Believe it or not, Kirby is 30 years old this year! The powerful pink puffball made his debut on the Game Boy in Kirby’s Dream Land in 1992, and has since become one of Nintendo’s, and gaming’s, most enduring characters.
While Kirby could inhale his enemies in Dream Land, it wasn’t until his second game, Kirby’s Adventure, that Kirby gained the ability to copy their powers by doing so. An ability that has defined the series since.
Over the past 30 years, Kirby has branched out to other types of games as well. whether adding new mechanics and innovations to his platforming romps or dipping his toes in other genres entirely, Kirby has proven to be second only to Mario as the most versatile hero in gaming.
Kirby has done so much over the years, that it seems a bit weird that he’s only just now getting his first-ever 3D platformer in the form of Kirby and the Forgotten Land. To celebrate Kirby’s milestone 30th year, as well as the release of Forgotten Land, I figured I’d compile my list of the top 10 Kirby games of all time!
I have to admit, this was a tough list to compile. Though the series may not have the same weight as Mario or Zelda, Kirby is arguably the most consistent of the lot in that he’s never really had a bad game (Kirby Battle Royal comes closest though). While this list is based on personal opinion, I did take into consideration which games were meaningful additions to the series as a whole, which ones were the most innovative, and things like that to help narrow it down.
And for those wondering, I will be counting any remakes as an extension of their original game. So, before you get upset that Kirby Super Star Ultra isn’t on here, it technically is by the fact that Kirby Super Star is (spoiler alert, I guess).
Because this list was so difficult to compile, I didn’t want to leave some of the extra games out entirely. So let’s give a brief shoutout to some honorable mentions before we get to the top 10 proper.
Honorable Mention: Kirby and the Amazing Mirror
A Kirby Metroidvania?! Up to four players?! Hot dog! That sounds, well… amazing!
And in some ways, it is. But Kirby and the Amazing Mirror’s world is less cohesive than other Metroidvanias (the in-game map hardly helps). Also keep in mind that this was 2004 on the Gameboy Advance, so the only way to actually get four players together was to make sure everyone had the game as well as link cables. It was difficult then, even more so now.
Still, you could argue that Amazing Mirror was ahead of its time with its concept. Kirby’s Return to Dreamland and Kirby Star Allies would eventually weave four-person multiplayer into classic Kirby gameplay. Now here’s hoping Hal and Nintendo decide to revisit the Metroidvania concept for the series down the road.
Kirby and the Amazing Mirror is a good game, but doesn’t quite reach the potential heights of its concept. Further point deduction for being the only game in the entire franchise not to feature his exalted greatness, King Dedede.
Honorable Mention: Kirby and the Rainbow Curse
I really struggled deciding whether Kirby Canvas Curse or Rainbow Curse would make the top 10 between the two similar titles. In the end, I went with Canvas Curse (spoilers again). But Rainbow Curse is certainly no slouch.
Kirby is no stranger to unique art styles, and Rainbow Curse’s clay-inspired visuals are among the best of the lot. It’s a gorgeous game! And the touchscreen/stylus focused gameplay remains as unique as it was in Canvas Curse.
On the downside, because the gameplay focused on the Wii U gamepad, you couldn’t always appreciate the visuals in all their glory (the gamepad obviously didn’t have the same quality as what was on the TV screen). And bizarrely, Kirby could no longer copy abilities, even though he could still do that in Canvas Curse. Also the game was released in 2015, that weird time period when Nintendo games had like three bosses that would just recycle over and over (like Captain Toad Treasure Tracker and Yoshi’s Woolly World), a trend that Rainbow Curse sadly fell into.
Still, the charm shines through. And the music is excellent.
Honorable Mention: Kirby’s Return to Dreamland
Controversy time! A lot of people these days seem to look back at Kirby’s Return to Dreamland on the Wii as one of the best games in the series, if not the best! It seems to have become maybe the second most praised entry by fans, after Kirby Super Star. Alas, it didn’t quite crack my top 10.
There’s certainly a lot to love about Return to Dreamland: it was the first traditional Kirby game released on a home console since Kirby 64 eleven years earlier, it featured pick up and play four-person multiplayer (play as either four Kirbies or different characters), and it doubled down on the series’ love of including a ridiculous amount of extra content. Oh, and it introduced the ‘water’ copy ability first seen in the anime into the games!
