Kirby’s having quite the prolific year. We weren’t sure what 2017 would hold for the popular pink puffball until a recent Nintendo Direct revealed he’d be starring in a total of three brand-new 3DS games. The first of them, Team Kirby Clash Deluxe, is an expansion of a mini-game found within 2016’s Planet Robobot.

Developer HAL definitely realized they something good on their hands, but maybe not something they could necessarily sell as a full product. Thanks to HAL’s design chops, the resulting creation holds up as a free-to-play experience that does its best to avoid tampering with basic functionality.

Kirby Meets Monster Hunter

Clash Deluxe veers away from the traditional Kirby approach, and feels more like an action-RPG akin to something like Monster Hunter. Essentially, the entire game focuses on boss battles featuring you and up to three other Kirbys, with the overarching goal being to play out these fights multiple times to gather the necessary resources to upgrade your gear, buy items, and unlock new quests. And Kirby’s powers don’t work in the traditional sense; instead of inhaling enemies and absorbing their abilities, you can switch between one of four roles, each with their different strengths, weaknesses, and gear. With tank, DPS, healer, and ranged magic-user roles to choose from, Team Kirby Clash Deluxe offers the full range of classes needed for a well-rounded RPG party.

Unfortunately, you can’t play Clash Deluxe online—which feels like a major oversight—but you can engage in local matches and pick up AI-controlled partners via StreetPass and through other methods. (You definitely want to rock a full Kirby team ASAP.) And while a series of boss battles may seem like it would make for a fairly limited and repetitive game, the various side objectives per fight offer plenty of incentives to jump back in and try a new approach, or simply perform better. Simply put, Clash Deluxe offers an extremely addictive game loop, as you’re somehow always just a few resources away from getting the next piece of gear you need. Plus, it’s always fun to revisit old bosses with your upgraded team of Kirbys and wipe the floor with them in seconds.

Free-to-Play the Nintendo Way

Nintendo has always approached free-to-play with a light touch, and thankfully, monetization doesn’t interfere much with the Clash Deluxe experience. The only F2P element that seems a bit excessive is “Vigor,” which may feel extremely familiar to anyone who’s ever played a game of this type. You’re allotted a finite amount of this resource, and it’s necessary to spend if you want to undertake quests. That said, in my time with the game, running out of Vigor never seemed to be an issue, and instead felt like the game trying to reinforce a kid-friendly “only play a little bit every day” message. One Vigor unit replenishes every seven minutes, so it doesn’t take all that much time to fully charge your meter for the sake of more questing.

The other special—and monetizable—resource comes in the form of Gem Apples, which serve a number of valuable and exclusive functions. This type of currency can earn you more Vigor, let you continue if all your Kirbys die in a boss fight, unlock new quests, and summon other Kirbys to fight with you. And while you can buy these with real money (for about a penny each, or less if you buy in bulk), the game offers plenty of ways for patient players to collect them on their own terms. They’re given upon completion of quests and side-objectives, and a tree in the main hub will drop some for Kirby every 12 hours. Of course, you can make this tree grow (along with its fruit supply) by buying Gem Apples with money, but, again, it all depends on whether or not you’re willing to wait half a day for more to drop.

Perfect in Small Servings

Granted, I can definitely see a scenario where Team Kirby Clash Deluxe’s monetization could come off as grating. Some of the bigger bosses can be surprisingly challenging, and it’s easy to burn through your Apple Gems without noticing. But if you dip in for a few quests a day, Clash Deluxe amounts to a breezy diversion double-coated in that patented Kirby cuteness. Plus, with it being free and everything, it doesn’t take much of an investment to try it out.

Bob Mackey
Bob Mackey is Games Editor at Fandom. Since joining the games press in 2007, he's written for sites like 1UP, Joystiq, The A.V. Club, Gamasutra, USgamer, and many others. He also hosts the weekly podcasts Retronauts and Talking Simpsons. Follow him on Twitter @bobservo.