Super Smash Bros. with training wheels.

At first glance, Kirby Fighters 2 appears rather unnecessary. I can’t imagine gamers have been in the middle of a Smash Bros. bout and thought, “You know what would make this better? Removing everyone except Kirby.” But that’s the odd game we’ve got here. And even odder? It works…for a while.

Kirby Fighters 2 contains all the hallmarks of its Super Smash Bros. brother. Up to four players can fight in local or online modes. There’s a diverse move-set to master for each character. Nearly 20 different brightly colored and surprisingly unique stages add some flair and force you to change your strategies.

That the game can be compelling despite being rooted solely in the Kirby universe speaks well of both the developers and the titular franchise.

Fans will recognize the Kirby heroes and villains available as playable characters, and you’ll likely have your favorite based on your preferred Kirby games. There’s a wonderful new character, too—a wrestling Kirby complete with Lucha Libre wrestling mask. It would be enough to dress the fellow like this, but he comes with wrestling moves and combos, too. It adds some new fun to freshen up the more familiar abilities of Yo-Yo Kirby, King Dedede, and so on.

There are 17 Kirby combatants in all, each providing surprising depth to their move-sets. As with Super Smash Bros., it’s certainly possible to just pick your favorite, jump in, and start fighting. That’s fun. But the more you play, the more aware you’ll become of each Kirby’s abilities, and the more rewarding the game becomes.

It helps that the controls are a bit more friendly to new players. They’re perhaps not optimized for this kind of crazy combat, and Super Smash Bros. players may initially be confused by the layout. Kirby Fighters 2 plays more like…well, like a Kirby game.

In fact, those drawn in by the Kirby connection will be pleased to learn there’s a story mode that doesn’t require you to get your butt kicked by other players. It’s a tower of tournaments in which you and a friend (human or AI) will cooperatively need to fight your way up the floors to take on (of course) Meta Knight and King Dedede. You clear the tower in chapters, progressing through more floors with each: 5, 10, 20, 30, and 50. Each floor is a 2v1, 2v2, or boss fight. Between them, you’ll recover some health and get to select one of three random (and hidden) power-ups.

Some of these permanently improve your attacks or skill level. Some are level-specific, such as a medal that makes you more effective in boss battles. Choosing the right power-up at the right time adds a lot of fun to the proceedings. It can be disappointing when you don’t get what you really need, but practice and skill will compensate.

Unfortunately, the diversity of the combat moveset and of the enemies you’ll face can’t hide the fact that you’re fully invested in a Kirby world. The gameplay is fun, but it looks and feels the same throughout. I imagine that won’t matter to Kirby fans, but those coming here from Super Smash Bros. could lose interest pretty quickly, by comparison. If the allure of the 50-floor tower doesn’t compel you forward, then you’re going to be relying solely on the multiplayer bouts. And honestly, those are just better in Super Smash Bros.

Unless, of course, you’re not good at Super Smash Bros. The competition here is much friendlier, and kids, especially, will have an easier time wrapping their head around Kirby Fighters 2. My 7-year-old son is just now getting into these fighting games, and he often becomes frustrated at his inability to make any real progress. Here, he was rewarded with more wins.

Kirby Fighters 2, then, is better than it looks “on the shelf.” It won’t hold your attention for long, but you can tell it was developed with love for both the franchise and the brawler genre.