Chris Schilling's column The Pick-Me-Up focuses on games that can make you smile in just ten minutes.
Kirby has a new game out! This year has been so ludicrously stacked that it's no surprise this seems to have passed everyone by. Then again, this isn't a "proper" Kirby game. Rather, it's a multiplayer-focused, free-to-play spin-off from an existing mini-game using repurposed assets, which is a full house on Nope Bingo for a lot of people. And, perhaps more significantly, it's on 3DS.
As someone who's spent hundreds—if not thousands—of happy hours over the past half-decade with my 3DS, I'm kind of amazed at how quickly it has fallen from favor. My son still clutches his like a mythical artifact, as if removing it from his grasp would somehow cause the world to violently explode (as opposed to just his temper).
But since Switch arrived in our household, it's replaced its portable predecessor in my affections with shocking speed. Zelda: Breath of the Wild has a lot to do with it, of course, followed by Puyo Puyo Tetris and now Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Meanwhile, my poor 3DS has lain abandoned and unloved on the sideboard. (Though it has still, somehow, retained most of its battery charge when it must have been weeks since I last plugged it in.)
So yes, it's odd that a multiplayer-focused, free-to-play spin-off from an existing mini-game using repurposed assets should be the one to breathe new life into the old dog. But I'd enjoyed the original version as an extra mode in the underrated Kirby: Planet Robobot, and decided to give it a shot.
It's basically the same game, though this time there's much more of it. Essentially, it's a boss rush where four Kirbys set out on quests to battle increasingly powerful enemies against the clock.
There are four distinct roles to choose from. Sword Hero is a handy all-rounder, attacking with reasonable speed and force, with an energy shield that forms a protective umbrella over you and any adjacent teammates. Hammer Lords, meanwhile, trundle along, weighed down by their hefty mallet, though a hammer flip attack can be charged for devastating damage.
Beam Mages can fight adequately at close-quarters, but they're better off hanging back a bit and launching time attacks to slow enemies or even freeze the clock entirely, holding them in place while the other Kirbys merrily whale away. Finally, there's Doctor Healmore, who wields a laboratory flask that can produces restorative puddles should anyone's HP fall dangerously low.
Clash Deluxe has become a daily tonic for me, and a fillip for a console I prematurely cast aside.
Playing with three AI-controlled allies (they're not bad, but do sometimes waste good opportunities) reminds me quite a bit of multiplayer Monster Hunter. Enemies have clear tells and long wind-ups to their most powerful attacks, which gives you plenty of time to get out of harm's way. At the same time, you have to take risks if you want to finish in good time and earn the best rewards.
Fainting isn't fatal unless all four Kirbys are downed at the same time, since teammates can revive you. But the process takes several seconds, during which both healer and injured party are unable to attack—moments that could cost you a gold or platinum medal. The rhythm of combat, then, is remarkably similar to Monster Hunter. It's about getting in, dealing as much damage as you can, and getting out.
Battles often conclude with a spectacular flourish. Deal enough damage to a boss, and they'll release stone fragments, one for each Kirby. Uniting all four prompts a short mini-game that simply asks you to stop a gauge in the middle, adding bonus damage to a crystalline meteor that descends from space to crush your opponents. If it doesn't quite finish them off, they'll usually be stunned long enough for you to all pile on and deliver the killing blow. Then it's off to ye olde village shoppe to spend your spoils on new weapons and armor—ostensibly to recover faster or speed up your charge attack, but also because the gear selections are often wonderfully cute or silly.
I'm currently at Level 19 (of a possible 50) and it's only now that the free-to-play elements are becoming more intrusive. Nintendo calls it "free-to-start", but that's slightly misleading: it used the same term for Super Mario Run, which locked most of the game behind a one-off fee. This is much more like a traditional F2P game where a bit of grinding and a slightly larger amount of patience means you can theoretically reach the end without spending a penny.
I've found the energy (or Vigour) gauge that depletes with every attempt is rarely an issue, as it both lengthens and refills entirely whenever you level up, and it recharges reasonably quickly. The game's main currency of Gem Apples, however, is not only used to buy armor, weapons and support items, but also to unlock further quests. A wide range of in-game accomplishments—from beating bosses without anyone fainting, to using specific gear sets—yields rosettes and a Gem Apple reward, and until now I've been earning comfortably enough to get by. But tougher bosses await, the entry fees have gone up, and the achievements are harder to, well, achieve.
No matter. Now I'm returning to those earlier stages to mop up any incomplete objectives, alongside a higher-level team with much better gear, and together we're utterly rinsing enemies in under a minute. My tally of gaming's most adorable platinum medals is steadily building, and my 3DS charger is getting plugged in for the first time in months. Team Kirby Clash Deluxe might not be the finest hour for HAL's rotund mascot—heck, it's not even the best Nintendo game this month with Deluxe in the title—but it's become a daily tonic for me, and a fillip for a console I prematurely cast aside.