Kirby & the Amazing Mirror
Though the series has established a core platforming formula all its own, Kirby is one pink puff ball HAL Laboratory is unafraid of featuring in a variety of genres - pinball, puzzle, racing, the list goes on. In this respect his legacy is rivaled only by towering names like Mario. Kirby & the Amazing Mirror is unique in that the developer, Flagship, mixes Kirby's well-known platforming with a different style of gaming: the open world sidescroller.
The story doesn't drive the gameplay, but it serves to explain some of the game's mechanics. In the Mirror World, sitting high above Dream Land, mirrors actualize desires reflected in them. When a dark being enters the world, dramatically changing the nature of the otherwise peaceful region, Meta Knight flies to there to rescue it. All whilst in Dreamland, Kirby encounters Meta Knight - though one dissimilar to the one he knows in some curious way - who slashes the guiltless glutton and effectively separates him into four Kirbys! The resulting four of him, one pink, one yellow, one red, and one green, follow this non-Meta Knight on a Warpstar to Mirror World. There, Meta Knight is defeated by his dark counterpart and falls into a mirror, shattering it into eight pieces which are scattered across Mirror World. Kirby sets out thus to save Meta Knight and Mirror World in four fell swoops.
Kirby's basic controls are nothing new: 'A' makes him jump and 'Up' or 'A' again swallow air and float in the air; 'B' suck in an enemy and 'B' again spit it out as an attack or 'Down' swallow, taking the foe's special power if applicable; 'Left' or 'Right' run at a much faster pace than pure puff's regular speed; and 'Down' plus 'A' or 'B' slide, hurting enemies and destroying breakable objects below him. Original to this game are: the ability to return at once to the hub by pressing 'L' and to call the other Kirbys to his aid by pressing 'R'. Some rare instances require different Kirbys; moreover, it's just extremely helpful when going up against a boss or getting bombarded by enemies. The other three quarters of the protagonist's AI is serviceable, but they don't always do what the player wants. The way they scatter and explore Mirror World even while the player is doing so is incredibly cool, not to mention meeting up with one or more of them in a random spot. Extra players can link up and take control of said quarters of the marvelous marshmallow, too, effectively making this gaming's first multiplayer Metroidvania. The copy abilities and the way one can employ aid from extra Kirbys gives the player plenty of options and keeps a game that already requires patience from getting to be frustrating.
This game takes a note from Kirby Super Star's "The Great Gave Offensive" mode, but it adds a volume to it. It's nonlinear, with the right copy abilities opening paths, but here's the catch: doors to the next part may be one-way and certain obstacles may close Kirby off from returning, requiring that the player maintain a copy ability only accessible at an early room through to a room in which it'll be put to use. Every time Kirby gets hit he loses his current ability, which bounces around in the form of a star until he swallows it again - this keeps the player on his or her toes. On the other hand, one can go back to the beginning of said paths upon returning to the hub, so no failure is set in stone. In this clever twist on the sub-genre in which Kirby's copy abilities serve to open up new paths, he basically has all he needs to conquer the game from the get-go simply by being able to suck enemies and absorb their powers. The progression is driven by exploring every possible room in the nine maps, which leads to Kirby attaining the eight final boss mirror shards and pressing switches which link remote parts of areas back to the hub world for easy access. The experience can get confusing as the nine maps seem to connect for no obvious reason, this being the most legitimate cause for complaint regarding The Amazing Mirror. There is a collection-based element to the whole ordeal, with fourteen alternate palettes for the primary Kirby, along with ten pieces of music and sound effects for sound test mode, ten maps (including the Mirror World over world map), and - perhaps most importantly - four health-ups which altogether increase Kirby's bar from six points to ten. Though most of the collectibles aren't vital to the play experience, they're fun nonetheless and certainly serve as a great motivation to explore the game world.
The visuals are vibrant and colorful, each enemy recognizable and distinguishable and the backgrounds gorgeous and foregrounds detailed. The music is upbeat and good-natured, a few staple themes returning without any unnecessary remixing and new themes added which carry the same vibe. Being made out of the same engine, presentation-wise the game isn't a whole lot different from Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland - but neither is the fundamental gameplay. This game looks and feels typical of the series, and in this way it sets up a solid experience so that the experimental aspects - the non-linear platforming and 4 Kirbys multiplayer - can truly shine.
There are 3 mini-games to distract the player: Speed Eaters, in which all four of the titular in-taker (one per player or CPU) sit around a table waiting for the lid to be taken off the platter, the player pressing 'A' the moment the lid is removed to inhale the apples therein and increase Kirby's fill gauge while avoiding doing so for bombs; Crackity Hack, in which the four of him compete to see which can crack a rock and the earth below it open the most by one pressing 'A' at the highest point possible to fill an auto-rising gauge four times and then pressing 'A' just as the Kirby in question jumps down on the rock; and lastly, Kirby Wave Ride, in which his four pieces are pit against one another in a surfboard race, extra speed gained by the controller pressing 'A' to jump just at the crest of waves. The games won't pass the time with friends anything like a good Mario Party session, but it's commendable how Flagship was able to offer such varied play with three games each making use of the 'A' button alone.
Kirby's last Game Boy Advance outing requires more investment than any of his previous adventures, experimental or series standard. It's an investment that pays off, and as a whole the game is Kirby at his best. His copy ability dynamic fits perfectly in a Metroid-esque world, neither of these aspects conflicting with the other. Reflecting classic Kirby style and a different genre in the same mirror turns out to be where the series' most formidable gameplay is found.