Saturday, February 1, 2014

Ten Years of Kirby ~Reverie 5~ Kirby Super Star

With the imminent advent of 3D gaming via the Nintendo 64 and the Sony Playstation, the end of the beloved Super Nintendo was nigh. As the industry paved the way for polygonal graphics and three-dimensional movement, the loss of sprite-filled 2D video games was already rendering feelings of poignancy among long-time gamers; however, as the magazine Electronic Gaming Monthly stated with poetic glee in their tenth-anniversary reflection on the Super Nintendo, the console's soul still burned. While its support was about to be brought to a close, it is noted to be the last Nintendo home console to be sufficiently supplied with a healthy game library straight up to the end (as opposed to the future growing pains and third-party screw-ups to be found just around the corner).

And what a library it was! Speaking from the sole perspective of Nintendo-published titles, there was not a blemish to be found. Its iterations of Zelda, Super Mario, and Metroid are often cited to be the series' finest, with all three considered to be virtually perfect. New franchises were born in the form of Mario Kart, Star Fox, and Donkey Kong Country, and all readily captured the hearts of gamers. No game bared the mark of a rushed-release or a game-killing flaw, as Nintendo finally perfected the reputation of endlessly polishing their titles (part of the secret to their fabled "magic"). It was very much a golden era: one where Nintendo still held their ground with a superbly fun mixture of graphic-pushing technology, precise controls and pitch-perfect gameplay, crafting a healthy library of instant classics.

In the mid-90's, Masahiro Sakurai happened to be working on a masterwork himself. While the basis for this project remains unknown, a brief look at his cited production history can offer a few clues. Following the console-pushing success of Kirby's Adventure and the spin-off Kirby's Pinball Land, Sakurai perhaps realized he didn't want to be tied to this franchise forever. Before gradually lending the reigns to HAL Laboratory's other teams (a process that initially began with 1995's Kirby's Dream Land 2) and moving on to other genres, he aspired to to leave a mark that matched his growing ambition. Much like how Kirby's Adventure impressed years after the arrival of the SNES, this title would be a proper send-off to the fading console by building upon where Adventure left off: jam-packing the game with a flood of content, gorgeous eye candy that pushed the system to its limits, and a veritable assortment of gameplay mechanics for the player to endlessly experiment with.

Seeing as how Kirby Super Star remains the unmitigated masterpiece of the entire series, I'd say his hard work paid off.


Dubbing Kirby Super Star as Kirby's magnum opus is perhaps understandably suspect when not just reviewing the progression the series has made to this day, but within it's own composition. The overall length is short even by the low standards Kirby holds in that regard, is not by any stretch of the imagination the hardest Kirby game to complete (let alone achieving a 100% score), and appeals mostly to younger, beginner games. Yet for all its brevity and easiness, the game is still lauded as the paramount adventure for the pink puffball, with guaranteed spots on "The Best of Super Nintendo" lists and even Nintendo games in general. But why? How could such a brief, fragmented title stand along the likes of Super Metroid and A Link to the Past?

I mentioned in my Kirby's Adventure editorial how that game could be considered the true blueprint of Kirby. Super Star takes that blueprint and transcends it into something else entirely: the first of Sakurai's mentality of cohesive works. As much as I adore Adventure's amusement-park atmosphere (which, yes, has its own breed of cohesion as well), it cannot surpass Super Star in one vital area: a system-pushing presentation. Super Star is not constrained to any of the graphical, aural, or technological limitations that the NES suffered from, and pulls out all the stops to present a richly presented video game that screams ambition in every one of its circuit board pores. The gameplay? A ridiculously elaborated selection of Copy Abilities. The graphics? A flawless mixture of sprite-animated characters and CGI effects and backgrounds. The soundtrack? A booming symphony that one could swear is orchestrated. All of it comes together to form a game that flawlessly produces an ambitious theme of penultimate action, perhaps to express Sakurai's send-off to his very first character.

This was the model that Sakurai would eventually become famous for, and he strove to match this level of gorgeous, chock-full cohesion in all of his following titles. His most famous works--the Super Smash Bros. titles, of course-- are the unabashed ambassadors for his standard, what with them aiming for a mountain of content that upon first glance comes across as being completely unnecessary and parallel to the core fighting system; however; they're integrated so well into the themes of Nintendo nostalgia that the games would feel bare-bones without them (the first game doesn't quite adhere to this model, but one can definitely argue its battle system owes to that of an advanced Super Star). What could be a simple, one-button racing game is transformed into a mode-filled, reward-focused aerial racer (Kirby Air Ride), and what would be a perfectly serviceable on-rails shooter is supplied with dozens upon dozens of weapon types and a full-fledged multiplayer mode, all while juggling with the task of reinvigorating a world that hasn't been visited in nearly two decades (Kid Icarus: Uprising).

So, good for Sakurai, then! But what exactly makes Super Star cohesive? Perhaps you caught sight of the introductory box art's hook: "8 GAMES IN ONE!", it claims. Super Star isn't composed of one decently-sized campaign, but rather six main adventures, with two extra mini-games and an unlockable boss rush bringing the grand total up to nine games. Nine games. Nine games that are all compatible with multiplayer, are all just long enough for an afternoon game session for yourself or with your friends (save for maybe The Great Cave Offensive, of which is packaged with a convenient save system), and most of which come into their own as genuine entries into the Kirby canon.

