Really great cooperative games aren’t all that common. But co-op games that adults can play together with kids? They’re pretty much non-existent. Outside of the surprisingly enduring Lego series from Traveller’s Tales, I haven’t found much that’s actually fun to play with my five-year-old daughter. Games are either too complex for her to find fun or too simple to be all that interesting for me. That middle ground is a barren place, one that Nintendo’s adorable pink blob Kirby has happily filled.
Kirby Star Allies launches today on the Switch as the latest entry in the character’s long-running series of fairly simple platforming games. Kirby games have never exactly been challenging; instead, their appeal is a mix of charm and inventiveness. Kirby’s singular skill is that he’s a glutton. His main form of attack is swallowing enemies whole, and he can even absorb their abilities. Eat the right bad guy and Kirby will turn into a knight with a flaming sword or a cowboy with a twirling lasso. It’s both cute and fun to play around with, exploring all of the different potential abilities as you wander across an array of smartly designed 2D worlds.
Allies follows this formula, but with one key addition: Kirby has a new power that lets him toss a big pink star at an enemy in order to befriend it. You can have up to three friends along to help Kirby, and if you’re playing the game solo, they’re all controlled by the computer. But at any point, another player can hop in and take control of one of them. If you play by yourself, Allies is actually fairly boring; the level design is really simple, and there’s little to recommend it over other, better Kirby adventures, like the excellent Planet Robobot on the Nintendo 3DS. But when you play with someone else, the game comes alive — especially if you’re playing with someone younger.
The lack of challenge in Kirby games has always given them a somewhat breezy quality. Unlike a Super Mario adventure, which you can really dig into, Kirby games pleasantly wash over you. They’re fun, but not especially engaging. Turns out, this structure is perfect for playing the game with children.
For the most part, my daughter can play it just fine on her own, but if she does need a hand, I can jump in and help. I found myself hopping in to defeat some of the trickier bosses but otherwise letting her take the lead. At the same time, while I don’t feel particularly challenged playing, it’s still enjoyable. There’s something incredibly satisfying about Kirby’s eating power, and with four characters on-screen, things can get delightfully hectic. The game is at its best when it comes to the co-op puzzles, where players have to work together to progress. Again, these are all fairly simple — flip a switch to open a gate for your partner or light a fuse so the other person is shot out of a cannon — but I really enjoyed talking through these problems with my kid and having her figure out how to proceed with just a little help from me.
I wish there was a bit more to the level design; there’s not a lot of variety to the environmental puzzles, resulting in fairly straightforward levels. But even still, Kirby Star Allies fills in a gap in the Switch library. It’s a system full of family-friendly experiences, whether it’s Splatoon 2 or Super Mario Odyssey. Unfortunately, few of those experiences can be enjoyed by the entire family. But swallowing sentient snowmen and wizard painters? That’s something everyone can understand.