You can always count on Kirby to give us copious amounts of spinoff games. While many franchises in Nintendo's stable remain dormant, Kirby is always there, whether it's with a mainline entry or something else entirely. While Kirby's Dream Buffet is held back by a few things, it's one of the stronger side game efforts in recent years, especially if you have people to play with.
Kirby's Dream Buffet (Nintendo Switch) Developer: HAL Laboratory Publisher: Nintendo Released: August 17, 2022 MSRP: $14.99
The core of Kirby's Dream Buffet involves taking control of one of many aesthetically different Kirbys (with unlockable costumes and colors) across a series of courses and minigames. Your goal is to eat as many strawberries as you can (which are littered about the race track and in the minigames), and become as big as possible. The person with the highest strawberry count at the end (of a group of four total) wins.
You'll do this by rolling down courses, hovering to get back on after getting knocked off, and using copy abilities (which are modified for racing purposes, and have a dessert-like aesthetic to them). The more you eat the bigger you grow, and the faster you go. It's simple, and the two-button scheme (hop and use copy ability) is something everyone in the family can pick up.
The core mode of Kirby's Dream Buffet is Grand Prix, which features the following style of progression:
A race (at the end, you'll eat one of three cakes, which provide bonus points for the person who finished first, second, and third)
A minigame involving collecting fruit that drops from the sky (in various forms and locations)
A final battle minigame where you can get knocked out of the arena and lose strawberries (before respawning)
Yes, it even has Mario Party-esque equalizer bonuses that can shift the balance of power at the very end, like "most enemies destroyed."
In true Kirby fashion, it's a very relaxing, low-stakes game. Racing is seamless, and something you'll get used to midway through your very first course. There's walls to roll up, pathways to finesse without falling off, enemies to avoid, strawberries to pick up, and Mario Kart-like question mark blocks to grab to trigger powers. All of this is backed by an adorable and vibrant food theme, which looks far better in motion than it does in stills.
There's some depth there despite the cutesy veneer, like using the jelly power-up to go under walls, or going for higher-stakes paths that could result in big lead times, or disastrous failure if you fall. Immediately, the aim of the game was apparent, and you can see how HAL opted to appeal to all sorts of players with the level layouts.
Minigames and battle sessions are even lower key. Usually they last roughly a minute each, and let players duke it out on a smaller map. I dig the overarching narrative here, with the rich getting richer with a physically larger Kirby, and thus becoming a more obvious target. You can feel the push and pull of that mechanic when people are eying you during races, or straight up trying to murder you.
If you want, you don't have to settle for the grand prix experience every time. You can play just the aforementioned minigames, a single race, or a standalone battle (as well as a training-style free-roll mode where you can try out the controls/physics and copy abilities). All of this contributes to overall rank-ups, which in turn net you more stuff. Surprisingly, for 15 bucks, Dream Buffet has a decent chunk of content to work through. There's 135 ranks of unlocks, which consist mostly of costumes, music, color schemes, and minigame levels. You can play up to two players split-screen locally, with online support for up to four, and a mode for local play (multiple Switch units).
There's two caveats here, and these things hold Dream Buffet back. There's no three- or four-player split-screen play, which is a missed opportunity. Even some of the smaller modes that could theoretically fit on one screen aren't supported on one console. Online play is also iffy at the moment, with some lag involved in my multiple sessions with it. It's playable, but I really hope it's addressed, because marathoning online matches is really fast and addictive: the race-to minigame-to race-to minigame formula is refreshing and fun with randoms.
Kirby's Dream Buffet isn't quite what I expected, mostly for the better. For the price, it feels like a complete game with a progression system, with multiplayer support to boot. I just wish that latter portion was a bit more polished and fleshed out, because that's where the long-term appeal lies.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]