On the downside, Return to Dreamland is as by-the-books as it gets, adding very little to the Kirby experience that hadn’t been done before. At the time that may not have seemed too bad, given the whole “eleven years since Kirby 64” thing. But in retrospect it’s far more noticeable. It also doesn’t help that this was the early 2010s, when there was no shortage of retro 2D platformers. And the Wii and DS generation gave us much more innovative Kirby games.
A good Kirby game, but a safe one.
Honorable Mention: Kirby’s Pinball Land
Mario, Pokemon, and Metroid have all tried their hand at pinball games, but Kirby (quite logically, given the character) beat them to the punch.
The first-ever Kirby spinoff, Pinball Land saw Kirby play the role of the ball on three different pinball tables. Kirby’s Pinball Land is a very fun pinball video game on the Game Boy, though it is also pretty straightforward in its pinball-ness. Aside from the cute characters and boss fights, it doesn’t really introduce any Kirby themed gimmicks to the proceedings. Maybe some day, Hal Labratory will revisit this idea and find a way to implement Kirby’s copy abilities into the world of pinball.
A fitting “first” for Kirby spinoffs.
Alright, that’s probably enough honorable mentions. With that out of the way, let’s move on to the top 10!
10: Kirby’s Dream Course
Kirby’s Dream Course is one of the earliest Kirby games, being the fourth released overall, following Kirby’s Dreamland, Kirby’s Adventure and Kirby’s Pinball Land. But for such an early entry, it is a wildly innovative deviation from the series norms that is still fun and original to this day.
Dream Course is always touted as a “mini-golf game.” While that’s technically true, the game is far more than just a golf game with a coat of Kirby paint, making it stand out compared to the more straightforward Pinball Land. Kirby even gets to use his copy abilities this time around!
The stages are set up like mini-golf courses, and players have to knock Kirby around like a golf ball, eliminating all (but one) of the enemies on a stage, with the last enemy becoming the hole. Get Kirby in there and it’s on to the next stage! But use up too many turns and it’s game over.
Ten of Kirby’s copy abilities from Adventure make a return and change up Kirby’s physics for how he moves across the courses and takes out enemies. It all sounds so simple, but in execution it’s just so fun and creative. It also happens to be one of the best looking SNES games, with colorful character sprites and surprisingly effective isometric stages. It even has a two-player versus mode!
The only real downside is that, for a game that’s so different, it has very little in-game instructions, making it a little hard to ease into. But once you do, you’ll find one of Kirby’s – and the Super Nintendo’s – unsung classics.
Add this to the pile of “Nintendo games that desperately deserve a sequel.”
9: Kirby Mass Attack
Platform: Nintendo DS
The 2010s marked something of a reinvigoration for the Kirby series. Gone were the days of fun-but-vanilla entries like Squeak Squad and falling back on remakes of classics. Kirby was once again being used as a blank canvas for the folks at Hal Labratory to experiment with all kinds of crazy ideas, like in the early years of the franchise. And Mass Attack may be the weirdest idea of the bunch!
Kirby purists may lament that this is one of the entries where Kirby can’t copy abilities, but Mass Attack more than makes up for their absence by splitting Kirby into ten mini Kirbies, who have to use their combined numbers to overwhelm enemies, solve puzzles, and collect treasures. It’s basically like Kirby meets Pikmin!
Much like Canvas Curse did six years prior, Kirby Mass Attack is controlled solely by the touchscreen on the DS console. Players tap where they want the Kirbies to go, touch the enemies they want the Kirbies to attack, and can fling the Kirbies upward with a flick of the stylus. It’s another fun and innovative game that brings so much out of the seemingly simple concept.
As a bonus, Kirby Mass Attack includes a host of mini-games and side games, some of which could have been entire games in their own right. So in case the utterly charming main game wasn’t enough, Mass Attack has plenty more to offer.
