Thursday, November 3, 2016

Ten Years of Kirby ~Final Reverie~ Kirby's Dream Collection: Special Edition

Our final retrospective brings us to a turbulent 2012. While 3DS never gained its predecessor's sales momentum, its constant, ample support from Nintendo and web of third-parties kept players invested. Masahiro Sakurai's Kid Icarus: Uprising wasn't without its critics, but its dense cohesion, witty script and loving reiminaging of a cult classic rendered it another Sakurai masterpiece. Meanwhile, Fire Emblem: Awakening's Japanese release would set the seeds for the cult-favorite strategy series to finally emerge as a landmark Nintendo franchise; seeds that wouldn't fully blossom until its Western release a year later, but the series' vindication would finally arrive after nearly twenty years and thirteen entries.

But to the surprise of no one who'd been following Nintendo home consoles for the past twenty years, Wii was left in the dust in the advent of Wii U. Stragglers like Rhythm Heaven Fever and Mario Party 9 could only do so much to slow the console's death, and had it not been for the late localizations of Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story, America may've shared the even direr release drought of Japan.

Cue the ensuing E3 frustration: yet again, Nintendo fumbled on their Wii U presentation. It had all the trappings of a boring conference: the lack of any attention-grabbing surprises, forced comedy and banter, dreadfully dull, prolonged multiplayer sessions that undermined the title on display (Nintendo Land), and one or two interesting titles quickly swept under the rug (the long-awaited Pikmin 3, which came and went right as the show began). It was an omen of things to come: the Wii U would massively underperform in its November launch, all thanks to poor marketing, the lack of compelling software, and the presence of a screen controller...thing that no one, not even Nintendo themselves, knew what to do with.

But even before that failure became reality, Nintendo had already recognized the detriments of their awkward conferences and began taking countermeasures nearly a year prior. Launched in late 2011 were digital presentations dubbed "Nintendo Directs," designed to present concise information for upcoming releases with none of the fat and potential screw-ups common in live presentations. And what better representative to reach out to the people than the president of Nintendo himself: Satoru Iwata.

The Directs gradually caught on: the exclusive announcements guaranteed fans would tune in, but there was something humbling in how a company president dedicated himself for broadcast, all for the sake of consumers. Watching Iwata's affable, eccentric demeanor introduce and interact with the likes of Shigeru Miyamoto, Reggie Fils-Aim, Bill Trinen and even a bunch of bananas won the hearts of viewers.

One particular antic was a cryptic announcement: in April 2012, Iwata was spotted carrying Kirby plushies and beanbags. Initially considered a hint for a new Kirby game, it wasn't until that month's Direct that the meaning would be unveiled...

It was Kirby's 20th anniversary.


To speak about Kirby's Dream Collection: Special Edition without any sort of bias would be impossible; granted, personal subjectivity is the whole point of reviewing, but never before had a game touched my heart this way before its release, and it's vital I bring that into the open

The whole reason I'd started Ten Years of Kirby was to celebrate my own anniversary with the franchise: a series designed so anyone could clear it, but just deep enough that even the most hardened of gamers can enjoy its adventures. Having grown up with 3D platformers, the likes of Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog were far too difficult for me, great as they were. As opposed to the free-roam nature of three-dimensional movement, their flat planes required precision and accuracy I lacked.

And yet as a series entirely framed within two-dimensional play, Kirby felt custom-made just for me. Never was it patronizing, but instead just demanding and compelling enough for a player learning the ropes: leaps of faith were rendered null due to Kirby's infinite floatiness, and it was never not interesting in seeing what Copy Ability I would command next. As a budding player, I was empowered by how much it respected me; as a young romantic, I was driven to reverie by dreamy visuals and music.

In what I can't assume to be anything but the designs of the cosmos, Kirby's Dream Collection, created to celebrate Kirby's 20th anniversary, was released on my own tenth year with the franchise (2012). An anniversary within an anniversary! It was nothing less than a dream come true, and so what better way to hold my own celebration by reviewing the entire series?

When regarding all that, reviewing the six games contained within Dream Collection--the Kirby's Dream Land trilogy, Kirby's Adventure, Kirby Super Star and Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards-- would prove insufficient; all six games have been reviewed extensively, and I see little value in repeating my opinions here. It's far more imperative that I evaluate Dream Collection on its own merits -- how is the package as a whole? How are the games preserved? Does it pay proper tribute to Kirby? Would a first-time Kirby player feel at home with its offerings?

