The platforming games in the Kirby series usually follow the genre’s simple formula of the player needing to get to the end of a straightforward level to complete it. Sometimes the path may split a little, usually through small side rooms, but you’re always angling to reach the finish so you can move onto the next level. Kirby & the Amazing Mirror decided to change things up though, connecting its areas into one large interconnected labyrinth more akin to a Metroid game in design than a Kirby title.
This strange shift in structure is excused as Kirby must set off to explore a world inside a mirror. The Mirror World has been taken over by an evil force, Kirby’s long time rival Meta Knight heading off to try and take care of it only to fall to his dark doppelganger. Concerned for his missing rival, Kirby heads off to investigate, only to be split into four different colored versions of himself by Dark Meta Knight. Separated but not defeated, the four Kirbys set off to tackle the labyrinthine world within the mirror to dispel the darkness and rescue the mask-wearing swordsman. The mirror world is a twisting maze of rooms Kirby must work his way through, defeating enemies and finding alternate paths so he can defeat the bosses who hold pieces of the shattered mirror that would allow him to both escape and confront the cause of the darkness that’s corrupting this reflection of Kirby’s world. The game world is certainly large, individual rooms coming in many different shapes and connecting in unusual ways to other areas, but that’s a bit of the problem with navigating in Kirby & the Amazing Mirror. Some areas do have a pronounced visual theme, so if you’re in an icy area you know you’re in Peppermint Palace or if you’re in space you’ve found Candy Constellation, but then there are some more vaguely defined areas. Cabbage Cavern and Mustard Mountain are both rocky areas, Rainbow Route and Olive Ocean are differentiated mostly by the presence of water, which isn’t a guarantee, but at least these issues are somewhat quelled by the fact the bottom right of the screen always says which area you’re in. This doesn’t fix the more confusing aspect of the navigation though, that being the areas don’t really feel interconnected even within a single area.
To get from location to location in Kirby & the Amazing Mirror, you almost always have to enter some sort of door. What this means is that each room essentially exists in isolation, their designs not needing to connect logically since you’re teleporting between areas instead of actually moving from one to another. There are some cases where entering the front door of a building of takes you into the interior, but otherwise, the areas don’t feel any more connected than a typical Kirby game where it just takes you from segmented design to segmented design with little concern if they could be adjacent to each other. This doesn’t hurt normal play, but if you need to get somewhere, you will constantly have to pop open your map, which further reveals that the connections are pretty arbitrary. This is most apparent by how the major areas connect to each other. The transitions are abrupt and only sometimes justify the fact they’re even taking place, meaning you can suddenly find yourself in another area entirely just by entering an inconspicuous door. The game does have a few means to push you towards the unexplored though so popping open your map isn’t always a necessity, such as areas with more to explore will have their doorways glowing. You can also find shortcut rooms that make for easy warps between the different segments of the world. If you have a specific idea of where you want to go, such as finding the area boss or a connection to a new area, then the lack of cohesiveness in the world design can drag things down, but most of the time it is interesting to explore and take on the troubles waiting in your path.
Kirby’s ability to inflate to fly and inhale enemies return as expected, with Kirby able to eat certain enemies to gain up to 25 different abilities. Many of these powers return from Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land, as it’s pretty apparent the developers used some assets from that game to make this one. The unfortunate truth behind that is they seemingly carried over the fact you lose your power after taking a single hit as well, and while you can retrieve it if you’re quick enough, powers have more than just combat uses in this game. Skills like Fighter will allow you to beat up foes and you can hurl explosives with the Bomb ability, but there are areas in the Mirror World that require you to use certain skills to break through to find treasures or alternate paths. Games like Kirby Super Star used this idea to great effect in its its Great Cave Offensive mode, but Kirby & the Amazing Mirror actually doesn’t execute this as well as you’d hope. Most areas are blocked off by large pegs that need to be hit or grey blocks only certain skills can break. This mostly means that if you want to get to special areas in this game, you’ll need to hold onto an unfortunately small set of useful abilities. Those skills include Stone’s hard slam as it turns Kirby into a rock, the hefty swings of the Hammer ability, the powerful fireball tackles of Burning, and Missile which turns Kirby into exactly what it says it does. Very rarely does the game call for anything else, save for sometimes wanting something like Beam that can shoot through a wall, and there is actually an incredibly rare but useful power called Smash that takes Kirby’s abilities from the Super Smash Bros. series and implements them here… meaning you can carry Stone and Hammer in addition to having some Fighter skills and a Cutter based attack. Carrying Smash around is like a Swiss army knife for most of the game’s puzzles, the reliance on a few powers for the navigation becoming too obvious if you are able to hold onto it for a while.
