Kirby Mass Attack
| Kirby Mass Attack

Kirby is known as an amorphous being, so it's only fitting that his games change shape as often as he does.

While his trademark ability is to cannibalise other denizens of Dreamland and steal their powers, Kirby's found himself in all sorts of different adventures over the years.

In Canvas Curse he was reduced to an inanimate ball at the mercy of your rainbow-drawing stylus, and last year's Epic Yarn left him unable to swallow other characters and absorb their virtues.

This time a nefarious being has shattered him into numerous little Kirbys. He's still cute as ever, though his attacks - swarming over enemies and reducing them to pulp - is rather unsettling.

Command and conquer

Maneouvering multiple characters with a single-touch screen may sound unwieldy, but it's handled well with an elegant control scheme.

Touching the screen lures the flock of Kirbys towards that point, tapping an enemy sets the troops on it, holding the stylus on one the Kirbys rallies the herd which can then be led along a drawn path for a short distance, and flicking the stylus launches individual units.

It feels awkward at first, but it quickly becomes second nature once you get in the habit of double-tapping for quick retreats.

The only issue with the controls is that it can be difficult to divvy the group up as the Kirbys all gravitate towards the same point.

It's not uncommon for a Kirby or two to get left behind off-screen. They'll usually teleport to be among their brethren if you keep pushing forward, but sometimes you can't progress until you've freed the stragglers. These quirks are annoying but seldom game-breaking.

Strength in numbers

Thankfully, the level clever design takes advantage of Kirby's new found state of being.

One level sees you distributing your Kirbys through the carriage of a hot air balloon on the bottom screen to direct its course on the top. Another has you making your way up a teetering treehouse, using the Kirbys' weight to balance the structure.

At one point you even get to ride in a spaceship, flinging Kirbys at the control panel to defend yourself from incoming asteroids descending from the top screen. There are countless inventive set-pieces like this, as well as an abundance of equally memorable bosses.

Such novel levels are a highlight, but even the less gimmicky stages are a joy. There's a pleasing mix between feeling like an unstoppable force of nature when swarming smaller foes and having to play cautiously when facing larger prey.

Certain enemies are lined with spikes, so you must sling mini-Kirbys at their weak points. This takes precision, but the game is largely forgiving. Even when a Kirby meets its maker, one of its clones can resurrect it by grabbing its ascending ghost.

The surprises don't end in the main campaign. The game's unlockable extras include a handful of mini-games.

Strato Patrol EOS is a vertically scrolling 2D shooter utilising the same mechanics as the core game, where you gather extra Kirbys for more firepower, though their centipede-like formation leaves them more likely to get hit.

There's also a pinball game, a simplified turn-based RPG, a variation of whack-a-mole, and more. They lack the depth of the main game, but they exceed the throwaway standards set by most extras.

While Mass Attack is an extremely robust game, scouring each level for secrets is more irritating than it should be due to lengthy levels without checkpoints.

You generally can't backtrack very far, so if you miss the collectible you're after (or simply lacked the necessary number of Kirbys to access it), you'll have to restart the entire stage to acquire it.

Worse, unlocking the final chapter requires finding a rainbow medal in each level, so expect to replay the same maps several times just to beat the game, let alone find everything.

More to love

Despite its occasionally frustrating item acquisitions, Kirby Mass Attack remains a wholly imaginative reinvention of the classic mascot.

Shepherding chibi Kirbys is a nice spin on the formula, and a lengthy campaign fully explores the potential of managing multiple minions.

Equal parts cute and cunning, Kirby Mass Attack proves that while the DS may on its way out there's plenty of life left in this ever evolving pink puffball.

Kirby Mass Attack

Kirby Mass Attack is one of the most innovative and varied platformers in Kirby's long, diverse repertoire, making it a fitting swan song for the aging DS