The choice to immediately introduce such an ambitious cohesion onto the player produces an instant addiction, for the powerful presentation is carried over into the actual gameplay. For example, take what is accomplished with the Copy Abilities. Unlike Kirby's Adventure, the game is not satisfied with simply color-coding Kirby's skin in accordance to whatever power he adsorbs, as he has to wear these adorable hats specially designed for nearly every ability. Neither will the game stand for abilities to be limited to a single action as per Adventure; no, they have to operate as akin to that of a beginner's fighting game, with dozens of quick, simple inputs to initiate flashy maneuvers.

The classic Beam ability is the perfect model: in Adventure, the ability constitutes of an energy beam chain that Kirby fires in a close-range arc, typically defeating his foes in one blow. This arc maneuver is retained in Super Star but is noticeably weaker, for foes hardly flinch at all. While still decent for fending off a mob attack from the front, it's far more satisfactory to utilize the rest of Beam's options. Holding the attack button lets Kirby channel power to fire off a massive beam blast, and a dash attack produces a cone-shaped beam of beads. Attack from the air to unleash a scattering shot, or grab a close foe to finish them off with a point-blank blast.

Much like Adventure, the selection of Copy Abilities offers a robust balance of viable move-sets and gimmicks. While sadly some of the more unique moves--such as Ball and Laser--didn't make the returning cut, taking their place are some equally innovative selection of moves: Bomb, Fighter, Wing, Suplex, Jet, Mirror, Ninja, Yo-Yo, and Plasma. It's difficult to select an absolute favorite of the new bunch, what with Plasma and and Mirror providing the graphical bombast with their projectile stretchiness while Bomb, Yo-Yo, and Fighter excel at erasing crowds and bosses with their punchy, direction-driven prowess. If forced to choose, I do perhaps find myself leaning towards the latter not just for the obvious Earthbound influence in the Yo-Yo power but their fitting role within the game's overall emulation of a beat-'em-up.

Even aesthetically, the abilities serve as delicious eye-candy. Can Stone claim to be one of the more mechanically interesting powers? No, but boy is it fascinating to watch it morph from 8-ton weights to the rare Mario statue.

Rounding off the Copy Abilities is a beloved feature that has yet to be replicated in any Kirby game since: the helper system, which also functions as the game's main draw for multiplayer. Through discarding a Copy Ability, Kirby can conjure up friendlier facsimiles of his foes to fight alongside him, of which are either controlled by the CPU or another player. Everything about this feature is constructed with convenience in mind: the helper has access to the entire moveset of whatever Ability that enemy is tied to (for example, a Parasol Waddle Dee has access to the entire move repertoire for, well, Parasol), extra movement/transportation inputs exist to assist in keeping up with Kirby's superior movement, and switching between different copy abilities consists of just a quick transfer between whatever Kirby possesses and the partner.

It goes without saying I could probably gush for just about forever in how Super Star utilizes Copy Abilities, and why shouldn't I? Their obvious heft in both design and execution is one of the primary reasons why Super Star holds its legendary status, for it was not repeated in the following years Yes, proper credit must be given to the "blending" mechanics found in Dream Land 3 and 64: The Crystal Shards, but neither game comes even close to running the gamut of move executions as opposed to Super Star, and it wouldn't be until eight years later when Amazing Mirror traversed back to this model (and even then, it can be argued it pulls off only a fraction of Super Star's depth). With a number of Copy Abilities that was almost toe-to-toe with Adventure's collection along with the depth of the combat system and the presence of helpers, Super Star was granted a sense of a sense of exclusivity that wouldn't be matched until 2011's Return to Dream Land.

With how enemies are now designed to a tad more durable in receiving hits, it's obvious the game was designed for experimentation as opposed to Adventure's philosophy of designing levels around the Copy Abilities. While there are some callbacks to that regard along with some fun level gimmicks (mine-cart riding!), most levels serve as plain testing grounds for Kirby's wondrous feats. This isn't to say the level design isn't completely mercenary, what with the customary scrolling screens of death and creative uses of aquatic air pockets and gusty wind currents, but I would have a difficult time arguing the depth applied to the combat was similarly attributed to the platforming (aside from the mouth-watering aesthetics they are composed of, of which we'll visit in just a bit).

Of course, this underemphasis on level design is of little consequence, for the central gameplay of Kirby's powers are too much fun for anyone to care. What's also key is the ambition of scenario found even in its beginnings, with the opening Spring Breeze being entirely composed of a revisit to Kirby's Dream Land, the very first Kirby game. While this abridged remake won't last longer than a fifteen-twenty minute play session, it's as if Sakurai was aware the Copy Ability had already rendered the classic Game Boy title rather obsolete, and he thus saw it fit to pay tribute to his first video game by granting it a brief resurrection of sorts. For all its brevity, it's a rather fine masterwork of presentation: observe how the original monochrome world depicted below...