Luckily, Kirby’s powers are still useful for what they were originally meant for: beating enemies. Kirby’s got plenty of skills to play with if you aren’t trying to go off the beaten path, including a few new to the series. Cupid lets Kirby fly around on angel wings and fire arrows, Magic will have a random one use effect based on a wheel spin, and while Mini isn’t useful for battle, it does get a few areas where you need to avoid getting hurt while you run through small gaps. While his copy abilities are plenty, Kirby can also receive help from the other three versions of himself created by Dark Meta Knight. Pulling out his cell phone, Kirby can call in some computer controlled companions to help him in a fight. This back-up is usually only really useful during boss battles though, because otherwise the game plays them as mindless bumblers during regular rooms. Play stops for a second every time they grab a power and they might interfere with your efforts to get certain powers or complete a puzzle, but if you have some friends to play with, they can be these Kirbys instead and turn it into a co-op adventure, one where the players don’t even need to stick together to explore the giant Mirror World maze. In a battle with a miniboss or boss though, the computer controlled versions are perfect for bum rushing it provided they have brought some powers with them. Some bosses do have attacks or moments of invincibility to try and prevent this, but unless you go in alone, there won’t be too much to worry about outside of the final battles. Oddly enough, it’s the regular enemies who are more worrisome, as they are quite the aggressive and sturdy bunch. All of them have life bars now, meaning that Kirby’s powers might take a bit to even kill a common foe, and there are quite a few who move oddly or rush in to meet you, sometimes even positioned above dangerous spikes or lava to further up their chances of hitting you into damage. There are enough chances for life and lives to ease the worries about these aggressive foes, but this does make the world navigation more interesting as you aren’t running around unopposed.
Besides progress, Kirby & the Amazing Mirror has a few treasures hidden around for explorative players, although these are mostly color options for Kirby and music for the sound test mode. It does give you something to look for besides always focusing on forward progress though. Oddly enough, there are “goals” in the game, which are basically small minigames for extra lives that teleport you back to the middle of the mirror world after completion and are mostly dead ends to your current progress. I have been somewhat harsh on the world design of Kirby & the Amazing Mirror thus far, but it speaks more of missed opportunity than major flaws. For the most part, the colorful and inviting world of Kirby is still enjoyable and filled with interesting area design and powers that make moving through it more interesting, it’s just the new gimmick was not integrated as well as it could be. Kirby has so many powers and is only encouraged to use a few of them, and since these powers are dependent on absorbing certain enemies and you can only carry one at a time, it limits how the game can reward you for using them. Had you been able to store powers for later use, maybe the game world could open up to more complex exploration, but the game we got is just solid Kirby platforming stringed together in a different way than usual.
THE VERDICT: Kirby & the Amazing Mirror takes Kirby’s ability to absorb the powers of his enemies and throws it into an interconnected world that will require him to use his powers to open new paths and move through previously visited areas to find new ways onward, but this concept isn’t seen to its full potential. The world’s rooms don’t connect naturally and most areas ask for the same handful of powers out of a wide array that mostly just find use in clearing enemies and bosses, but the game does at make sure the levels are enjoyable and the baddies are made a bit tough to compensate for the world design issues. Regular foes can actually put up a fight, meaning your attack-based powers can find some use there, and when you don’t actually have to get anywhere specific, the level design pushes you to be careful and intelligent in how you use your copy abilities to keep moving through a game world that would have been excellent if presented in a linear fashion.
And so, I give Kirby & the Amazing Mirror for the Game Boy Advance…
A GOOD rating. The honed design of the Kirby series helps salvage a flawed attempt at entering the Metroidvania genre. It’s still an enjoyable excursion through varied areas with diversity from both what you face and how you face them, but the interconnected map just makes it more complex without the interesting depth that can usually lend a title. Areas feel separate from each other even when connected directly by doors, and really, the doors are probably what lead to the issues most of all. If they had to connect everything in cohesive large areas instead of small slices that teleport you around to new ones, then areas might have stronger identities that make navigation less about referring to a map and more about learning the layout of the world and knowing where to go to find new paths or powers. The new ideas in this title were toyed with rather than properly fleshed out, but returning concepts like Kirby’s powers pair well with the regular enemies being made beefier and a bit more dangerous, meaning that regular level progression is still enjoyable and meets series standards.
Like many ideas introduced in the second era of the Kirby series, Kirby & the Amazing Mirror trying to tackle a new genre was discarded for the next title when it really had the potential to be something special if fully embraced. Having the powers serve purposes outside of hurting bad guys has always been an interesting element of the series, and the Metroidvania genre is all about using new powers to open up new paths. Had a sequel refined the world design and found a better way to integrate the powers, we could have what Kirby & the Amazing Mirror should have been, but at least what we got is a fun title despite not incorporating its new ideas so gracefully.