Kirby has accomplished many things in his games. We’ve seen him ride stars, play pinball, tilt and tumble, get into a quick draw duel and even battle bosses with friends. For all the things we’ve seen him do, there’s one he hasn’t done – shoot ’em up. In Kirby: Planet Robobot, Kirby takes to the sky and gives us a glimpse at the shooter we never knew we wanted.
Kirby: Planet Robobot‘s draw is the Robobot armor. Once Kirby hops into this suit, he’s stronger than normal and has some special abilities tied to it. The suit even has its own copy abilities, the best of which is Jet. Once Kirby’s Robobot armor enters Jet Mode, the game turns into an auto-scrolling shoot’em up.
Robobot armor is as good as a ship from any Cave or SNK shoot’em up in Jet Mode. It has four possible attacks. One is a standard assault that fires three bullets in quick succession. Holding that button down briefly also sends out one missile behind the ship, two angled missiles from the front and the requisite three brief bullets. Charging the shot and holding it with B will send out three standard bullets periodically. Then, when you’re ready, you can release the B button to send out one massive missile forward, in addition to the three smaller missiles. It’s even possible to get out of a jam by pressing a trigger button for a brief dash. There’s a wide variety of attacks available, all of which work well in multiple situations, and you don’t even have to collect power-ups to use them.
Having the proper equipment is only part of what makes a shoot’em up great. It’s also about having levels that challenge and surprise you. Given there’s technically only four Jet Mode levels in Kirby: Planet Robobot, found in 2-2, 4-4, 6-5 and 7-1, we don’t have the largest sampling to analyze and enjoy. What is there, however, pulls from shoot’em up staples and offers an engaging enough experience.
The first Jet Mode level, 2-2, works perfectly as an introductory stage. It’s set in the Resolution Road area, one of Kirby: Planet Robobot‘s prettiest. This is a bright, vibrant, urban environment background elements that can influence things in the foreground. It isn’t too difficult, allowing a player to get accustomed to the sudden shoot’em up situation, but still manages to offer a mini-boss fight that takes up one-fourth of the screen and employs some bullet hell tactics.
It’s stage 4-4 that shows wonderful a Kirby shoot’em up could be. This Gigabyte Ground level goes above and beyond, offering elements some straightforward shooters don’t. There are areas where enemies or bricks must be cleared to safely access treasures. A portion of the level offers a series of switches, all of which must be cleared in time to open a gate and proceed. There’s even a Code Cube that can only be acquired if you release a rear missile with a charged shot. Best of all, a multipath segment, complete with map that must be memorized before entering the area, allows you to influence the outcome and get a Code Cube as a reward.
Perhaps the best part of this 4-4 Kirby: Planet Robobot level is the mini-boss fight. Many shoot’em ups have a multi-stage enemy. Even though this is only a platformer with shoot’em up elements, Kirby: Planet Robobot delivers by bringing back the 2-2 mini-boss, then having it transform into Core Kabula. The attack pattern changes, new strategies must be employed and you even need to utilize the rear missile to survive. In short, it’s both creative and slightly challenging.
We even get a bit of a boss rush mode. Level 6-6 is a flurry of activity, with different elements thrown into this nearly final push. At one point, Jet Mode is engaged and multiple mini-bosses join the party. None are terribly threatening at this point, but they guard the same sort of progression switches implemented in 4-4. Kirby: Planet Robobot is building on things we already know and have experienced, as any good shoot ’em up would.
The final stage, well, let’s leave that as a surprise. I’m sure there are some of you who haven’t reached 7-1 yet. It’s the pinnacle and payoff for everyone who’s loved all three of the earlier Jet Mode experiences in Kirby: Planet Robobot. While it isn’t a traditional shoot’em up like the last three levels, it’s a truly special shooting stage.
Kirby: Planet Robobot is a game that does a lot of things right. Most surprising is how well it tackles an entirely new genre in-game. We’ve never seen a Kirby shooter before and, if someone had asked me prior to this game, I don’t think I’d believe such a thing would work. After playing Kirby: Planet Robobot, though, I find myself hoping the next installment offers a mini-game entirely inspired by Jet Mode. Try it; you may agree.