...flourishes in the 16-bit era's achievement of fusing sprite-work with non-intrusive workings of CGI.

This isn't to downplay the obvious charm found in the original, but by God is it a stunning transformation. Everything from the character models to the background is such a delicious blend of primary colors, immaculate lively sprite-work and masterful traces of CGI. The screen above is a remarkable display of what is by far my favorite element of Super Star's aesthetic: the backgrounds. This re-imagination of Dream Land's landmark checkered plains into soothing, inviting woodlands complete with mysterious atmospheric phenomena is an such an enticing invitation into the realm of fantasy, practically begging the imagination to dive in and further pave what may lie beyond the bathing light, further integrating the player's interaction.

Here's an even more impressive example: Dream Land's original depiction of the night section within Bubbly Clouds' final act, of which is appealing in much the same charm as the warm design of a baby's blanket:

..and observe as how it's revamped into a visual masterpiece the Game Boy could never even dream of: 

Forgive the sudden explosion in size (how I wish I had my own screen capture device!), but screenshots alone cannot capture the glow of the starry background (complete with rainbow Kirby constellations) and the CGI-animated bells swinging about. It must be played to be truly believed.

The sprite-work cannot be ignored either. Their bright, primary colors and luscious, rounded look instantly pop out, rounded off with a fine sheen on their bodies and eyes. At the risk of sounding like a disturbed individual, I'd also like to state they look flat-out delicious. No, this does not mean I want to literally feast upon King Dedede's flesh, but I share the same feelings of hunger as I do for Eiichiro Oda's One Piece manga, in that there's such a palatable thickness to the artwork that it begs to be bitten into. Regardless of the boundaries between my mouth and the confines of printed ink/programming code, I can at least rely on my eyes to pick up the slack.


And the music! The music! It strikes a delicate, perfect balance between pieces of soothing, imaginative warmth and genuinely orchestrated, dramatic flair that perfectly complements the game's imagination and ambition. Admittedly, I would be perhaps hard-pressed to say Kirby Super Star is in possession of the finest soundtrack SNES--the presence of Yasunori Mitsuda's freshman effort on Chrono Trigger, the hallowed tunes of Donkey Kong Country, the laid-back nostalgia of Earthbound, and countless others provide such stiff competition for that title--but Super Star's aptitude for imbuing its songs with the aforementioned contrast may as well land it as my personal favorite. I have yet to encounter any other game on the system with such graceful balance in shifting between two entirely separate pieces of music, as it treats each and every one of its tracks with the same dignity. Even the most innocent of songs (such as the one above and below) reach heights higher than they should, right down to the hypnotic, genuine desire of the Game Over themes to convince the player continue. I instead sit there and dream.

Perhaps part of its peculiar origins lies within its choice of composers. Jun Ishikawa returns again to score, but he's joined by one Dan Miyakawa. Information on the man is scarce within the confines of the English language, as Kirby Super Star was the only video game for which he provided music. Rumors within the Kirby fanbase insist he has been involved with the orchestral field, yet a further analysis here reveals his involvement within many compilation albums and some anime works. Most, if not all, involve a particular penchant for string arrangements.

I cannot confess to be familiar with Miyakawa's work, for the majority of his musical works exist in areas I am not familiar at all with (excluding his brief contribution to the anime Aria the Animation, of which I'm still trying desperately to remember); unfortunately, nor can I claim to know why Sakurai chose him for this project, for I'm unable to find anything else Miyakawa's done prior to the year 2001. It's not as if the man--Sakurai, I mean-- has made unusual selections for his development staff (the primary case being Super Smash Bros. Brawl, with the team behind Grandia serving as the main development while Nobuo Uematsu and Kazushige Nojima, respectively, contributed to music and scenario). Miyakawa's presence in the development of Kirby Super Star especially mystifies me: why did Sakurai select a man completely unfamiliar with video game development (at least, I'm assuming) to contribute to what was to be the ultimate Kirby game? Was he simply just a fan of his music? What was the collaboration between him and Jun Ishikawa like? Did they coach each other? It's a mystery I feel I'll never get the answer to, yet I cannot help but be continually fascinated by his credit. Regardless of his actual background, if his unique presence was the reason Super Star's soundtrack turned out so splendidly, then I am forever grateful for his contribution.



Take this rearrangement of the Bubbly Clouds theme, of which remains my favorite tune in this brief adventure (Spring Breeze, that is). While obviously not one of the game's more dramatic pieces, it still astounds me as to how easily I can lose myself within its dreamy embrace. It is composed of not choking cuteness, but of a fanciful nostalgia that instantly whisks us away. It's also the perfect complement for the setting, a dreamy mixture of clouds and starry skies that coexist without any care for the laws of nature, as they join together solely for the growing mind of the young child. Go ahead and lose yourself within the above background shot while listening to it, why don't you!


