Review: Super Copy Abilities

Ability : "Super" Abilities

Title : Return to Dream Land, Triple Deluxe, Planet Robobot,

Reviewer : Mrgameandpie

Most long-running franchises can be separated into a variety of eras where paradigms shift and new ideas are explored and focused upon. Kirby is no different in this regard, and a major element of the current era is the Super Ability.

Introduced in Kirby's Return to Dream Land, the super abilities in the game provided massively enhanced versions of regular powers that demolish the world in ways never seen in the series before. There were five of these abilities, based on Sword, Fire, Beam, Ice, and Hammer. Each one was quite simple to use, for Sword and Fire the player would simply press the attack button and annihilate everything either in the general area in front of them or on the same vertical row. Ice and Hammer were a little more complex as the player would need to shake the Wii remote to charge up the hammer or to launch Kirby's giant snowball form with precise timing. Beam's form was the most intricate as it created a large electrical ball of energy the player would need to guide around the screen.

The challenge of these sections was never really combat, the abilities could all essentially clear a screen of enemies with a single attack. Instead, if there was ever any challenge it tended to rely on minor puzzle solving. Timing and spacing was needed for Ice's form, pounding in giant stakes in the correct order for Hammer's form, and guiding Beam's energy ball with precision to activate certain switches within a limited amount of time. When completed correctly, the end of these segments would lead to a vortex, taking Kirby to an Alternate Dimension with a quick platforming challenge followed by a battle against at least one Sphere Doomer with two energy spheres at stake, after which the level would immediately end.

These sections were flashy to be sure, but had some issues. Multiplayer was a major element of Return to Dream Land, but only a player using Kirby had anything to do in these sections. If someone played as Meta Knight, Dedede, or Waddle Dee, they had no chance to do anything, and even if another player was a Kirby, only one player could have a super ability at a time. However, this issue pales in comparison to the real problem. I've discussed this already in another fan thoughts article, but one of Return to Dream Land's biggest issues in general was railroading the player into playing the game in a specific way, and the super abilities were the epitome of this mindset. If the player picks up a super ability, it overwrites the ability they had previously, making it incredibly inconvenient to do copy ability experimentation when coming up to numerous levels throughout the game. On top of that, if one wanted to pass up the super ability, a player would not be met with a harrowing challenge in need of an exceptionally powered ability to pass through, but rather a ton of nearly static enemies and obstacles with, at worst, a little bit of waiting involved as sources of damage one would normally be able to destroy slowly shuffled around. It isn't fun or intense, it's just boring.

So, Return to Dream Land's super ability mechanic wasn't perfect. On a first playthrough it will look fantastic and flashy, but upon replaying levels and trying new things, these sections only get worse and worse. Then came in Triple Deluxe with a single super ability: Hypernova. Hypernova was an enhanced inhale ability, and it greatly improved on the super ability in nearly every respect. First of all, upon exiting a Hypernova section, Kirby would have whatever power he had before the section. Already this is a massive improvement, allowing for single-ability runs and other similar experimentation to go unimpeded by this mechanic. Secondly, the sections themselves were much more interesting and innovative. Hypernova sections were more consistently puzzle based, and the puzzles provided far surpass anything from Return to Dream Land. Even more, many collectibles can be found within these sections, requiring more advanced understandings of the level mechanics to properly obtain. Hypernova even had its own bosses to fight! As a whole, it was a much better iteration of the super ability, but improvements did not stop there.

Thus, that brings us to the latest entry in the Kirby series: Planet Robobot. Planet Robobot's take on the super ability comes in the form of the titular Robobot which Kirby rides. Even from the start, the Robobot moves differently than Kirby, can interact with various machinery, and provides new interesting gameplay, but the real kicker is the copy abilities. Previous super ability sections always removed the core Kirby mechanic: copying abilities. They were a singular ability which a segment of the level was designed around without any other realistic options. Even when Hypernova did it better, it was still antithetical to typical Kirby gameplay. The Robobot on the other hand expands upon Kirby's copy ability! For most of Kirby's powers, the Robobot has its own iteration, and the player always has options they can take! Sure, the player will often be required to use a certain ability to obtain a collectible, but when it comes to pure progression one is never short on possibilities. The only real exceptions to this are the Wheel and Jet sections, which is because those particular abilities drastically change how the game is played. It is more comparable to a Star Chariot section than anything else, and these abilities only ever get two or so appearances each.

One of the best parts about the Robobot is how it is even possible to legitimately skip the armor altogether in several sections. On at least one occasion, the armor is actually hidden, and finding it is one of the core challenges to obtaining all of the level's collectibles! When playing through level segments without the armor, this isn't like skipping a super ability in Return to Dream Land: the level is actually designed to be played regardless! Actual level design and real challenges await an armorless player in these areas! There are times when progress is literally impossible without the armor, but this also brings moments where the player will actually jump in and out of the armor to access small areas it can't fit it, or use abilities in ways only Kirby on his own can. As a whole, the concept combines well with Kirby's greatest strengths and feels like a legitimate extension of Kirby gameplay, rather than just a sudden out of place moment at the ends of certain levels.

The super abilities have come to be a major defining factor of recent Kirby games, and they started out very flashy, but also quite broken, and not in a good way. However, each game's iteration of these abilities has greatly improved their implementation and effects, culminating in the Robobot feeling like one of the greatest editions to the Kirby series since Kirby 64 asked the question "Hey, what if we combined the powers?" The up-and-coming Kirby Star Allies looks like it will have a new super mechanic that isn't directly tied to copy abilities, but rather implementing the teamwork aspect of the game. I'm not entirely certain how this mechanic will work out, and I am rather suspecting it won't match up to what the Robobot armor provided. However, it may still improve on the super ability concept in other entirely different ways, and could still be an excellent time. Whether it's good or bad, we'll all find out soon!

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Last Updated - January 30th, 201