8: Kirby: Planet Robobot
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
As stated above, the 2010s saw some great experimental Kirby games. But they also brought us some great traditional Kirby titles as well. Return to Dreamland started things off for this direction for the series, which continued with Triple Deluxe and Planet Robobot on the Nintendo 3DS, and Star Allies on Switch. All three are fun (though similar) additions to the franchise, but I think Robobot marked the peak of this generation of Kirby.
Kirby: Planet Robobot is your traditional Kirby platformer, filled with copy abilities for our overpowered pink hero to utilize. But the game features a fun mechanical motif, with the bad guys trying to convert Kirby’s world into a machine. Though the mechanical theme may not always reach its potential, it does bring a great new addition to the gameplay: Robobot armor!
Taking a page from Mega Man X, there are moments in Planet Robobot where Kirby can pilot Robobot Armor which, yes, combine with copy abilities to open up new gameplay possibilities. It’s similar to the Animal Friends from the Dream Land sequels, but since Hal seems hellbent on never giving us those guys again, the Robobot Armor is a great substitute.
There are also some fun new copy abilities, like Doctor Kirby and Psychic Kirby, the latter of which is one of the best in the series. On the downside, Poison Kirby, which should also be among the best copy abilities, is just a reskinned Water Kirby that deals continuous damage. That’s a missed opportunity. Maybe the series can bring back and alter Poison Kirby down the road and make it its own beast.
Kirby: Planet Robobot may be traditional Kirby through and through (never a bad thing), but the new copy abilities and Robobot Armor – in addition to some fun extra modes – make it the best traditional Kirby in a very long time.
7: Kirby: Canvas Curse
Platform: Nintendo DS
Given the massive success the Nintendo DS ended up being, it may be hard to remember that it had a rough start. Aside from a mixed bag of a Super Mario 64 remake, it didn’t have much to boast about at launch, or for several months after. The two screens and touch screen were awesome ideas that just weren’t being well utilized.
Then along came Kirby: Canvas Curse. Behold, the first great DS game! Canvas Curse opened the door for DS greatness, and the console never looked back.
Kirby: Canvas Curse made me LOVE the DS! It took advantage of the dual screens and the touch-based gameplay to create a game whose inventiveness still makes me smile just thinking about it.
In Kirby: Canvas Curse, Kirby has been transformed into a ball (well, even more of a ball), and the player has to draw rainbows for Kirby to move across. Tap Kirby when he’s on the rainbow, and he does a little dash attack. Dash into an enemy with a copy ability, and Kirby gains that ability (something which was sorely missed in Rainbow Curse). Players can even track down medals hidden throughout the levels, which unlock all kinds of bonuses like music, extra characters, and even new paint colors!
The action is of course displayed on the DS’s bottom screen, given that everything is touch controlled in Canvas Curse. The top screen displays a map, giving the player a better understanding of the layout of the levels.
Canvas Curse has some critics, namely those who prefer the more traditional Kirby games, since Canvas Curse was the title that started the more experimental branch of Kirby titles. But the series has been better off for it. After all, Kirby’s earliest years tried their hand at some odd ideas (see Dream Course above). Canvas Curse simply brought that creative spark back in a time when Kirby games were beginning to stagnate.
You may have noticed a recurring theme on this list of games that have a simple, fun idea, and bring out the best in said idea. This is an area in which Nintendo (and Kirby specifically) excel, and few have done it better than Kirby: Canvas Curse.
6: Kirby’s Dream Land 2
Platform: Game Boy
Kirby got his start on the Game Boy in Kirby’s Dream Land. It is only fitting that, after going to home consoles and deviating with spinoffs, Kirby would bounce back with a Game Boy sequel that is arguably the best game on the console to play today.
Although Dream Land 2 may be a small game by today’s standards, and lacks the ludicrous amount of extra content of contemporary Kirby games, the fact that everything Kirby’s Dream Land 2 managed to accomplish on the Game Boy remains so well executed and fun has to be commended. It wasn’t just a great game “for it’s time” or “for the Game Boy,” it’s still a great game despite its limitations.
Even though the title reads Dream Land 2, the game actually feels more like a sequel to Kirby’s Adventure. The copy abilities made their return (albeit condensed into what I like to call the “core seven” copy abilities). And Kirby once again had to face off with some demonic force after King Dedede was defeated (though this time, you had to uncover secret items to unlock that final showdown).