While we are on the subject of music, I may as well state that while unfortunately I cannot go over the briefer mini-game titles for the sake of time, I am nonetheless required to touch upon what I consider the ultimate abnormality of Super Star: the Gourmet Race theme. For all its wild energy, it is by a wide margin the boppiest of the game's soundtrack, signifying not dramatic action but that of an innocent eating competition between Kirby and King Dedede. The sub-game (let alone the theme) is not by any means representative of Super Star, yet for reasons I cannot and probably never will comprehend it was chosen in the very same year of release to represent Super Star in Japan's annual Orchestral Game Concert. The aural transformation from a juvenile race to a fantasy epic is nothing sort of breathtaking, and the two versions continue to co-exist without the slightest trace of irony or out-of-place discomfort.

But too long I have lingered already on Spring Breeze! The presence of Dynablade--an original counterpart to Spring Breeze that centers around Kirby's quest to fend off the titular giant bird--gives the player some more breathing room after the former's intense sugar rush. Make no mistake: that the sub-game consists of yet another four levels technically renders it the same size as the Dream Land remake, yet thanks to a charming map and some sprawling landscapes, there is far more room for experimentation and secrets.

I consider Dynablade to be the symbol of the game's philosophy regarding level design, in which its only purpose is to facilitate and promote one's expertise in plowing through the citizens of Dream Land with Copy Abilities. The following games have this too, but their emphasis on time limits and other gimmicks leave Dynablade a more rawer experience into the meat of the gameplay. Think of it like this: Spring Breeze is the hook that captures with the appetizing, wider scope of player inputs and flashy maneuvers. Having been successfully caught, Dynablade provides the grounds for easing the player into figuring out its intricacies and mechanics. Of course, the Copy Abilities are are nothing complex, but one must bear mind of the game's inclination towards beginners. Am I overstating Dynablade's role? Perhaps, but I cannot think of another reason as to why it mirrors the four-level structure of Spring Breeze. They are the preludes to what are the ultimate acts of Super Star, in which 1-2 hour long adventures seem larger than life itselff.

It's for this reason that the following, beefier titles are often associated with Super Star from its older fans; in particular, Revenge of Meta Knight. And why shouldn't it? The sub-game, of which pits Kirby against the series' dubious anti-hero Meta Knight and his takeover of Dream Land, embraces a level of action-packed, race-against-the clock intensity that the series never embraced hitherto. The normally-cheery aesthetic is also suddenly thrown for a loop, with 80% percent of it taking place upon Meta Knight's aerial fortress Halberd. While the infamous dialogue chatter of Meta Knight and his henchman break up the action with the essential cheese, the overall atmosphere is clearly uncharted territory for Kirby, with explosions, dreary machinery, and a booming soundtrack composing what is an enticing, juxtaposed blend of light-hearted heroics and badass 90's action films.

It's a concept that by all means should not work when applied to Kirby context. The character had never before undergone anything so...I wouldn't say dark, but something so military/weapon-intensive--and yet, not only does the final product end feeling completely natural, somehow Revenge of Meta Knight turned out to be one of Kirby's most famous outings. The ultimate showcase for the game's theme of "action Action ACTION!!!", the sudden thrusting of Kirby into a raging storm of mechs and counterattacks and climatic chase sequences raises the question: does the kid-friendly look and feel of the titular character mean he has to stay exclusive to similarly kid-friendly environments? With the previous home console installment focusing on hyperactivity, it's only natural the sequel would build upon that factor in settings that further heighten the sense of achievement, even if it takes characters into unfamiliar terrain. We had Kirby and pals storming a castle at the climax of Kirby's Dream Land 2, yes, but that particular sequence never dreamed of matching the dynamic nature of Revenge of Meta Knight.

It's obvious, then, as to why this is the multiplayer game of choice for Kirby Super Star. Unlike it's objective-based successors, the players are thrown into a chaotic maelstrom of combative activity that--barring some puzzles involving switches--doesn't require anything of the player but to demolish everything in their path. Granted, there is a time limit abiding to each of the sub-game's sections, but the intense ever-shifting nature of the entire fiasco allows that limit to be firmly embedded into its overall intensity. Needless to say, the entire scenario is undeniably riveting, what with being repeatedly shot off the warship's deck and systematically taking down each and every one of its major weapons, all enthralling to the mind of a child (taking down a flying warship!) and continuing to hold dear as they grow ever older.

Yet of course, the light-hearted charm of Kirby seeps in to lighten up the mood via one of the rare occasions of text dialogue in the Kirby universe. The sub-game is frequently supplied with background chatter from the antagonists (Meta Knight and his crew), of who comment on Kirby's progress through shrieking, panic, and shriveling naivete. It is a concept I adore and one that gets the job done, yet remains one of the only areas I take nitpicks against Super Star. If there is one issue I take with Kirby's treatment of its characters regardless of their brief narrative roles, I find myself conflicted with how certain figures frequently shift sides between a bullying antagonist to a misunderstood anti-hero or even transform into a do-gooder protagonist; in this case, this sub-game's depiction of Meta Knight provides a tough, retrospective pill to swallow thanks to his more recent heroic deeds. We can guess that he is perhaps testing Kirby within the events of Kirby's Adventure, and yet here he's suddenly pissed off at how goddamn lazy Dream Land is and decides to change all that with an airship invasion. It was quite an easy mistake to brand him as an outright villain, and was no doubt the reason why I had reservations against his animated depiction for television (although not as much as that fucking horrible Spanish accent they branded onto his vocal cords, but that's a story for another time).

