looks like what you’d expect from a Kirby game: a versatile palette, HD visuals, characters and bosses with mostly-cutesy designs, a stable framerate, and some decent music to accompany the action. The soft-sounding orchestral rendition of ‘Green Greens’ that plays after each battle is always a delightful ditty.
In the village, Kirby can check out the notice board and look for bad guys that need defeating in different parts of the world. Unlocking these require Gem Apples, which are often rewarded in generous quantities. Regardless of the outcome, you’ll be awarded with more apples, as well as red, blue and yellow crystals – nothing more than different currency types – and a portion of XP. Alongside all of this, your stats will increase as you level up. Plus, levelling up unlocks new weapons and hats to buy from the shop, though some items are straight-up improvements over one another in every way.
There are four class types. The Sword Hero is quick and agile, and can create a big shield for allies to shelter themselves within. Hammer Lords can barely float or move, but they pack a seriously powerful hammer. Doctor Healmore creates healing puddles, and brews up random attacks with his chemistry set, e.g. a volcanic blast of heat, or slow-moving balls of electricity. Finally, there’s the Beam Mage, who can fire projectiles and can slow the enemy down if they damage it with enough charged up attacks. All of them level up at the same rate, thus sparing you from excessive grinding. No need to worry about annoyingly detailed RPG mechanics in this one, either.
You’ll meet more than a few familiar bosses from the Kirby series, along with a few palette-swapped variants. Most of these battles aren’t too difficult at first, and the difficulty shift is gradual but easy to notice. Some foes can really drain your health with a single attack. Thankfully, the AI companions are pretty helpful. One nitpick is that the map designs are, disappointingly, the same across each zone – flat terrain. The levels never vary in size or offer additional twists. These fights can feel pretty samey after a while, as a result.
On the plus side, each level offers a selection of secondary objectives, known as ‘Heroic Missions’. These challenges can be completed for extra rewards and additional missions to unlock. They vary from trivial to tricky, thus adding a fair bit of replayability. For instance, you might have to freeze time while avoiding being K.O.’d, or must defeat the boss as a certain class Otherwise, each battle essentially remains the same: defeat the enemy and dodge its predictable attack patterns.
It should be said that the online multiplayer mode is pretty naff. The input delay ranges from about half a second to a full one, which really does sour the experience big-time. You’ll likely end up getting slapped with players of varying levels, so don’t be surprised if a server contains one super-powered player doing most of the carrying. These aren’t a problem with offline play, mercifully; couch-play cooperative mode with three other people is a blast, and doesn’t handicap the performance.
Participating in battles will use up ‘Vigor’, which is essentially your energy meter. Both offline and online battles use a separate bar, and leveling up will slowly increase its size. Playing too many battles will leave you strapped of Vigor, thus forcing you to wait it out for a little bit. Alternatively, you can refill it by exchanging Gem Apples. While it does feel like Nintendo is adding a slight bit of pressure to encourage the player to cough up some real money for apples with its microtransactions, you won’t fall short of them, and there’s no penalty for waiting a little bit.
As far as free to play titles go, Super Kirby Clash is the right blend of light-RPG elements, challenging gameplay, and enough variety to justify revising the title. While the limited Vigor meter and the microtransactions are a minor inconvenience at best, the online mode is utterly borked. The fights aren’t too complicated, meaning it can feel a bit repetitive after a while, but there’s plenty of bonus objectives to unlock and gear to purchase as well. It’s no clash of the titans, but it’s still a rockin’ co-op fighting game with the world’s cutest puffball at the helm.