Within 1996’s masterful Kirby Super Star omnibus was a game by the name of Gourmet Race, wherein Kirby and his nemesis King Dedede engaged in an off-beat marathon where they’d race while gobbling upon littered sweets for points; a perfect fit for the pink puffball’s ravenous appetite. It was also, by a significant margin, the least consequential game of the lot. Even for a game priding itself on replayable content, its two-minute running time rendered it an unusually thin appetizer within an otherwise scrumptious smorgasbord.
I bring this up because it’s downright uncanny how Kirby’s Dream Buffet, the latest Kirby spin-off, treads the same design philosophy – right down to the slim offerings at odds within its gourmet theming. While certainly meatier than its 1996 forebearer, some may walk away from Dream Buffet still hungry as opposed to its chunkier Switch cousins in Super Kirby Clash and Kirby Fighters 2. Not that this land of sweets and tweets doesn’t provide a good time, but what’s an easy sell for Kirby diehards might not appeal to casual shoppers.
Kirby’s latest munchathon plays something like this: a barrage of Kirbies roll around food-flavored courses, competing to eat the most strawberries as they shamelessly engorge themselves. Through a potpourri of chaotic races, wacky mini-games, and nail-biting ring-out battles, Dream Buffet operates much the same as a fast-food kitchen – rapid-fire, demanding, and easily prone to mistakes. Just observe the assortment of food-themed Copy Abilities: smart players will snipe the 50-strawberry stack with a last-minute donut Wheel, but a perfectly-timed Invincibility Candy will dash even the most experienced player’s chances for victory.
All to the tune of Kirby’s priorities for the beginning player, of course – with everything from the Hi-Jump ability playing catch-up to bonus strawberries rewarded at each match’s conclusion, (think Mario Party’s Bonus Stars), nothing is ever certain in a meal of Dream Buffet. The race courses are served accordingly: newcomers can safely accrue strawberries upon the tracks’ wide, open paths, but shortcuts are literally wafer-thin – designed only for those with iron stomachs to tackle. Naturally, faint ingredients of Kirby Air Ride are sprinkled throughout – younger players will find the game’s Free Run mode a handy respite from the cutthroat chaos of the main course, left to idly taste-test at their own pace.
Strawberries are the name of the game for Dream Buffet’s progression system, and thankfully, they’re in such abundance that you’ll find the unlocking process seamless and speedy. While this might emphasize the game’s brevity, you won’t spend ages unlocking everything like Kirby Fighters 2. (Which, despite having sunk over 40 hours into, I still haven’t fully completed.) From adorable costumes to homely cake decorations, Dream Buffet bakes a nostalgic feast with references galore, not the least in HAL’s entire sound team remixing forgotten classics. You remember Kirby’s Block Ball? There’s songs from that. Ever desired a Kirby’s Pinball Land arrangement? Hirokazu Ando’s earworm here will haunt your memory for weeks.
To no one’s surprise, the game looks positively delicious. Sluggish framerate? Sure, but I’m too busy drooling over all the sugar-topped pancakes to care. Naturally, as per typical Kirby, everything is super-cute, not the least in the exaggerated, pleasingly plump Kirbies as they feast upon berry after berry, cake after cake. The unabashed dimpled cheeks upon sneaking in some bonus berries simply begged to be pinched – a feat, alas, rendered impossible by the screen barrier.
Yet for its appetizing gameplay loop, Dream Buffet’s limited set-up is at odds with its multiplayer emphasis. For instance, while the game’s designed around four players, only two can play locally (unless you’re in the vicinity of three other Switch owners who own the game), and even then, the second player is treated as a “Guest” player left at the mercy of a costume randomizer rather than any manual customization. Online-only hermits like me can safely navigate around that, but can the same be said for kids living in the same household? Meanwhile, there’s offline options for races and the like, but they’re again left to randomization – a missed opportunity for individual practice.
Online issues are also frequent – Dream Buffet can chug with weak connections, and it’s not uncommon to run into disconnects. To share one anecdote: the game once booted me claiming a controller was disconnected; now, this is a frequent issue with my Joy-Cons, but both were still running fine upon the incident in question. Not a problem I’ve run into since, thankfully, but one that left me scratching my head all the same. (And apprehensive, too – the game warned it’d reduce my player ranking if it happened again!)
It’s enough to wonder if Dream Buffet needed more time in its proverbial oven – the above issues may not sound that dire, but they’re much more pronounced in a game this compact. Contrary to its buffet theming, this digital package isn’t the all-you-can-eat it puffs itself up to be. It’s all fun, yes, but stretched just a little too thin to render itself a classic Kirby spin-off in the vein of Kirby Air Ride or Kirby Fighters. Perhaps more modes might’ve sufficed? Previous spin-offs featuring roly-poly Kirby (think Canvas Curse and Tilt n’ Tumble) have proven themselves wildly innovative, and for a game priding itself on multiplayer competition, it’s a shame Dream Buffet relies on a one-note concept rather than offer a grand feast.
Still, there could be worse options on the menu: approach Dream Buffet as an afternoon snack rather than a full-course meal, and simple delights in decorating giant cakes with 8-bit sprites and greeting players with shocked Kirby faces might just satisfy your appetite. Put on your bib and draft your meal plan accordingly.