But I digress. I do enjoy the comedy acts of his fellow soldiers; in particular, the pompous vulture captain that never again makes another appearance (aside from the DS remake, in which he is graced with the name of Captain Vul) and the random inclusion of a cowardly Waddle Dee adorning a sailor's cap. No, we also do not know why Waddle Dees come to Kirby for their inevitable slaughter, but I'm always delighted whenever a character is instilled within a member of their species. We do not know if this particular Waddle Dee ever survives the collapse of the Halberd, having chosen to stay behind to witness Meta Knight's conclusive battle with Kirby (at this point, I'd like to take the opportunity to share a brief childhood misunderstanding, in which I thought the character was vocalizing the sound of his heartbeat: Th-Thump. Th-Thump.)  I also appreciate the name-dropping of a single location from Adventure, however brief it is.

Lip-service must also be paid to the booming score, of which perfectly represents the urging, sweeping attack on a mechanically armed fortress. The song above is more recognizable for being the first to play in Meta Knight, but I have a fonder appreciation for the below track. It is the only element of Meta Knight that carries even a whiff of darkness (with only one other song in the entirety of Super Star echoing its intensity), insisting an emphasis onto the danger the Halberd possess to an idyllic wonderland. While I'm glad Meta Knight carefully constructs a fusion of an upbeat invasion, this one song allows the sub-game to temporarily transcend into a more sober realm.

Yet even with Meta Knight's penchant for explosions, I cannot help but favor The Great Cave Offensive for its scope. Kirby's expeditions within a grand underground labyrinth provide what is by far and away the largest sub-game. It has all the bells and whistles of a satisfying epic that is composed of an elementary concept ("Kirby gets lost in a mysterious labyrinth and finds treasure!"), as unlike the threat of wide-spread hunger and a military attack on Dream Land, nothing is at imminent stake within the events of Cave Offensive aside from Kirby's sense of direction, and he seems more concerned with gathering riches than finding a way out. This is not to criticize the sense of completion Cave Offensive imposes onto the player--after all, what's important is whether or not the game is fun-- yet it's nothing sort of a wonder that such a neutral affair is rendered as an epic odyssey, thanks to Super Star's extraordinary sense of art direction and orchestral sound.

Enriching this scope is the goal of collecting sixty treasures, all of which are cleverly hidden and are assigned specific values of cash value to amount to a concluding high score. This isn't the first time Kirby's installed a focus on collecting trinkets (as seen with the Rainbow Shards of Kirby's Dream Land 2) yet unlike the look-alike Crystal Shards and Gear Pieces of the future, the treasure scattered throughout the mysterious underworld are all wholly unique, ranging from model airships and katanas to even humorous duds such as a saucepan and, uh, an actual bomb dud. Yet even then Cave Offensive is a large departure from anything else in the series, as it's constructed solely on not completing levels but just finding treasure and gaining high scores. So isolated is its focus that only other Kirby game to provide a similar experience is Kirby and The Amazing Mirror, of which actually constructs maps not entirely similar to Metroid (whether or not either game trumps the other is purely a matter of taste; Super Star's treasure rewards with charming treasures and high scores, whereas Amazing Mirror provides vitality upgrades, unlockables, and color cosmetics)

And yes, of course such an objective must feature Nintendo cameos; in particular, out of all these fun references I have decided to share what is perhaps the most sacred of the treasures Kirby discovers. It's weight of gold may not be equal to that of  Zelda's Triforce, but we all know that true value lies within the beating, tender heart of a familiar alien species. Boing-zoom!

This deliberate shifting of core gameplay from a beat-'em-up/goal-directed focus to a spelunking-driven objective provides such scope never before seen in Kirby. While perhaps not as deeply intricate as the depths of Super Metroid's Planet Zebes, all four of the main sections remain connected as opposed to being divided into separate levels. It's for this reason that despite Cave Offensive being available for play before Meta Knight, I always reverse their positions for my playthroughs. Despite the night-and-day difference between the intensity of their respective scenarios, the sprawling grand nature of Cave Offensive grants it such heft that it seems larger in every possible way. In this regard, I owe its success to what is none other than a masterful sense of art direction and sound, of which are so perfectly rich and grand to the eyes and ears. Take, for example, the above screenshot depicting the Crystal Field section, and attempt to endure the impossible task of not losing yourself into its shimmering depths. A mixture of shiny CGI and lighting effects clash brilliantly with the immaculate spritework, as crystal-filled aquatic currents litter the cavern.

Composing what is partially responsible for The Great Cave Offensive's scope: an orchestral rendition of the Green Greens theme that opened Kirby's Dream Land so long ago. Taking on a magnificently majestic tone, we gain not a pretentious glorifying of a children's gaming series but instead what I perceive as a celebration of how far said series has come. What started out as a title aimed squarely for beginners had grown into a veritable franchise that anyone can enjoy to the fullest thanks to the maxed-out workings of the SNES hardware, and boy are we left for the better because of it. Even disregarding any symbolism, the segues between a grand tour and a booming finale stroke the imagination just enough to bring its accompanying background settings to life, and I cannot imagine a more fitting theme for the job. The same theme is utilized for the concluding Mystery Paradise setting, which...well, take a gander at the below screen and judge for yourself in how beautifully it's complemented.

