I think it’s pretty obvious by my demeanor and overall lack of knowledge that I am not a game developer. I am a consumer through and through, in pretty much all aspects of life. That doesn’t afford me a unique perspective considering… well under capitalism, aren’t we all just different kinds of consumers? But I digress, my job is to earn the money so I can then spend the money and receive some kind of value in return, and with video games, what that value is required to entail has changed over the years. No longer can developers afford to churn out half-baked games that are too broken to play (except for Fallout 76: Oops, All Bugs) or with too little creativity and variation to feel like you got your $60 worth. It’s become such an expectation that even Nintendo, who changes slightly faster than a snail’s pace, re-imagined their two biggest franchises into open world games because that’s what people expect from a full-price, AAA game.
Enter: Kirby: Star Allies.
Look, it’s a fine game. You get to play the pink orb, you gather up some friends, combine some powers, and practically dance your way through some hyper-colorful worlds. You only really have to touch like 3 buttons maximum, which tells me this was built to be a bunch of children’s entry in their “Baby’s First Video Game” book. And while the four on-screen characters are creating adorable cartoon chaos, a chipper tune plays in the background, helping you float to the end of the level. Where Kirby: Star Allies falls apart is in its repetition. Every level is built the same, in essentially every individual world. Sure, the background images may shift a bit and the music might change tone, but any surprises you learn in World 1 are just repeated, over and over again, with no variation. Too quickly, we can see behind the curtain, we recognize the formula. Any perceived value in the 20 levels you have left disappear, because you know that they are all just copy and pasted. You have already played the game creatively, just not in volume.
Nintendo is known for their incredibly degree of quality control and value. That’s why you’ll rarely find their games on sale, and why they often charge full price for ports that are 5 years old. It wasn’t surprising when Kirby: Star Allies was released for a full $60 price tag. The lack of overall content and feeling of value I felt I received was surprising. I’ve realized that expectations of a $60 game have changed. Now, there’s too much out there for too affordable of prices for such a limited experience to seem worth it. Hollow Knight is a beautifully animated game with high-level combat and platforming, enough content to sink 100 hours into, and is only $15. Horizon Zero Dawn can take over 100 hours to 100%, and is mind-blowingly immersive and beautiful. Even more kid-friendly games like Super Mario Bros. 3 are available affordably through Nintendo’s online service. And Nintendo games themselves show that they understand the importance of time-per-dollar with Super Mario Odyssey, and Breath of the Wild.
Some may say that since Kirby: Star Allies has added content since its release, then the price tag is worth it. Maybe that’s true for first time purchasers today, but I don’t necessarily agree. Spending $60 for the promise of future content may work for games like Destiny (which still provides buckets and buckets of content upon release, and charges for their large-scale DLC content), but just as often doesn’t work out, as we see in games like Mario: Tennis Aces. Plus, I would like to keep the trend of “knowing what I pay for.” As anyone who has followed the development of a video game knows, the promise of future content does not always pan out as expected. Mario: Tennis Aces apologists said that the storyline may be underwhelming and the multiplayer may be frustrating, but at least there would be online competitions and such sponsored by Nintendo, perhaps similar to Splatoon 2’s Splatfests. However, most of the extra content added to that game was just new characters, nothing that has added real, tangible, gameplay value.
It’s been a long circular walk around the main point: I am very small, and I have no money. The little money I do have, I would like to be spent well. And with indie games as successful, comprehensive, and affordable as they are… well, a $60 game better be something special. I don’t have the time for average anymore. I don’t have time for Kirby: Star Allies.