Kids' games have always existed, but no one's ever fully decided exactly what they're for. The likes of the Carmen Sandiego series always aimed to teach kids something transferable, to turn otherwise wasted time into sneaky extra-curricular activities. The LEGO series, on the other hand, aims to teach our spawn little more than the fact that Danish-ly presented wizards, space monks or cosmic heralds can punch the injection moulded crap out of bricks.
These opposing sides, education and entertainment, leave a fairly wide gap. If we've reached the point in history where part of raising children is giving them computer games, shouldn't we be educating them in entertainment? Kirby Triple Deluxe fills that void with aplomb. HAL Laboratory's follow-up to Kirby's Adventure Wii is a competent introduction to platforming tropes, fighting game muscle memory, puzzler logic and achievement hunter collecting, all through the veil of a story about an androgynous pink bubble-creature eating wildlife.
The basic concept's simple enough - both in understandability and actual difficulty. Kirby's a left-to-right 2D platforming hero with the ability to suck in obstacles or enemies before spitting them out or absorbing their powers. Coupled with his ability to float lazily and infinitely, he's basically immensely powerful - enemies are weak, Kirby's strong and if you're in danger, you can bypass most of them by simply soaring above your troubles.
What's most interesting then, aren't the meagre challenges themselves, but in how they invite you in. Each Copy Ability, gained by swallowing your prey, is less a single extra attack and more a magical costume, bestowing you with any number of moves.
The Link-alike Sword ability lets you combo together slashes, fire beams and dash violently past groups of waddling baddies. The new Beetle ability, on the other hand, makes you a more efficient fighter, spearing one enemy to throw them at the other, while gaining a faster flying ability for more mobile combat.
"There's tonnes to see, even without mentioning the miniature Smash Bros. that is Kirby Fighters mode"
Each ability, on average, gives you around 10 separate powers (with some quick-press button combos to give kids the rudiments of a regular beat 'em up move list), but you'll almost never specifically need any of them - in fact, we're fairly sure you can complete the entire game without ever copying an enemy. The key is in making you want to use every one, because seeing what they can do is so much fun.
That desire for exploration is everywhere in the game. With over 250 keychain collectibles to find, you'll begin to look at every imperfect wall, suspiciously-placed enemy or singular block for signs of secrets. With the game's new focus on 3D effects, interacting between two or three layers of platforms to find a single item isn't uncommon. There's tonnes to see, even without mentioning the miniature Smash Bros. that is Kirby Fighters mode, nor Dedede's Drum Dash, a rhythm action extra, or even the two extra modes unlocked after finishing the game.
Even without that completist impetus, it's a world you'll want to see. Eschewing the usual "Fire, Ice, Water" template, you'll travel through haunted carnival funhouses, over ominously rumbling train tracks and through strange industrial complexes filled with gigantic, laser spewing robot heads with juddering moustaches.
And then there are the Hypernova sections. Seemingly as some sort of reward for all the good work you've been doing, Kirby's newest powerup - which multiplies his inhale ability several times over, letting him suck up entire screens' of enemies and furniture - is pure spectacle, a Super Saiyan release that takes almost no skill, but will still get you chuckling and gasping at the ludicrous results of your indiscrete new power.
Bosses are similar - while not particularly difficult, each one's a new, redolent, as a Zelda-alike magical painter covers the top layer of your stereoscopic screen in streaks of primary colour, or a living storm cloud gets you leaping between layers in a manner recent Donkey Kong players will recognise - all leading to a final encounter so huge it seems more befitting of a Platinum game than Nintendo's most obviously child-skewed series.
Those reminders of other games are essentially the point. There's no doubt that this is a kids' game in intent - and it's a perfect example, simple to understand and quick to teach - but that fantastical, well thought-out presentation will give any adult their money's-worth too.
It might well not provide the challenge some will be after from a Nintendo platformer, and its best moments often stem from events outside of the player's control, but it's a lovingly crafted, inventive and, most of all, intelligently designed game, no matter who's playing.
Getting through it might be a breeze, but it's what Kirby has you doing and seeing that inflates this into greatness.
- The kids' game atmosphere with an adult's eye for secrets
- The delightfully solid and unexpected world, peppered with brilliant moments
- Hypernova - our old Dyson will never seem quite as impressive again.
- Any experienced player will float through from start to finish