This wasn’t merely Kirby’s Adventure on a handheld, however, as Kirby’s Dream Land 2 introduced one of the series’ very best additions: the Animal Friends!
While Mario had Yoshi, Kirby gained three noble steeds in the forms of Rick the Hamster, Coo the Owl, and Kine the Sunfish. The best part was that each Animal Friend changed up the copy abilities, effectively quadrupling the number of powers at Kirby’s disposal. The fact that Hal has only properly brought back the Animal Friends for one other game is beyond perplexing.
Kirby’s Dream Land 2 may be a small game. But it’s one you can never go wrong with.
5: Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards
Platform: Nintendo 64 (obviously)
Speaking of Kirby games that had a great gameplay hook that for some reason has never been brought back, it’s Kirby 64!
Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards was the only Kirby game released on the Nintendo 64. Being released in 2000, it was pretty late to the N64 party (late-game additions were a common theme to Kirby back then, as you’ll see further on this list). But Kirby 64 was so good that none of that really mattered. Twenty-two years later(!!), it’s held up as one of the best Nintendo 64 games to play today.
Although the graphics took advantage of the Nintendo 64’s 3D capabilities, Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards was still played from a 2D perspective. But Kirby 64 had some fun with the hardware, with a more dynamic camera that would shift to more cinematic angles during certain moments (a little detail about the game that goes largely unmentioned, but that I love to bring up).
The big new gameplay hook was that Kirby could combine two copy abilities together! The aforementioned “core seven” abilities of the Dream Land series returned, only now when Kirby discarded a power, he could throw it at an enemy to make a brand new one (or just inhale two enemies at once)! It was an awesome feature then, and it remains awesome today. Why Hal Labratory never revisited the idea, I will surely never know (yes, Squeak Squad and Star Allies allowed some abilities to be put together, but to say it was a watered-down version of Kirby 64’s innovation would be an understatement).
While the Animal Friends may not have returned (Grrr!), Kirby did have some allies in the forms of Ribbon the fairy, Waddle Dee, Adeline the painter, and even King Dedede himself. Though only Dedede really changed up the gameplay, and only at certain moments. But these characters were all nice additions at any rate.
The game still looks great for an N64 title, and the soundtrack is one of the most beautiful on the console. The level designs stand out with how they seem to tell their own stories if you pay attention to the visuals. There’s even a trio of fun mini-games to play with friends. But it’s the combined copy abilities that give Kirby 64 some of the best gameplay in the series. I mean, one combination literally gives Kirby a double-sided lightsaber (being released relatively soon after The Phantom Menace, that’s surely no coincidence)! How have they never brought that back?!
4: Kirby’s Adventure
If you want the purest Kirby experience, look no further than Kirby’s Adventure. Oh sure, Kirby’s Dream Land may have been the first game in the series, but the fact it lacked copy abilities feels outright bizarre in retrospect, because they’ve become such an important element to the series since their introduction in Kirby’s Adventure.
It didn’t start small, either. Kirby’s Adventure features a whomping twenty-four copy abilities (okay, twenty-three if you don’t count the sleeping ability)! They range from the obvious mainstays like fire and ice, to powers that have become more obscure over time like the high-jump (which may seem superfluous since Kirby can fly, but it’s actually really cool). It even introduced one of Kirby’s rarest (and best) copy abilities right out the gate: UFO Kirby!
For an NES game, this is a staggering amount of gameplay variety. And while Kirby’s Adventure may seem limited by today’s standards, it has lost absolutely none of its fun factor or replay value. In fact, along with Mega Mans 2 and 3, Kirby’s Adventure is one of the few NES games to challenge Super Mario Bros. 3 for its 8-bit crown.
Kirby’s Adventure not only established the copy abilities as Kirby’s key gameplay feature, but also set other series standards as well: It made King Dedede a more misunderstood villain, and featured a greater evil as the final boss (in the form of Nightmare who, for my money, is still the coolest “big bad” in the series). It introduced many of the series’ most iconic tunes. And thanks to those copy abilities, set the tone for the level design for the series going forward, with areas that require certain powers to uncover all the secrets.
