by Jed Pressgrove
The power fantasy is often associated with dominance, especially the masculine sort. As such, people don’t tend to connect the puffy and pink Kirby to such a fantasy. But this year’s platformer Kirby: Planet Robobot has a suggestive, over-the-top reversal: the protagonist, while operating a mecha suit, literally screws into the final boss, eventually penetrating the enemy and passing all the way through.
This display of brute, phallic force from the cute hero rejects the misconception that the mecha-suit action in Planet Robobot is a gimmick. While it’s true many Kirby games have been easy and thus could be said to make one feel dominant, Planet Robobot has a graver tone, thanks to its two-legged machines that recall similar but briefer moments in Mega Man X and the urgency of the “Heart of Steel” theme (Hirokazu Ando’s soundtrack is one of the best of the year). Kirby’s Dream Land 2 already played with the notion of the hero becoming more powerful by attaching himself to different animals, but these occurrences, such as when Kirby rides inside a fish out of water, were sometimes more awkward than empowering.
With the mecha suit in Planet Robobot, you can destroy things that seem immovable, like the automobiles in the game’s second world, Resolution Road. Even though you can feel the weight of the suit, your mecha movement is quicker and more precise than the case of the power armor in Fallout 4. There is also a version of Kirby’s suit that allows you to cruise as an automobile and jump from plane to plane, supercharging the foreground-background dynamic that felt tacked on in Kirby Triple Deluxe.
In the concluding series of bosses of Planet Robobot, the power fantasy is subverted before the wild climax. The boss stage of the sixth world leans as you walk, producing disorientation that clashes with the killer efficiency you felt in previous levels. With Kirby looking up as you ride an elevator, the loss of his dominance is apparent (appropriately you can’t move Kirby during this sequence), as is his sense of awe at what he is about to face. You end up fighting a more intimidating version of the classic Kirby villain Meta Knight. (I destroyed him as cheaply and desperately as possible with the poison ability, staying high in the air and flinging life-draining chemicals to the floor.)
The next boss flips the power dynamic further. As $10,000 bills rain down, the battle evokes white-collar menace on par with the cigar-smoking Fat Cat, the great final enemy in Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers. In a dialogue sequence, this Planet Robobot boss confirms his view of your subordination with racist language (“wild natives”). The very final boss form can actually swallow and spit you out; the camera follows you as you are swallowed to emphasize powerlessness and humiliation. All of this helps emphasize the game’s ultimate catharsis of screwing your foe to death, making Planet Robobot both an essential take on Kirby and a shining example of creativity in 2016’s big-budget game malaise.