Look, I’ll level with you; I never actually expect to be playing new video games this early in the year. Typically, the holiday glut gives way to the spring doldrums, and my tightknit gamer family unit almost instinctively plans to rely on those sweet, sweet Q4 release to see us through the lean months. But in 2018, something different happened. In 2018, Kirby Battle Royale and Dragon Quest Builders made their way into our lives, and they have since dominated our playtime.
A Change Will Do You Good
More-of-the-same gets a bad rap. What some would lambast as a lack of creativity, a lack of chutzpah, others would classify as honest dependability, as glorious consistency. Part of the reason that first-person shooters and big-name sports franchises continually dominate video game sales charts is that they understand what they are, not to mention what they do, and they do it well.
That said, there’s always room for breakout properties, for sleeper hits, bold reimaginings, and next-big-things. And occasionally, there’s a stalwart series that zigs when it should zag, that takes risks and shakes things up. The newest entries in the long-lived Kirby and Dragon Quest lines—Kirby Battle Royale and Dragon Quest Builders, respectively—do just that.
Kirby Battle Royale Is Multiplayer Family Fun
Kirby, HAL Laboratory’s gluttonous pink protagonist, is a big name in my house. The Wii’s Return to Dream Land was the first game my son and I ever beat using couch co-op, and he’s been a Kirby fanboy ever since. From clay-clad exploration to mechanized mayhem to throwback collections, my boy has always shown up for his favorite unlikely hero.
That’s why it was so surprising when I noticed he’d quickly put down Kirby Battle Royale to return to the eShop re-release of Pokémon Crystal. His chief complaint? It just didn’t “feel like a Kirby game.”
In his defense, the kid was right. Raised on polished platformers, Battle Royale‘s top-down arena brawler setup simply didn’t gel at first blush. Kirby was still Kirby—as were, to tell the truth, many of his opponents—but “The Cake Royale,” its principle single-player story mode, didn’t play like Triple Deluxe or Planet Robobot or his other recent portable favorites.
Instead, it feels more akin to the Pokémon Rumble franchise, a frenetic spinoff that’s less storytelling than brute strength, less charming character than cartoon carnage. Sure, the game includes the obligatory sinister machinations of King Dedede—he’s put together a league-based fighting tournament… for reasons—but it lacks a little of that traditional Kirby charisma, that narrative carrot that makes a Kirby adventure a tale to relish.
But what Battle Royale lacks in single-player appeal, it more than makes up for on the multiplayer end. With various competitive and cooperative modes, Kirby Battle Royale is a bit of a family gaming buffet; you can have a little bit of everything and still come away satisfied.
The “Apple Scramble” and “Coin Clash” modes were early favorites—both easy to understand, even for my younger daughter, and exceedingly fun to share. On the other end were more surreal offerings like the puck-flinging “Slam Hockey” and the robot beatdowns of “Robo Bonkers.” The ultimate winner, though, was judged to be “Attack Riders,” an unholy blend of Gang Beasts and the F-Zero stage from your favorite iteration of Smash Bros.
With its simple controls and visible pre-match mission rules/objectives, Kirby Battle Royale is an accessible mini-game collection for 2DS and 3DS owners of all stripes. Its hidden value, though, is that it supports single-cart multiplayer via Download Play. Ultimately, it was this feature that managed to charm my family—even my skeptical teenager.
Dragon Quest Builders: More Than the Sum of Its Parts
I am, at best, a casual Dragon Quest guy. The same goes for sandbox builders like Minecraft and Terraria. For an RPG or world-builder to get me, to really get me, I need to feel like I’m telling my own story. (See, for example, titles like Skyrim or the countless Animal Crossing games I have played obsessively for months on end.)
Basically, what I’m saying here is that I didn’t expect to fall down the Dragon Quest Builders rabbit hole when a review code popped up in my inbox. But, knowing that the team at Nintendo has a pretty solid grasp of my gaming habits, I installed it just the same.
Cut to me sitting in LaGuardia’s most far-flung terminal eating airport hummus and gathering supplies to rebuild my struggling kingdom. Cut to me being hewed down time and again by traditional Dragon Quest cannon fodder. Cut to me finally, triumphantly crafting a Giant Mallet and enacting my bloody revenge. (Okay, it was, admittedly, not bloody at all. This is an E-10 title.)
If Kirby Battle Royale was a game we had to learn to love, Dragon Quest Builders is one that I enjoyed in spite of myself. Sure, it has all those classic DQ touchstones—me as an amnesiac hero, all the armor and weapons and supernatural magics, Slimes out the proverbial wazoo—but I genuinely felt more a part of the unfolding story than just a passenger along for the ride.
Sure, it’s still a super-cutesy eastern take on the high fantasy RPG, but this time I set the pace.
As the legendary Builder, I alone can return Alefgard to its former glory, attracting new villagers by constructing bigger and better accommodations and unlocking more craftable items as I mine and explore. Of course, the bigger my town grows, the more attention I draw from the Dragonlord and his army of marauding monsters. But, hey, that’s life!
While the game certainly looks like Dragon Quest and undoubtedly has the blocky sheen of Minecraft, I can’t help but think it feels to me more like… well, Fallout.
I have a base of operations where I lay my head and store my gear. I meet new people as I adventure, bringing in additional residents and opening up the opportunity for even more side quests. But, ultimately, I can do whatever I want.
Maybe I’ll jump through a portal or wander far afield to harvest new materials. Maybe I’ll craft a specialty item to fulfill a villager request. Maybe I’ll wall off my city, keeping us safe from nighttime ne’er-do-wells, building a booming metropolis of mud and stone and straw that towers above the countryside.
Hell, maybe I’ll just tunnel through a mountain! (Because I can.)
Look, here’s the point in the post where I’m supposed to tell you about the free-build mode (Terra Incognita) and it’s sister, the arena-style wave-combat mode Terra Gladiatoria. I ought to tout the additional Switch bells and whistles, but here’s the thing; you don’t even need to touch those secondary offerings to get the most out of DQB. Consequently, I’m fairly confident you could get your 50 bucks worth with just those and stuff like the retro Dragon Quest customization options.
I guess what I’m getting at is that Dragon Quest Builders is a JRPG and a world-spanning block-builder. Either one. Or both. Whatever you’d prefer.
But what it is for me is an unbelievable amount of fun.
Review materials provided by: Nintendo of America