Kirby and the Lost Land: A Design Revolution for the Series - Technical Analysis

Kirby and the Lost Land: A Design Revolution for the Series - Technical Analysis

Kirby and the Lost Land

Nintendo began the transition from 2D to 3D with Super Mario 64, and numerous historical franchises have followed the fate of the mustachioed plumber. Zelda, Metroid, Donkey Kong, all but one. The Kirby series had in fact remained confined to 2D side-scrolling, perhaps due to its gameplay so particular and difficult to adapt to a three-dimensional world. Now, we've finally had the long-awaited transition. Kirby and the Lost Land represents the leap of the pink wad to the three-dimensional world, a leap performed in style.

The Lost Land puts the player in the shoes of Kirby, who must face a series of levels by jumping and floating between platforms and copying the abilities of the enemies, just like in the previous chapters. But the change of perspective allowed for a welcome change in level design. It doesn't differ much from the canonical formula of the game design of the series, but this new chapter introduces new ideas such as Bocchromorph, which greatly affect the mechanics.

The transition of Kirby's core mechanics to three dimensions was a nice challenge from a game design point of view, but the developers did a good job. Take Kirby's ability to fly for example. There is a need to keep levels confined enough for aerial flotation purposes, but restricting this ability too much can make Kirby's very essence lose. Vacuuming objects and enemies is also more complex in 3D: with a two-dimensional perspective you can easily vacuum an enemy when you are in front of it, but in 3D factors such as angle and 360 ° space around the player come into play. If it becomes difficult to aspire to enemies, the experience can become frustrating. Nintendo had never solved these problems in any N64 game that has seen the transition to 3D.

John Linneman presents Digital Foundry's detailed technical review of Kirby and the Lost Land.

Watch on YouTube. With The Lost Land, we finally get a chance to see the developers' efforts completed and we feel they have managed to maintain a good balance thanks to self-correction. Swallowing enemies, for example, makes use of self-positioning which guides us lightly when we press the button to perform the suction action. In addition, there are limits on the height of the air buoyancy. There are therefore some brakes dictated by the level design but the feeling of freedom is still maintained. From this point of view the implementation of the controls is to be commended: moving Kirby in space is a rewarding experience and all his actions are simple to perform in 3D.

Another key element is the system of cameras. In many games that have moved to 3D it has been chosen to let the user manage the framing, assigning free control of the camera to the right analog and this works in most cases but not in this one. HAL has instead chosen to create a camera system functional to the design of the levels in order to keep the action confined by choosing the most appropriate framing angles each time. This is a similar system to that of Super Mario 3D World but is more robust here. The user is allowed to move the frame a few degrees in the four directions, but the need is hardly ever felt, and in the two-player game, the system guides us with ease.

This is not a game that pushes the technical limits to the maximum, however, but we believe that the development team has shaped an overall very good experience, even if there are some flaws that need to be mentioned. First of all, the image quality. The game makes use of dynamic resolution, which in docked configuration varies between 1080p and 810p. When playing on the tablet, the resolution is closer to the 720p target and the image is decidedly clearer, especially on the superb Switch OLED screen.

But there is a problem: Nintendo seems to be allergic to anti -aliasing. Many first party titles have chosen not to apply any anti-aliasing and this can be fine if the resolution is high enough and stable. But with dynamic resolution scaling, aliasing is much more noticeable and annoying. This problem is moderated in part by a massive use of depth of field: a technical choice that may make someone turn up their noses but which overall works in this case, since it cleans distant objects from aliasing and shimmering artifacts. So, despite the total absence of anti-aliasing filters, we believe the team has done a great job.

The quality of the animations and the density of the objects are elements that stand out in the presentation of Kirby and the Lost Land. An applause must also be made to the artistic direction. The game is divided into worlds, each with a different biome, worlds which in turn are divided into thematic levels. For example, in the first world we will be able to enter an abandoned shopping center with immense spaces that is fun to explore, or in the tunnels of an old subway. The levels are selected from a world map that we can fly over freely and which is chock full of secondary levels.

HAL has made very large levels and all of them offer some degree of exploration. All of them make use of shadow maps for both static and dynamic objects, and which can be equipped with shadows. While these shadows aren't always of good quality, they help add depth to the virtual world. Compared to Super Mario 3D World, the amount of polygons and texture details is greatly increased, and as a result the game world is more dense and alive. HAL has also used an indirect lighting technique to simulate the bounce light: it's nothing particularly advanced and they are pre-calculated lights, but they help improve the aesthetic aspect of the game.

The game still gives your best in the heart of the action, with animations that are truly exceptional. Kirby has a very large arsenal of animations and enemies react and move in a natural and realistic way with respect to our actions, perfectly capturing the DNA of the series. The only problem is that the refresh rate of the animations is proportional to the distance from the camera, so the farther the camera is, the more the refresh rate is reduced. This becomes a particularly annoying factor in large animated objects moving at a distance, but it's really a small flaw of an overall lovely game.

Ultimately, there aren't many cutting-edge rendering techniques in this one. game, but we have a striking example of how much art design and a massive use of classic techniques can guarantee the creation of a beautiful and well-balanced game. However, the density of the world does have an impact on performance. Nintendo used a target frame-rate of 30fps instead of the classic 60fps that characterize previous Kirby games but also other 3D platformers, and honestly looking at what the Kyoto house has managed to do with Super Mario Odyssey, Bowser's Fury and Metroid Dread, it's not hard to be disappointed. While praising the overall aesthetics of the game, this is one of those games that would have needed more powerful hardware to enjoy the smooth motion of 60fps gameplay. 60fps as in many other internal Nintendo titles. Here the frame-rate is fixed at 30fps, with rare minimal dips in fluidity. The good thing is that the gaming experience is very stable and almost always nailed to 30fps. There may be drops in fluidity in some circumstances but they are very rare. Luckily the input latency is kept very low so the game is very responsive to commands.

So we have established that the technical aspect is compelling overall, but from a gameplay point of view it is a good game. Kirby? After all, not all the chapters of the series have succeeded well, but in this round the goal has been achieved and we do not hesitate to say that we are in front of one of the best Kirby games ever created and this is due to two main factors: the level design and the power up system.

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Each world has a distinctive design and contains a handful of very varied levels , with always unique mechanics and themes, and there is never a feeling of redundancy. Puzzles and situations to be faced are different each time and pose new challenges from time to time, keeping the mind always active. In this context, Boccomorphosis plays a fundamental role, the new ability that allows Kirby to swallow large objects that modify the gameplay. By absorbing a car we will be able to face racing sections, while by becoming a hang glider we will be able to fly as in Pilotwings, or take a jump on a roller coaster by absorbing a train. There are so many brilliant ideas that pave the way for truly unique and fun sections of gameplay.

Also, this time around, it's possible to upgrade the copy skills as well, which gives the game an element of grinding. Upgrading skills is fun and interesting, and helps you overcome the most advanced worlds and defeat the toughest bosses. All these great ideas blend together perfectly to create a truly engaging and fun gaming experience, which responds to the modern canons of a 3D platfrom. There is nothing revolutionary about the genre, but we don't think there was a need for it. All that was needed was to transpose the classic Kirby experience to 3D: it was not an easy task and the risk of distorting it was high, but Nintendo and HAL have hit the target. We are faced with a beautiful Platform, solid from the point of view of design and art direction, also accompanied by a fantastic soundtrack.

Having covered so many rather heavy triple A titles in the past months, we are have fun and relax with Kirby this week. This game conveys serenity and entertains without ever being boring or repetitive, and you shouldn't miss it if you love these kinds of experiences.

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