There is a lot I could say about this game. The soft spot I've always had for it has never truly gone away, long after I should have outgrown it. I sigh when I talk about it, reflecting back on those sugar-coated childhood days where I had only just discovered the magnificent history of the company I had been following for over three years. And when I had also found a new favorite character.
Here's a fun fact for you: Kirby's Adventure is the swan song of the NES. A year after it was released, Nintendo cut the plug with a port of Wario's Woods.
Funny, isn't it? We previously discussed Super Mario Bros., one of the many games that launched the console back in 1985. And now we're talking about a game that arrived eight years later in 1993. Surprisingly enough, even after the launch of the Super Nintendo back in '91, many companies still found an investment in the antiquated console. Capcom, for example, continued churning out their carbon copy Mega Man titles for the system before finally moving on to creating successor series Mega Man X.
And then we have this little gem. Somehow, a game featuring a brand new character from Nintendo managed to sell over a million copies on an old console. How in the world did this happen?
We must turn back the clock to find out.
It is 1992.
The console wars raging between the Super Nintendo and the Sega Genesis had just begun. Mario had finally found a rival in Sonic the Hedgehog, and it was a bitter competition to the very end. While Nintendo eventually "won" the battle in the end, its success was ensured by a little device known as the Game Boy, released three years prior.
The brainchild of Dr. Mario/Metroid designer Gunpei Yokoi, this baby took the handheld gaming world by storm and became a valuable asset of road trips everywhere. With Super Mario Land and Tetris at the helm, nothing could stop its invasion. It had opposition in the forms of the Sega Game Gear and the Atari Lynx, but they ultimately crushed by the Game Boy's low cost, long battery life and a bountiful harvest of third-party developers.
Enter HAL Laboratory. After creating over a dozen games for the MSX, they shifted over to the NES and eventually designated themselves as an exclusive developer for Nintendo. This developer would bring about two very important people into the company's history. One of them was Satoru Iwata, a programmer for HAL who worked on many titles such as Balloon Fight and Earthbound. As of 2002, he is currently the president of Nintendo of Japan.
The other man was Masahiro Sakurai.
A young game designer at the age of 19, Mr. Sakurai somehow found himself directing his very first title on the Game Boy. Originally going by the name of Twinkle Popo, for his 'test' character he decided to craft a simple blob who was named Popopo. Unexpectedly, this smiling blob grew on the development team and it was kept as the main character. The character was eventually renamed Kirby, and the title to Hoshi no Kirby (Kirby of the Stars).
Or, as we American folks are familiar with, Kirby's Dream Land.
Will there be a feature on Kirby's Dream Land? No, there won't be. But I'd like to think it's important to go over. After all, it is the blueprint for the game we will ultimately be discussing.
While giving the game another shot last night, it was then I first realized the true genius of this game. Today, the average gamer won't see anything special about it. It's four stages long, ending with a compilation of all the game's bosses. Kirby's trademark Copy Ability powers are nowhere to be seen, and that alone makes it outclassed by the rest of the flashier titles in the series. The game is too easy, it goes by too quick. For a first entry in an iconic franchise, it's rather weak.
Then I tried the Expert mode and had my ass handed to me. Believe me when I say couldn't get past Green Greens, THE VERY FIRST STAGE IN THE GAME. And I got killed three times by Whispy Woods. You see that tree up there? That's him. His role in Kirby games is to stand still and throw apples at you. I could not defeat a boss that stood still and threw fruit at me.
Now, I could have indulged in the humiliation of this fact for the rest of the night, but I instead decided to suddenly fit everything in place. You see, I've always believed that the Kirby series is the #1 franchise to introduce to a fledgling gamer. The games themselves aren't that long, but they're paced well enough to those under eleven. Most of the bosses and mini-bosses became a cinch later on in my life, but their erratic patterns can prove to be a difficulty if you don't figure them out. The games encourage you to find secrets, urge you to achieve a 100% score for your file.
Dream Land succeeds in not only challenging a new player, but also providing an experience for a veteran gamer. The game has enough length for a child, and the Expert Mode compliments this by being merciful as to not being too long, yet just hard enough to entice the player to just beat the damn thing. If such a gamer is worn out, they can return to the normal mode for a quick breather (not to mention study) before jumping back in. I'd like to believe that Dream Land has some entertaining level design as well, what with its winding pathways that encourage more playthroughs to witness what lies in all of them.
