(Update 9/21/19: Something I was unaware of when I wrote this post that is pretty important and has altered my view of the game: Super Kirby Clash has a hard cap on cash spent. If you ever end up paying an accumulative $40 USD on the game (i.e. the price of some full games), the game becomes free from then on. This is, in my opinion, a pretty good model for microtransactions. To the extent I kind of want to just retract the post below. I’m leaving it up because I think some points still stand but keep this paragraph in mind. Original post continues below.)
Super Kirby Clash is a mobile game on a console. Though officially described as a “free to start” eShop game in Nintendo’s most recent Direct, one glance at it’s hub world lays it’s true nature bare. There’s timers, an endless grind for numerous resource currencies, and of course an ever present push to just pay your way to making it all easier. Really, it seems the range of Kirby’s moves requiring a controller is the only thing that kept this from simply being released on phones. This isn’t the first time mobile games have been ported over to PC or console, especially in the Switch’s case, but it is the first time I can think of that Nintendo themselves designed one specifically for their main console.
Granted, a lot of the work was done already, Super Kirby Clash is mostly just a modest upgrade to Team Kirby Crash Deluxe on 3DS, which itself was a stand alone expanded version of the side-game mode that was included with Kirby Planet Robobot.
Indeed, though it’s prettier and there are some new fights and more equipment, the addition of mobile game microtransaction gimmicks seems to be the biggest change from the 3DS version, which is concerning. (Edit: It’s been brought to my attention that the 3DS version included microtransactions as well. Sorry!)
In recent years microtransactions were seeming to start coming up against the bounds of what people would tolerate. From the extreme backlash among fans to things like Star Wars Battlefront 2's Loot Boxes and the casino like NBA2k microtransactions, to wider mainstream news reports of outrage over mobile games exploitation of children and the potential of goverment oversight and regulation, it may have even started to seem like the tide was about to turn. But of course, no business will give up such a lucrative model so easily.
While at first there was a lot of grand gesturing by publishers and developers of promises that their games would not have loot boxes, more and more it seems to me that many are tacking to the tactic of “Honesty”. Which is to say; “We will tell you what your odds are or what exactly you are paying for, but we’re not gonna stop nickel and diming. You’ll just know it before hand.”
In some ways Super Kirby Clash feels like the natural result. Rather than hide microtransactions in a traditional console game, just release a mobile game and treat it as a “free to start” console game. Again, searching the eShop you can find plenty of ported mobile titles, but these are all small developers, cashing in quick on the success of the Switch. For Nintendo themselves to make something with this model feels like an escalation of microtransaction creep onto consoles even though it is far from being as egregious as the aforementioned offenders.
And for what it’s worth, Super Kirby Clash is fun! It’s simple, quick, bite-size Kirby fights with solid gameplay. Had it been expanded more than just adding microtransactions I feel it probably could’ve lasted a lot longer than I suspect it will for me. I enjoy my time with it, but the constant pressure to just spend money already is building fast and I wonder how long it takes to just drop it as a result.
Nintendo has usually stayed pretty clear of the microtransaction game, aside from their mobile titles. Whether this is the result of some internal philosophy or just because they tend to lag behind when it comes to major trends, it does mean they kind of serve as a bellwether. And with Super Kirby Clash it feels like that bellwether is saying that microtransaction creep has not been stymied at all by recent blowback, but rather is just going to stop hiding and plant it’s flag loudly and clearly. This might be an obvious thing, but it still feels a bit concerning about how much further it will go.