The Newest Kirby Game Doesn’t Judge How You Play

A perfect game for a dad wanting a chill time, but a kid still learning video games needing an even chiller time.
A screen shot from Kirby and the Forgotten Land
Screen shot courtesy of Nintendo

Video games are fickle when it comes to difficulty, at best forcing players into a decision before they’ve spent any time with the game, at worst belittling them, like aka Halo’s infamous “this is the way it’s meant to be played” description for the “heroic” difficulty mode. Which is why I’ve been so tickled by the way the adorable Kirby and the Forgotten Land, the latest in Nintendo’s longrunning pink platforming franchise, handles its approach to difficulty. 

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While you (or me) may not pick up Kirby expecting to die, your definition of easy is someone else’s hard. Take, for example, my five-year-old daughter. I’ve resisted pushing her into games for reasons better left for a wholly different personal essay about my own existential crises, but the short version is she’s become legitimately interested in games, despite their best efforts to use their obsession with punishing players through death, all while she tries to come to grips with manipulating analog sticks and buttons in 3D spaces. It’s a lot at times.

The Kirby games have never been overly difficult, and Forgotten Land is hardly a departure. These are meant to be largely breezy combinations of action and platforming, interactive amusements where a cute puffball named Kirby inhales everything around it, siphoning power for their own means. (The lore behind Kirby is consistent and absolutely ridiculous.) Forgotten Land, specifically, is full of really great and satisfying secrets. That’s the challenge.

Forgotten Land is mostly chill. There are enemies to fight, but you usually don’t have to! There are platforms to jump to, but Kirby can flap and recover from a poorly timed leap! Yet, sometimes that’s not enough. It would be nice if every game had an invincibility mode—death teaches few lessons at my daughter’s age and does little but rob my child and I of progress before dinner—but Forgotten Land does have some useful accommodations I appreciate.

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My child can’t fully read yet, so this is mostly for dad, but I appreciate how Nintendo describes the difficulty modes in Forgotten Land. They’re explanations, not judgements. 

  • Wild Mode: A Kirby game that’s a bit wilder and more challenging. This adventure will be tough at times, but you’ll collect a lot of Star Coins as rewards!”
  • Spring-Breeze Mode: A Kirby game that’s simple to play! You’ll have a lot of health for this adventure. Perfect for those who are new to action games.”

Importantly, picking a difficulty is not a binary and permanent choice. You can swap between these modes at any time, for any reason, within the same save. Nothing changes except how the game handles health and currency distribution. (You get plenty of coins. It’s fine.) When you finish a stage on the easier mode, the game doesn’t brand it with an “easy” tag, like a badge of shame that you need to overcome another time. You beat the level! Hooray! 

This is fantastic, because it means my daughter and I can make progress in different ways. 

Here’s how a typical play session goes for us. We start a stage in co-op, where my daughter plays as Kirby and I play as (the less fun, sadly) Bandana Waddle Dee, and she dictates the terms of exploration. Forgotten Land may be a game about secrets, but my daughter just wants to move forward and find the sleep power that she finds extremely funny, because it forces Kirby to sleep for a few seconds and recover health. It is not helpful—but it is funny. 

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During all this, we’re playing in Spring-Breeze Mode, so death is infrequent. She gets the dopamine hit of finishing a stage and spending more time understanding how a video game functions, while I take mental notes on what she’s missed along the way. But there’s a quirk.

In Forgotten Land, regardless of difficulty, progress is gated behind collecting a certain number of missing Waddle Dees. The number is arbitrary and silly and one of Nintendo’s more annoying habits, because it means my daughter and I will be making “progress” in the game, only to be told we can’t fight a boss because we haven’t…collected enough Waddle Dees? Why not wave this requirement in the easier difficulty mode? It’s a question I don’t have an answer to, but clearly Nintendo digs this kind of gating, because it’s also present in Super Mario 3D World and the issue often prompts my daughter to stop playing that, too.

Fortunately for her, I do like sweeping up secrets. While she’s asleep, I flip the game to Wild Mode for an extra challenge, and dive back into the stages we played together solo. I grab all the Waddle Dees she either didn’t find or didn’t want to bother with, giving us plenty to take on the boss the next day. I solve all the crafty puzzles, feeling satisfied the level has been fully explored, top to bottom. After school, before gathering at the table for food, we move the difficulty back to Spring-Breeze Mode, and if I’m lucky, she connects with a few hits on the boss with me.

When sleep arrives, the cycle repeats. We’re playing the same game, at the same time, in slightly different ways. But because the game’s flexible, we’re having a great time—together. 

Follow Patrick on Twitter. His email is patrick.klepek@vice.com, and available privately on Signal (224-707-1561).