Some Kirby games have added to the formula, and others still have tried something entirely different. But for pure, unadulterated Kirby greatness, you just can’t go wrong with Kirby’s Adventure.
3: Kirby Super Star
Everyone else’s favorite Kirby game is number 3 on my list. To be fair, it was also my favorite for a long time, but two others have won me over more in recent years. At any rate, Kirby Super Star is an excellent game, and one of the highlights of the Super Nintendo. And boy, is that saying something!
I remember back in the day, Kirby Super Star was advertised as containing “eight games in one cartridge.” Which was always a bit strange because Super Star features seven platforming games and two mini-games. If they were being honest they would have said “seven games plus two mini-games!” Or if they really wanted to fancy it up for marketing, they should have glossed over the fact that two of them were mini-games and said “nine games.” Whatever.
At any rate, none of the games are full-fledged games on their own. More like pieces of a greater whole, each of which bringing its own twist to the gameplay. But they are all exceptionally fun!
Spring Breeze is a remake of Kirby’s Dream Land, now with copy abilities! Dyna Blade features a Super Mario Bros. 3 style map. Revenge of Meta Knight sees Meta Knight act uncharacteristically evil and has a more cinematic approach. Gourmet Race is, well, a race between Kirby and King Dedede. The Arena is a boss rush mode. And Milky Way Wishes is kind of like the main event, needing to be unlocked and combining elements of the other included games. But the best of the lot is The Great Cave Offensive, which is something of a light Metroidvania in that it’s presented as one big world as opposed to individual levels and features hidden treasures that you may need to return to once you find the right copy ability.
Super Star doesn’t stop with the multitude of games themselves, however. But the core Kirby gameplay received two very important additions.
The first is that Super Star was the first game in the series where the copy abilities have their own movesets, as opposed to a single power. The second is that Kirby Super Star brought two player co-op to Kirby platformers. Kirby could now discard a copy ability by turning it into a friendly version of the enemy he got the power from, whom a second player could then control. At a time when Mario and Luigi still had to take turns, Kirby Super Star allowed two people to play at once! It remains a cool and innovative means for multiplayer, and strangely the feature didn’t return until Star Allies in 2018 (though it was planned to return well before then).
These elements, combined with the colorful visuals and kickass soundtrack, combine to make what is probably the most beloved Kirby game of all time. It may rank in third place here, but I can’t argue against the love Kirby Super Star continues to receive to this day.
2: Kirby’s Epic Yarn
Kirby’s Epic Yarn is perhaps the most “huggable” video game ever created. A simple, sweet, always fun and endlessly charming little romp that’s as unique today as it was in 2010.
Epic Yarn is another entry in the “something entirely different” category of Kirby games. And dare I say it’s the best of the lot!
This is another game where Kirby is stripped of his signature copy abilities, but the gameplay that Epic Yarn introduces is so fun you really won’t miss them. Kirby is transported to a world where everything is made out of yarn (and other fabrics), and Kirby’s new yarn body simply transforms as the situation demands it: Instead of running, Kirby turns into a little car. He stomps on enemies by turning into a weight, swims by becoming a miniature submarine, and floats to the ground by changing into a parachute. There are other, more overt transformations during big moments in the game, like a robot tank and a snowboarding penguin! Kirby also comes equipped with a yarn whip, with which he unravels enemies.
It’s a constant delight to see the many things Yarn Kirby can do. This is a rare instance in which a video game’s art direction actually affects gameplay. Kirby can even interact with the environment, unzipping and unbuttoning parts of the world to uncover secrets. Kirby’s Epic Yarn features one of the most delightful art directions in video game history, and the game is every bit as fun to play as it is to look at.
As an added bonus, Kirby’s Epic Yarn even boasts a two player option, with the second player taking on the role of Prince Fluff, who has all the same yarn abilities as Kirby.
The game did receive some criticisms from – shall we say – “less cultured” gamers, due to its lack of difficulty, seeing as Kirby can’t die in Epic Yarn. But at what point did we decide every game had to be difficult? No one ever complained when Wario couldn’t die in the Wario Land sequels! There’s room for all types of games, and Epic Yarn is proof of that. It isn’t difficult in any traditional sense, but players can lose their hard-earned beads if they aren’t careful. Kirby’s Epic Yarn is a soothing experience, key word there being “experience.” You can either get through the whole game at a leisurely stroll or go the way of the completionist and try to get the best score on each level, unlock all the hidden goodies, and build up Kirby’s apartment to get more tenants. If we can praise games that put cinematics before gameplay, we can certainly find the merit in games that display the beauty in the simple act of playing them.