All reasonable queries, but there is nothing to fear, for Kirby's Dream Collection is one of the very best compilation/re-release packages Nintendo ever produced. Perish the thought of this being anything like the insanely lazy Super Mario All-Stars Limited Edition; HAL decided if this is going to be an anniversary package of Kirby, then it won't just feature the old; after all, the philosophy of jamming Kirby games with content must stand, so new content shall supplement their legacy. This is an anniversary of what rose HAL to stardom, after all, so there's no choice but to celebrate it with the utmost prestige.

Packaged with an anniversary booklet and soundtrack, Kirby's Dream Collection itself is divided into three modes: naturally, the Classic Titles are front and center, but complementing them are Challenge Stages, based off the addictive time trials found in Return to Dream Land just the year prior, and Kirby's History, which takes an interactive tour over the past twenty years of Kirby.

Borrowing the look and feel of 2011's Kirby Return to Dream Land (with a touch of Kirby's Adventure sprites), Kirby's Dream Collection is as plush and delectable as can be. A compilation of this caliber must enforce nostalgia at every corner, and so the luxurious graphics must be accompanied by sound cut from the same cloth.

Hence the intense euphoria greeting our ears upon reaching the menu. Series regulars Jun Ishikawa, Hirokazu Ando and Shogo Sakai contribute to several new tracks across Dream Collection, their highest point being an arrangement of Bubbly Clouds. A veritable lullaby, it is as sugary sweet as the earliest of childhood memories, and I was especially moved they took this much effort to cozy ourselves into our nostalgia. It's impossible not to melt, and they ensure that by seguing it over to the Classic Titles menu.

Diving into six legacy titles is as magical as can be, but a similar effect is found within Kirby's History. Echoing that of a dignified museum, a moderate take on Castle Lololo plays before unexpectedly shifting into the grand Cloudy Park from Kirby's Dream Land 2. A slower reader who isn't clicking on everything in sight may easily stumble upon this, but that it arrives after no less than three loops renders it something of an easter egg. Just like the original song, it envelops you in the awe-encompassing majesty of its setting.

(As a brief aside, it was particularly mystifying as someone who wasn't intimately familiar with Dream Land 2; I knew I recognized it from somewhere, but I couldn't figure it out no matter how hard I racked my brain. While I'd discover its origin shortly afterwards, it turned out the answer lied in a remix from a Kirby doujin album I purchased over a year earlier.)

Kirby's History takes an unexpected direction with how it chronicles our favorite marshmallow. As opposed to just limiting the relevant timeframe within Kirby or even just Nintendo, real-world events are cited alongside the release of Kirby games. Did you ever stop to think about how Kirby's Dream Land came out the same year as Bill Clinton's inauguration into office? How about the world's population reaching six billion the same year Kirby entered Super Smash Bros.? Granted, I'm not sure how my childhood self would've dealt with not one but two Harry Potter references--he had an irrational hatred for the boy wizard, you see--but it's not like the two entities hadn't crossed paths before.

But apparently even Kirby can't let go of an old grudge, as seen above by desecrating this poor Meta Knight statue. One day, we'll move past this hurdle. Someday.

Regardless, Kirby games naturally get top billing. Each makes an appearance through special menus, trailers and 3D models of their respective box art, although the game list varies upon region: for instance, it only makes sense you won't spot the JP-only Kirby Super Star Stacker in the NA release. A shame, but we Americans (and Europeans!) can solace in the fact we have an exclusive spin-of of our own: the Puyo Puyo-inspired Kirby's Avalanche. (Squishy!)

Even peripheral media like the the 2001 anime makes an appearance in its localized Right Back at Ya! state; coincidentally, Dream Collection arrived on the 10th anniversary of that particular adaption. While full thoughts on the anime will be saved for a later date, viewers can witness 4Kids' amateur dubbing practices in all three episodes, not the least which are the embarrassing theme song and clumsy voice editing for Kirby himself. (Sadly, none of the previews for the three manga adaptions made it into the American release. While understandable since they were never localized, it brings back bitter memories of Viz's cancelled license for Hirokazu Hikawa's version.)