Would Kirby's Dream Land serve this role today? I think the succeeding titles in the series, such as Adventure and Super Star, could serve the same purpose, not to mention they can purchased anytime on the Wii's Shop Channel and via GBA and DS remakes. For what it is, though, it's a good game and I foresee more playing sessions with it in the near future.
I mean, hey, it managed to sell over 5 million copies. That has to count for something.
So we already know why Dream Land was a success. But what about the next title in the series, Kirby's Adventure? The Game Boy was new and exciting, and yet the NES was on its death throes. How could a new game on the system possibly spice things up?
I still remember when I first played Adventure when I was ten years old. The Gamecube had just come out, and Super Smash Bros. Melee had taken over my life. That, and I had also gotten hooked on ROMs. That is, old video games uploaded onto the internet...not a very legal practice, but a common one. One of the very first games I downloaded was Kirby's Adventure, something I had always had an interest in trying out but never got around to.
Immediately, I fell in love with it. The 2D style of the game instantly appealed to my nostalgia senses despite never being around during the NES era. The gameplay was crazy addictive; despite having previously been enthralled with Kirby 64's use of combining powers, somehow the wider repertoire of basic (not to mention funner) abilities made it a blast to play. I even loved the fantasy backdrop of the setting. It was the perfect retro game for me.
In no time at all, Kirby had become my new favorite video game character.
This is Kirby.
Look at that picture and tell me that's not the most adorable thing you've ever seen.
I'm still trying to figure out how exactly Kirby managed to capture my heart way back over eight years ago. There was just something about his pure, idyllic nature that won over my friends and I. In any case, I was his biggest fan. I played Kirby's Adventure and Kirby Super Star religiously. I daydreamed about the series all the time and assigned personalities and roles to all of his ingame friends and enemies. I reenacted his greatest battles. I visited the fansite Kirby's Rainbow Resort practically daily. The very day the 4kids dub of the anime adaption hit our shores, I was supposed to wake Mom up for a early dentist appointment. I didn't.
...now that I think about it, he's probably the main reason why I consider 2002 to be the best year of my life. Man, what an awesome year.
Would I be lying if I said I was still just as passionate about the character, and even the series in general? Yes. However, I can't help but crack a smile when I'm fondling a giant plush version of him or revisiting an old entry in the series. I'd say Mario has probably retained his spot as my favorite character by now, but the pink puffball comes close. Mario, Kirby, and Ness. That will always be my top three.
So how does Kirby fight?
He swallows bad guys and steals their powers.
Yeah, that's right. See, Kirby loves to eat and somehow got the idea this should be incorporated into his fighting strategy. Surprisingly, this worked out for him as he has the power of the Copy Ability; in other words, he can steal the powers of the enemy he swallows.. He can breath fire, brandish a sword, blow ice, shoot lasers, learn how to suplex, turn into a racin' wheel, swing a hammer, scream into a microphone, and much more. Depending on the ability, he'll change color or don some of of headgear. Here's an example.
Yikes, look at that flaming helmet!
The Copy Ability got its start in Adventure..which we'll pick up on in the next entry. See you then.
Fun Facts: Masahiro Sakurai had always intended for Kirby to be pink, but Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto suggested that he should be yellow. While he ended up being pink, he turns yellow while using the Beam and Needle abilities. Along with many other colors, it is also an selectable alternate costume in games such as Kirby Air Ride, Kirby and the Amazing Mirror, and the Super Smash Bros. trilogy. So in the end, they both got their wish!
Infamous rumors once circulated the internet as to the origin of Kirby's name. Some say it might have been named after the Kirby vacuuming corporation, which is in regards to his inhalation abilities. Others say he might have been named after lawyer John Kirby, who defended Nintendo in a tricky lawsuit from Universal Studios. Whatever the case, Sakurai has been quoted in saying that he does not recall where Kirby got his name.
So, um, the reservations I held against Kirby's Epic Yarn back at E3?
Yeah, well, screw that. All of the recent trailers have changed my mind about the game and I can't wait to get my hands on it. It looks gorgeous. Twelve days! EeeeEEEEAAAYYAAAAA!!!!!!
Photos and screenshots hail from Kirby's Rainbow Resort, Mobygames, and the Kirby Wiki. If you have a problem with my use of 'em, please contact me as soon as possible.