As the icing on the cake, Kirby’s Epic Yarn includes one of the more underrated greats in terms of video game soundtracks, with a piano-centric score that is as warm and welcoming as the game’s visuals.
Kirby’s Epic Yarn is charm incarnate.
1: Kirby’s Dream Land 3
To date, there is no Kirby game I love more than Kirby’s Dream Land 3.
This may come as a surprise to many, since a number of players see Dream Land 3 as more of an “upper middle tier” entry in the series. But I think such a reception is mostly due to the timing of when Dream Land 3 was released. Kirby Super Star was released late in the Super Nintendo’s life, but by the time Dream Land 3 was released, the Nintendo 64 had already been on store shelves for months! But Kirby has had something of a habit of being late to the party. Kirby’s Adventure was released on the NES after the Super NES had been on the market, Kirby 64 was late to the Nintendo 64, and both Epic Yarn and Return to Dream Land didn’t make it to the Wii until later on. Sadly, because of the emergence of 3D gaming on the N64, Dream Land 3 seems to be the one that was most affected by its late arrival. But to deny Kirby’s Dream Land 3 of the attention it deserves is doing a great injustice to one of Nintendo’s most underrated gems.
You could say that Kirby’s Dream Land 3 is like the missing link between traditional Kirby games and Kirby’s Epic Yarn. Obviously, it follows in the footsteps of Dream Land 2, complete with Animal Friends (their only other proper appearance. Though they’ve been making more frequent cameos in recent years). Like Super Star, it features two-player co-op (this time the second player controls Gooey, a dark blue blob who uses his tongue to eat baddies). And like Epic Yarn, Kirby’s Dream Land 3 features a stunning and unique art style and a gentler tone. It’s like the best pieces of Kirby games that came before, and some that hadn’t even happened yet!
Kirby’s Dream Land 3 featured gameplay similar to its predecessor but, along with the aforementioned second player, brought in some meaningful additions of its own. The “core seven” copy abilities of Dream Land 2 returned (rock, fire, ice, spark, spike, cutter and parasol), along with one brand new one, cleaning, in which Kirby wields a broom (a power that was unique to this game until it reappeared twenty-one years later in Kirby Star Allies). The three Animal Friends from Dream Land 2 all made a comeback, now joined by three new ones: Nago the Cat, Pitch the Bird, and Chu Chu the Octopus (though she looks more like a girl Kirby).
Once again, each Animal Friend combines with the copy abilities in their own way, giving the game immense variety. Pitch often makes for the most fun combinations, but I’d be lying if I said Nago wasn’t my favorite of the bunch (I love that darn cat). Sadly, the Animal Friends here have become even more forgotten than the originals and have only made cameos in Kirby 64 and Star Allies (via the cleaning ability) since. That’s a travesty that needs to be rectified!
Another great twist to the gameplay is how every level in the game features a special “mission” that can be accomplished. You see, in addition to simply completing the stages, there’s a different NPC at the end of each level who needs Kirby and his friends to do a certain action for them. You may have to find a secret room to find a toad’s lost baby or track down the missing pieces of R.O.B. the Robot. Some stages have goals as simple as making sure you have a certain Animal Friend by the end of it. Others are admittedly a little more vague, but in such a way that once you reach the end, you feel more like “oh, THAT’S what I was supposed to do” as opposed to angry at the game for being cryptic or something. It makes you want to try again and do it right. Naturally, accomplishing every mission rewards you with the proper final showdown and ending.
Combine all that with another winning soundtrack and beautiful visuals that took the crayon-inspired graphics of Yoshi’s Island and cranked them to 11, and Kirby’s Dream Land 3 is a Kirby game that at once represents the best of all aspects of the series while also feeling unlike any of its Kirby kin.
Kirby’s Dream Land 3 is simply the very best of all the Kirby games.