Kirby's penchant for orchestral performances isn't forgotten, either: at the end of the tour lies behind-the-scenes look for the Gourmet Race to Green Greens chamber orchestral, present on the accompanying soundtrack. Can you spot which of Dream Collection's three composers makes a cameo? The hint lies in how he was involved with orchestras before signing on with HAL...

All delicious, educational treats for even the most diehard of Kirby fans, but how about some actual game? It'd be a waste to simply borrow Return to Dream Land's engine just for a compilation, so why not expand on an addictive component everyone loved? The Challenge Stages return with an even wider variety than before; dare I say they're even harder than what's found in Return to Dream Land?

And perhaps even better? It's the variety that sells it: not only are there different Copy Abilities from last time, but HAL devised new types of Challenge Stages as well: the Magolor Races, which pits Kirby in a time trial against the cloaked troublemaker, and Smash Combat Chambers, where the Smash Ability is unleashed at enemy hordes.

It's the latter that proves HAL's dedication for this compilation. While the rest of the Challenge Stages feature abilities already developed for Return to Dream Land, Smash was built from the ground-up just for an extra mode (complete with its own pause menu instructions: we learn that Kirby's neutral aerial attack--an adorable spinning maneuver--is given the fitting name of "Twinkle Star"). Super Smash Bros. is an extremely vital piece of Kirby's history, so it's only fitting such a tribute was forged.

But as exciting as new content is, the main attraction for the young and the nostalgic are the Classic Titles. The selection is particularly interesting not just for being the first six mainline Kirby titles, but that two directors were responsible for three of each: creator Masahiro Sakurai and level designer Shinichi Shimomura. While Sakurai's efforts are undoubtedly superior, newcomers should delight in highlighting their respective differences: Sakurai's fast-paced, action-packed sugar rushes and Shimomura's slower, leisurely jaunts.

As expected, Dream Collection's games are based on the Virtual Console versions. While switching between the games and Dream Collection is a tad unorthodox (you have to pause and click on Reset), that they include save states--barring Kirby 64--is a blessing.

Games are presented accordingly to match their original size ratio: for instance, the two Game Boy games (Dream Land and Dream Land 2) only take up maybe half the screen, being perfectly squared. Meanwhile, the console games naturally take up a a wider space. While the Kirby's Adventure sprite frames can be turned off, the Game Boy games must have them attached. A fair trade, though they're hardly imposing at all.

Kirby's Dream Land 3 and Kirby 64 (pictured above) are perhaps the best preserved. There's no loss of color in sight, and the size ratio doesn't tamper the display. Both games, alongside Super Star, are particular marvels in that the Wii Remote was incompatible with their downloadable versions, and yet here they fit like a glove.

Dream Land and Dream Land 2 are interesting cases: as mentioned earlier, special care was taken to ensure they match their original, tiny Game Boy displays as closely as possible, so their display is hardly as large as the other games. It's impossible to fully translate a handheld experience into a home console one, so any slight blurs and blown-up sprites and the like are easily forgiven. (Besides, it was the first time Dream Land 2 was officially emulated for American audiences!)

Alas, Kirby's Adventure and Kirby Super Star suffer the most. The nasty darkened filters installed into their Virtual Console versions remain present, and while they're hardly game-ruining, the games' trademark brightness renders their taint a bad aftertaste. Furthermore, they expose Dream Collection's one mark of sloppiness: the preview videos found in Kirby's History are in their original, brightened versions.

For better effect, above is a comparison between the original Kirby's Adventure and its Virtual Console counterpart. They speak for themselves; there's just no getting around the original version serving the game's world infinitely better. Adhering to today's epilepsy measures is a noble cause, but that it's at the cost of game quality leaves a bittersweet taste. When considering they're easily the best games in the package, it's a shame such blemishes left a black mark on not just two of Masahiro Sakurai's masterpieces, but on a glorious celebration of Kirby.

While disappointing, it's hardly enough to dismiss the compilation. And why should it, when it comes with such delightful supplements? The 45-page Collectible Book alone is an amazing treasure trove of concept art, historical context and creator commentary for every Kirby game. Not every title is given the same amount of coverage, but there's enough background development detail to keep things interesting.

With it taking a playful, informal tone throughout, it's an especially fun read. Can you believe that ribbon at the bottom is a game in itself? I consider myself a Kirby superfan, but even some of the trivia questions threw me for a loop, and that's not even considering my shock at some of the cut game content (how about Kirby almost driving a tank in Dream Land 2?). Waddle Dee fans take note: there's a page practically worshiping Nintendo's most adorable goon, and a mention of his ill-fated attempt as a playable character in Kirby 64.

