Nintendo’s new Kirby is a rare co-op game that’s fun to play with kids

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Really cool cooperative games are not so common. But cooperative games that adults can play together with children? They are practically non-existent. Outside of Traveler's amazingly long-lived Lego series, I have not found much that is really fun to play with my five-year-old daughter. The games are too complex for her to find them fun or too simple to be so interesting to me. That middle ground is a sterile place, one that Nintendo's adorable pink spot, Kirby, has filled happily.
Kirby Star Allies is presented today in the Switch as the last entry in the character's long series of fairly simple platform games. Kirby's games have never been exactly challenging; instead, its appeal is a mixture of charm and inventiveness. Kirby's unique ability is that he is a glutton. Its main form of attack is to swallow whole enemies, and can even absorb their abilities. Eat the right bad guy and Kirby will become a knight with a flaming sword or a cowboy with a spinning bow. It's nice and fun to play with him, exploring all the different potential abilities as you go through a series of cleverly designed 2D worlds.
The allies follow this formula, but with one key addition: Kirby has a new power that allows him to throw a big pink star at an enemy to befriend him. You can have up to three friends to help Kirby, and if you play alone in the game, they are all controlled by the computer. But at any time, another player can jump and take control of one of them. If you play alone, Allies is really quite boring; the design of the level is really simple, and there is little to recommend about other better Kirby adventures, like the excellent Planet Robobot on the Nintendo 3DS. But when you play with another person, the game comes to life, especially if you play with someone younger.

The lack of challenge in Kirby's games has always given them a somewhat fresh quality. Unlike a Super Mario adventure, in which you can really go deep, Kirby's games wrap you nicely. They are fun, but not especially attractive. It turns out that this structure is perfect for playing with children.
In general, my daughter can play alone, but if she needs help, I can help her. I found myself jumping to defeat some of the most gruesome bosses, but otherwise, I let her take the lead. At the same time, although I do not feel particularly challenged playing, it's still nice. There's something incredibly satisfying about Kirby's eating power, and with four characters on the screen, things can get deliciously hectic. The game is at its best when it comes to cooperative riddles, where players must work together to progress. Again, this is all quite simple: press a switch to open a door for your partner or light a fuse for the other person to shoot out of a cannon, but I really enjoyed talking about these problems with my daughter and making her discover how to proceed with just a little bit of my help.
I wish there was a bit more for level design; There is not much variety for environmental riddles, which results in fairly simple levels. But still, Kirby Star Allies fills a space in Switch's library. It's a system full of family experiences, whether it's Splatoon 2 or Super Mario Odyssey. Unfortunately, some of those experiences can be enjoyed by the whole family. But swallow smart snowmen and wizard painters? That is something that everyone can understand.


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