Kirby’s Dream Buffet Embraces My Competitive Spirit
Next to a game like Fall Guys, Kirby's Dream Buffet puts my success and failure squarely in my hands
It’s forgivable to think at first glance that Kirby’s Dream Buffet is a Fall Guys clone. Both games feature a set of gelatinous, largely ability-less characters racing their way through challenges in pursuit of finishing in the top spot. Both games are relatively latecomers to the Battle Royale space, but their colorful, kid-friendly charm places them in opposition to the more competitively inclined games that dominate the genre.
The similarities between the two games largely end there. Fall Guys plays closer to a Wipeout-style game show compared to Kirby’s Dream Buffet’s focus on racing and collecting. When Fall Guys first dropped, I saw it as the perfect free-to-play game for multitasking. The simple controls and quick rounds paired nicely with focusing on a podcast or catching up on a tv show.
But the more I played Kirby’s Dream Buffet following its release last month, the less time I spent Fall Guys, due in part to a glaring issue with the latter.
Fall Guys just isn’t competitive.
Alright, that’s a half-truth. As with any game, there is a budding competitive scene, albeit seemingly less sweaty than games like Street Fighter or Super Smash Bros.
But at the game’s core, Fall Guys does everything in its power to have players not succeed, or at the very least, not be able to orchestrate their own success. And I can’t stand that.
The very idea of the Battle Royale genre is competitive gameplay. Whether playing solo or as a squad, eliminating the, well, competition and claiming (or sharing) first place is the ultimate goal. Fall Guys is no different, and its snappy gameplay loop of starting a run, dying, and reloading, encourages players to play over and over to improve their results.
In theory, this should work in Fall Guys, but in practice, the game is an exercise in frustration. When controlling your character - a colorful bean that can don outfits ranging from space gear to a hotdog costume - controls are imprecise. Beans can run, jump, pick up items, and pull themselves onto ledges, but do so with the vigor of a sloth. Unlike platformers that have refined controls to ensure player success, the titular Fall Guys play as though they are rag dolls, often being churned about levels without guidance. The dynamic maps, strewn with windmills, conveyor belts, and other obstacles, will fling players to their dooms indiscriminately, as the ragdoll physics make planning intentional approaches to obstacles random at best.
Pair that with the fact that the Fall Guys are some of the slowest moving characters I’ve ever had the displeasure of controlling, and the game quickly becomes pure dysfunction.
Kirby’s Dream Buffet, on the other hand, embraces the same style of obstacle course shenanigans, albeit with tighter control. Rather than walking and running, Kirby rolls through courses Katamari Damacy style, growing in size as he eats sweets along the path and gaining speed from power-ups and speed boosters. Kirby can also navigate with jumps, which, unlike Fall Guys, very clearly carries forward momentum. The bottomless pits that surround the stages are also relatively less harmful, with Kirby retaining his floatation, albeit with limits based on his given size.
The tight yet simplistic controls help remove a majority of the randomness that plagues Fall Guys. And while chaos is supposed to be embraced in developer Mediatonic’s battle royale, much of it feels unintentional. Taking a faster route through an obstacle course can easily backfire as your bean hops onto an uneven or sloping floor and subsequently topples to its demise.
Kirby’s Dream Buffet also fine-tunes the level design, with stages very clearly dotted with powerups and riskier alternate paths that can give players an upper hand.
And even though Fall Guys beats Kirby’s Dream Buffet in terms of the variety of stages, the game’s stricter requirements for progressing from round to round means that becoming proficient at all Fall Guys has to offer requires a significant time commitment - and a lot of trial and error.
Truthfully, Kirby’s Dream Buffet still shouldn’t be compared to Fall Guys. Both games have their audiences, with the former enticing fans of Mario Kart and Mario Party, and the latter a crowd invested in chaotic experiences like Fortnite or Among Us. The real determinant of which you play comes down to a simple question: are you more interested in experiencing the journey, or reaching the finish line?
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