Kirby Planet Robobot

When I saw Kirby Planet Robobot was coming out soon I was a little surprised. The previous Kirby 3DS game had just come out, right? In fact, it has been more than two years since Kirby Triple Deluxe delighted players. So maybe enough time had passed for a new Kirby platformer. Planet Robobot at least brings something completely new to the table, with Nintendo’s adaptable pink puff ball getting a big pink mech suit to stomp around in. It isn’t much of a change, just a slight adaptation of the usual Kirby gameplay. Still, what this game lacks in originality, it more than makes up for in polish and design.

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Planet Robobot looks and plays largely identically to Triple Deluxe. That is a very good thing. It looks great; bright and colorful with expressive characters and monstrous bosses. Kirby has his usual array of copy abilities, as well a few new ones. In other words, it is a Kirby game. The move sets of his abilities aren’t the series most complex, there is still a wide variety of skill and maneuvers to master. It also keeps Triple Deluxe’s plane hopping, with the player forced to solve puzzles by leaping back and forth from the foreground to the background.

The game isn’t hard, no Kirby game is, but it does set up some very interesting puzzles and just enough collecting to be interesting without overdoing it. It is easy to speed through the game and ignore that stuff and it is just difficult enough to slog through and collect every last thing. It strikes a very good balance.

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The plot of this game is that some sort of evil corporate robot is taking over Kirby’s star world, turning everyone else into robots. It is little more than an aesthetic change, but it does give an excuse to remix the classic Kirby bosses into slightly more robotic forms. Then there is the Mech suit, which largely operates like ones from Mega Man X, except that it too has Kirby’s copy powers. Again, that opens up plenty of interesting gameplay possibilities. There are destructible portions of levels, but getting all the secrets means realizing what needs to be destroyed and what needs to be preserved.

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Nintendo tosses off routinely excellent platformers like this a couple of times a year. Not all of them are transcendent masterpieces like Super Mario Galaxy or Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, but even the worst of their output is leagues better than what anyone else is doing. Few other big game companies are even attempting this sort of game anymore and the indie titles rarely manage this supreme competence. Kirby Planet Robobot is not among Nintendo’s upper echelon of platformers. It doesn’t match the Wii’s superlative Kirby Return to Dreamland. Still, it is excellent from a technical standpoint and the robot trappings are engaging. That big pink mech is somehow both badass and adorable. As I said wrote earlier, there is a routine excellence to this game. It plays perfectly well, but it never feels like Nintendo is really laboring for it. It is thoroughly satisfying but not especially memorable. Ah well, on to Box Box Boy, the next game from Nintendo’s platformer factory.

500-700

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Finding Dory

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I feel like I start all of my Pixar movie reviews noting their excellent track record. It hovers over all of their films, inescapable. Though I haven’t seen The Good Dinosaur yet, I feel confident saying that Pixar has one bad movie to their name. Even though it didn’t blow me away like the best of their output, a long list including last summer’s Inside Out, Finding Dory keeps up their strong output.

A sequel to 2003’s Finding Nemo, Finding Dory shifts the focus to the titular blue tang who has, as she will tell you repeatedly, short term memory loss. After briefly recalling something of her life before she met up with Nemo and Marlin, the three of them go on a quest to find her missing family. Their trek leads them to the aquarium where Dory was born and raised. There she becomes separated from Marlin and Nemo and both she and they meet up with a variety of colorful aquatic life, including the grumpy yet helpful octopus Hank. Other than Hank the new characters fail to make much of an impression, most of them having only one bit that is repeated a few times instead of actually feeling like characters.

The biggest part of the movie amounts to a series of highly amusing vignettes as the characters move around the aquarium. The only character with any sort of through line is Dory, and hers development moves in fits and starts thanks to her memory problems. The other characters are mostly static. Marlin goes through the exact same arc as he did in the previous movie. Still, Dory’s journey is well done even if she is a character that I have never cared for. Pixar has mastered the art of making all-ages movies that have jokes and bright colorful stories for kids, but running thoughtful, adult themes behind them. Dory’s steady recovery of her previous life and her growing ability to deal with her handicap is a strong idea to hang a story on.

Still it doesn’t quite land like the better Pixar movies do. It feels a little too close to its predecessor. It makes sure all the characters from Finding Nemo get to make an appearance, even if it doesn’t add anything to this film. It isn’t a retread, but neither does it add a whole lot. Some characters get assumed character growth that doesn’t actually come out of anything that has happened in the rest of the movie. It also doesn’t help that the film escalates to a finale that doesn’t really fit in with the tone of the rest of the movie.

It is most reminiscent of Toy Story 2, which is fine but not quite as good as the first, only noting that Finding Nemo isn’t quite as good as Toy Story to begin with. This is starting to sound harsh, when Finding Dory is a perfectly good film, just not a great one. Finding Dory is a fine addition to Pixar’s library, but it isn’t one that is long going to be remembered. It is touching, but not heartbreaking, amusing but not hilarious, good looking but not gorgeous.

***1/2