I do need to touch upon the other main theme of Cave Offensive, which actually happens to be one that kicks off the game. If there is indeed any intensity to match the entirety of Meta Knight and its successors, let it be this percussion-filled piece of danger and excitement. I claim to have never watched a single Indiana Jones film, but given their fame attributed to 80's childhoods I imagine their soundtracks to have much the same influence as this did to me.


I could also talk about Cave Offensive all day, but I fear in outweighing what is already a very large article, so I'll round off its overview with what stands in stunning contrast to its grand specters: the Save Huts. The one depicted above has always been my personal favorite: we do not know why an ancient tower standing erect in the depths of a murky cavern holds a room that bears witness into a sun-baked forest, but it pokes at our imagination. Each and every one of the cabins are also blessed with a warm lullaby that fans of a certain smashing crossover will no doubt recognize, and one that I continue to cherish.

When Super Star concludes with Milky Way Wishes, we have long since fallen under the game's spell. The finale is composed of such color, such inspired structures of the mind that I find it impossible to describe. I am loathe to spoil anything regarding the events of Kirby's voyage into the stars, and would implore those not familiar with the sub-game to discover its treasured idiosyncrasies for themselves. However, I must share the theme song for the game's final boss. It signals a genuine nightmare, pervasive in all space and ready to pounce at a moment's notice. It may very be the finest final boss theme on the SNES, and we are all the better for it.

In an era where constant replayability was cherished due to shorter lengths, Super Star is nothing sort of a platforming/action hybrid godsend. It's cohesion feels completely natural, as every subsequent game builds upon its predecessor through longer durations and introducing more involved objectives, producing a legitimate sense of progression. Save for the Gourmet Race, Samurai Kirby, and Megaton Punch mini-games, the titles all share the beefed up Kirby tropes and sequences. Are they too short? Perhaps, but that works out in their favor. It's optimal for speedruns (Great Cave Offensive in particular is a popular choice for this), multiplayer outings, and a lonely afternoon.

You ever play through something like, say, Zelda, and find yourself saying "You know, this whole game is great and all, but I'd love to just skip to my favorite parts"? Kirby Super Star is the embodiment of that wish made into reality. With the game being constructed around a "Best of Kirby" philosophy, their state of being condensed is a deliberate quality to urge the player to replay them over and over. And it works. Everything from the Cave Offensive's scope to Meta Knight's warships to even Spring Breeze's rebranding of Dream Land present a cohesive form of pure gaming bliss, and much like Sakurai's later works, it never grows tired.

It is, for the lack of a better word, magic.


In the foreword to the Something Under the Bed is Drooling collection of Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes strips, cartoonist Pat Oliphant praises the successes of Watterson, labeling him an alchemist who has perfected the comic formula. He also repeatedly questions the reader if they want magic, for there is no better place to look than they book they held. Much of his brief, verbose essay flew over my head as a child, but it was that question and the concluding "this book is magic" that caught my attention. If I was to make anything of this essay, my young brain decided, it was to conclude that whatever this magic was, it had to have been not only the source of my enjoyment with the books but with my identification with Calvin. His red-cheeked bouts of anger and how he could earnestly believe he could get dressed for school by sliding into his clothes down the stairs were not at all unfamiliar to me, and I took Oliphant's mystifying--if indeed non-readable--essay with great heft.

It's this same sort of magic associated with Nintendo games; "Nintendo Magic", if you will. Fans cite this magic as to why they continue to play Nintendo games decades after their initial releases, and why they stick with with the company  Are we to suddenly expect game developers--grown adults who have long since been divorced from the magic of childhood--to suddenly tap into that very essence to compose endless strings of programming, as if it were as simple as the press of a button? Are every single one of them truly guided into making video games solely to appeal to our wistful desires? It is rather foolhardy to believe any video game company--even with just the example of Nintendo--would appeal to nostalgia solely for our sake instead of an ulterior motive that has an affinity with the color green.

And yet, why do we expect it in the first place? Yes, we cling to these characters and video games as if they are our beloved stuffed animals, but I doubt we would still do so if they were falling apart. Childish as it sounds, a tiny part of us still believes in the magic's existence because no other company puts such dedication and effort into endlessly polishing their games, from the perfectly-timed expressions of their characters to the various references found hidden in their carefully planned game soundtracks to the tiniest of insignificant, yet beloved secrets in your average Mario level. No company is perfect, and I would be lying if Nintendo has never released clunkers in their lifetime (ever since the release of Metroid: Other M, they've seemed rather dedicated to annually releasing a new franchise entry that completely reverses what made them fun in the first place), but there's a reason why they're almost never absent from countless GOTY lists: they design their games with the philosophy of putting gameplay and presentation first to properly ease their consumers in. Regardless of their massive fuck-up that is the Wii U, I still look to their products as the ultimate expression of entertainment magic.