Rounding it out is a beautiful soundtrack comprised of famous songs throughout the series. Much of the selection is expertly picked: Epic Yarn's Green Greens arrangement and Nightmare in Dream Land's Rainbow Resort make for immensely nostalgic choices, while the fan-favorite final boss themes are much appreciated. Only the super-short boss themes stand out as odd choices, although given quantity of songs alongside their lack of loops, it's possible they wanted to conserve space and decided to round things out.

It appears these songs were ripped straight from the source, so as warned in the booklet, the quality varies. While the post-NES console games sound flawless, the 8-bit and handheld games have some audible static fuzziness. Some are better than others: you can hardly detect any air in the Kirby's Adventure tracks, while the muffled filter of Super Star Ultra's Helper's Rest is rather head-scratching when no such thing was present in that game's official soundtrack.

Still, they hardly matter when it comes to the three unique arrangements rounding out the soundtrack. While Gourmet Race to Green Greens once again showcases Kirby's innate talent for orchestra, Dream a New Dream for Tomorrow's piano/recorder medley of ending themes is so profoundly heartfelt, so gently nostalgic you cannot listen to it without a dry eye. With how its rendition of Kirby's Adventure's ending prods at our heartstrings, I cannot think of it as anything but intentional.

The amount of love put into Kirby's Dream Collection renders it one of the most dedicated, genuine titles to be ever released by Nintendo. It's not without its missteps, but that it has not a cynical bone in its body instills it only the purest of joy into the player. It's by no means rushed for that quick buck, but instead an authentic celebration meant for both that longtime fan and that fledgling gamer.

Such a work cannot be produced by anything by developers who not just adore crafting Kirby, but who eagerly wish to share their passion with the world. As Nintendo's final game for Wii, that is the utmost honor.

1 comment:

  1. I know you published this over a week ago, Anthony, but I've just been too bust to deliver my usual lengthy response until now. But fret not, I read it almost as soon as it debuted.

    At the time I got this game, Super Star was the only one I already had, so Dream Collection was my first, and still only, exposure to the other five games. That's a fancy way of saying, oh, boy, was this game brimming with content!

    The Challenge Stages left a bigger impression on me then the equivalent stages in Return to Dream Land, which themselves had already made quite the impression. Ironic that I've got Platnium Medals on all these ones but I'm still missing a few in Return to Dream Land. I should return and fix that...
    Even if they leave me torn on one thing - the return of Magalor as his friendly self. On the one hand, if any Nintendo series can make reforming cute-looking villains turned into horrible monsters work, it's Kirby, and the Ghibi-esque willingness to forgive the villains is as gentle as anything else in the series. But... Magalor died. There's no two ways about that. And to have him return proper, and not just as a True Arena Final Boss or the like... well, it rubs me the wrong way. Especially coming at the time when the game began trafficking heavily in series lore.

    But, that's a minor quibble. I love this game unabashedly, both as a collection, as a game itself and as a tribute to a series that now means as much to me as Pokemon and Mario, and sometimes more. As if often the case, Nintendo's informal, casual way of showing development info is always a pleasure in the book, especially to those able to read the subtext. And how the trivia lines up with other sources, like the developers saying people (I assume they mean Japanese players) playing Air Ride for nine years and still loving it, which lines up with it being the only Kirby game alongside Super Star to rank on Famitsu's User-Voted top 50 Nintendo games. I especially like how Dream Course can apparently be cleared with a Hole-In-One of every hole, even if I'll likely never even get close.

    Rot of the past does creep through, whether through them stepping around the awkward series differences in Avalanche in the booklet. Or take this: the files of the three anime episodes are clearly from TV recordings, as they have the standard TV Ratings display in the corner at the start. Despite at least the first having being released on DVD. Given the series was basically abandoned from rebroadcast anywhere around 2009, it makes sense, but still. Also means the quality is a bit jittery, where the ones on the Japanese disc are as good as you could ever reasonably expect.

    Like you've said, it's not perfect, but the mistakes are barely worth mentioning. The track selection is wonderful, the timeline is a joy, and the games are even stronger in the context of the canon together when apart. It's a jewel, and it makes me really excited to see where Kirby will be by 2032.