As a child, I just naturally assumed this magic to spring from Nintendo's genuine desire to spread magic, which was unfairly ignored by the common misconception that their games were solely for children. By "magic", I refer to what I had begun to siphon from Kirby's Adventure and  Super Smash Bros. Melee: the "nostalgia", I had dubbed it. The reveries that had emerged from staring into the silent abyss of Adventure's arena matches and the isolated quaintness of the park in Melee's All-Star mode presented such awe and beauty the likes of which I had never encountered before, and I was enraptured in the task of discovering more like it. Young as I was, I was not quite blind to the concept of corporate greed (I distinctly recall being convinced there was some sort of conspiracy against the recognition of Earthbound), but I refused to believe the likes of Melee and Earthbound---of which presented such love and character in every stitch of their programming--were created with the sole object of money in mind, and I looked to Nintendo as not just some toy company, but creators of realms that swept me away with a sigh.

It's for this reason that I continue, and probably always will, uphold Kirby Super Star as the epitome of video game magic. This statement is a close call: Earthbound's innate ability to connect players young and old into a world of wistful nostalgia is a quality I will always treasure, and I may as well admit that as glorious as the products of a young mind's active imagination can be, it would be foolhardy to claim they can just as easily be applied to the world at large (as opposed to what anyone at any age can discover just as easily; i.e., Earthbound). Yet from the year I had purchased Super Star to this very day, there is a specific quality in it that continues to elude me, continues to surprise me, and may continue to stump me until the end of my life.

So where do I begin? In the midst of my fascination with Super Smash Bros. Melee's orchestras and Nintendo nostalgia, here came along its 16-bit precedent that aimed for the same purpose. Much like Kirby's Adventure, I had discovered a relic of an ancient time that was created for the children of the past, and I delighted in holding a secret time capsule that most of my peers would never understand or ever witness. Truth be told, the game wasn't that old--I picked it up very early within 2002, a mere six years after its release--but as a kid, the passage of time was akin to that of an eternity, so who could blame me?

Kirby Super Star was a secret I worshiped. This is not to say I kept the cartridge hidden away; indeed, despite its age, the game was quite popular among my friends, but it was what it meant to me I kept isolated from the outside world. At school, I made people laugh and smile and was perceived as the kid without a care in the world. At home, Super Star was waiting. Entering a world beyond our physical plane was as easy as sigh, and from there I traveled.

I was gradually entrenched within. I was there in the woods. The mellow forest was peppered with the tiniest cracks of sunlight, and the secluded terrain was populated only by the sounds of birds and cicadas. I was entranced by the abundance of bubbles and landmarks that surrounded me, and found myself swallowed into the forest's depths. My path took me to an isolated clearing, of which was occupied by a familiar sight: the ancient, abandoned playhouse that was just down the road from my cousin's house. I silently amused myself within, the dusty toys within serving as my new playmates. I stopped only when I reached for an old doll, and stared out the window into the bathing light beyond.

I was there in the save hut; the very first one found in the Great Cave Offensive. As I stared out the window into the colorful jungle, the building was slowly molded into that of a traditional Japanese household. I found myself seated in a room that's appearance vaguely echoed the trophy room in Melee, and I could smell the brewed tea on the table. I slowly rose up and walked over to the sliding door, pulling it aside to reveal that very same jungle. I sat perched on the patio, diving further within the confines of the jungle via the flexes of my mind.

I was there in the clouds. I bounced off the puffs of white mass one by one, and sprung forth into the deep blue. I studied the beanstalks inexplicably flourishing in the sky, climbing their green lengths ever higher. I made myself at home within the mysterious towers settled within the heavens, searching for their purpose. Was their purpose that of civilization, or of something deeper? I climbed up the pillars onto the red roofs and sat onto the crescent moons, observing the wide expanses that laid down before me.

I was there on the warship. I toured across its decks, slightly traced my palm across the troves of machinery littered throughout. As I endured a gust of warm air, I was suddenly made aware of the wide stretch of orange that enveloped the entire fortress. Not even a speck of land or starlight were dotted as far as the eye could see, as all was encompassed by a sunset template hosting a vast collection of clouds. I found myself falling within--a never-ending free fall that had me drifting in all directions--as I held on tight to a stray piece of a carrot-colored cloud, molding it into any shape I wished. We were two specks in a ceaseless space, tumbling and creating.

I was there in the stars. As I swam in the endless reaches of space, I gently gathered the multi-colored stardust sprinkled throughout. I crafted blankets and chairs, homes and vehicles, toys and books out of the unlimited material, pleased with all my handiwork. Any lone drifter of the stars was welcome in my abode, and were never a stranger to workings of my makeshift inventions. We pondered over the mysteries of our circumstances - how did we come here? What is the inspiration behind the reveries we encounter? Who are you?

I was there. If it was as simple as a field or as grand as a majestic cavern, I was there. For something as simple as a children's game, Kirby Super Star took my imagination and set it aflame with wonder. Of course, I found great excitement within its play mechanics as well, but it was this nostalgia, these reveries I always treasured most whenever I gave it a go--alone or with a friend--and it was the one factor I anticipated more than forming magical attacks or taking down warships.

Then, one day, Kirby jumped.

I still remember it well. One day, as I was spelunking within the depths of the Great Cave Offensive, I performed a mysterious jump. There was no apparent rhyme or reason to it; within the space of a second, Kirby had flashed white and leaped into the air, as it he had just bounced off a trampoline. It was accompanied by the most innocent of sounds, nothing that indicated the harsh passing of wind. While ultimately insignificant, there was no apparent button input that explain what had just happened, and I found myself captivated by it.

What was it?

Around the same time, I had been fostering many little secrets within the game. The reveries were one thing, but there hidden details that almost seemed deliberate, little touches that took effort to reach.You see the above shot? It's the end of the credits for the Spring Breeze, of which I'd let linger long after the sequence was complete. In the music theme's indefinite loop, it cycled the beginning portion three completely different times before settling onto the third as the permanent loop, and Kirby's smile echoed my own as I reveled in this hidden secret.

But it was the mysterious jump I held dearest. It was the one secret I had found to have no control over, and the one that I looked towards as proof Super Star knew my secret. In the rare occasion it would lift Kirby into the air, I saw it as a gentle reminder that I wasn't just some deluded boy seeing things that weren't there, but that it respected my reveries from the perspective that it brought new life into a game long since forgotten from the public consciousness, and so it regarded them as equally as sacred as I did.

Some years later, when I was no longer a dreaming boy but instead a brooding teenager, I eventually solved the riddle. If Kirby has created a partner character, he could use his friend's noggin as a sort of recovery, causing the unique jump to occur. Since required the input of pressing the Up Arrow on the directional pad, which was only used to climb ladders or enter door, it was no wonder I had overlooked it. I was astonished: I had just solved what I had deemed to be an unsolvable, distant childhood mystery, and suddenly the game came alive once more.

I then arrived at an epiphany: every single time I had made a new file, I always found something new. Every time I played through it, I'd always discover some out-of-the way location or a 1-up or something, and they continued the jump's legacy. The perfect example? The Candy Mountain level in Dynablade, where six years ago I found a hidden passage beneath the waterfall, providing a whole extra room to play within. This essence was even preserved in the DS remake, when I found yet another secret path within that very same level. It's there too in the original.

Every time I played Super Star, I keep thinking to myself it has to end at one point. Kirby Super Star is a rich side-scrolling game, but its own scope cannot match anything to the level of, say, an open-world RPG. That was a cold-hard fact and I always feared the day in which the game would eventually run dry, and yet I'd discover some secret room or something I had never stumbled upon before. Two years ago, on the anniversary of when I first purchased the game, I found nearly ten new things throughout, most notably when a fully-charged Beam attack will cause peripheral damage from behind Kirby.

I think back to my other young perception of nostalgia, the kind where I imagined young children who experienced games much I like did when they were first released. My mind reflects back to that same boy who marveled at the arena's silence in Kirby's Adventure, and experiences the same magic three years later in Kirby Super Star. He performs the same jumps, loses himself in those very same backgrounds, and finds those very same secrets. He looks out the window into the sky as the wondrous credits music plays, seeing those very same clouds and thinking how lucky he is to hold a euphoria that is all his own.

Even if I had flubbed the definition as a child, I looked to nostalgia as a form of idyllic state that was something to strive for. Rose-tinted glasses will never hide the fact that I struggled constantly within my childhood, from how my mental disabilities/ADD contributed to the difficulty of understanding various concepts to dealing with factors outside of my control (such as having all three of my best friends participate in a daily joint-class venture that would remove them from my classroom for half the day) and maybe I treasured it a form of healing. Much like how the gamer adults I observed on internet message boards, I looked to what I had around me, from the identification I had with Judy Blume's Super Fudge to the reveries found in Super Star and Earthbound and looked to the past as a way to celebrate my childhood now.

The irony is not lost on me, for the nostalgia I had fostered in my youth is now my nostalgia as a young adult. Much like the smell of an indigo Gamecube, it spurts up in quick, fleeting moments, and we say hello and goodbye just as quickly. Much of the impossible have already been figured out; in particular, remember that Spring Breeze credit song loop I mentioned earlier? That wasn't true; it just has one loop, just like every other song in the game. We could indeed chalk that matter up to the misunderstanding of an active imagination; however, I see things like this, and I can't help but believe.

Even today, I still fear that Kirby Super Star will run out of surprises, but so what if it does? That I can look to it for bringing a piece of my childhood alive each and every time is magic in itself, and much like the pink ball himself, I can continue to dream every time I play it.

1 comment:

  1. The backgrounds of Super Star brought on some of the most massive feelings a game has given me as a kid and upon retrospect as an adult. You nailed it when you said that it invites you to fill in the blanks of the world on the horizon.

    For me, the scope of the world behind Kirby was almost unnerving. Seeing the islands dotting the endless waters, and wondering what they held was an emotion that was almost too much for me as a kid. Only Mario 64 came close (but not quite) to replicating this massive feeling of mystery and wonder.