Now is (Finally) the Time for Geno to Join Super Smash Bros.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate should be the game that finally brings Super Mario RPG’s Geno back from dormancy. For over twenty-two years, fans have wanted to see the original characters of Super Mario RPG – Geno most of all – make their triumphant return. And Ultimate seems to be the (pun intended) ultimate opportunity to do so.

Rewind the clock back to 2006. Super Mario RPG had turned 10 years old, and Geno’s only subsequent appearance was a cameo in 2003’s Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, a game in which the end credits emphasized that Geno was owned by Square-Enix. Fans had pretty much given up hope that Geno would ever be seen properly in a game again. But then, a glimmer of hope showed up in the form of the reveal trailer for Super Smash Bros. Brawl. It looked a little something like this.

Solid Snake, from Konami’s Metal Gear Solid franchise had joined Super Smash Bros. It was a game-changer, as up until that point, Smash Bros. was comprised exclusively of Nintendo characters. But now, the doors were open to more video game icons than ever.

A number of names became popular among fans as to who else they wanted added to the Super Smash Bros. lineup: Sonic the Hedgehog, Mega Man, Ryu, Pac-Man, and Cloud were often brought up. Sonic ended up joining Snake in Brawl, while the other aforementioned characters – along with Bayonetta, who didn’t exist at the time of the announcement or Brawl’s release – all made it into the fourth entry of the Super Smash Bros. franchise, either at that game’s launch or through DLC.

But perhaps the name brought up more than any other third-party character was Geno. He, along with Metroid’s Ridley and Donkey Kong’s King K. Rool, became something of legends within the Super Smash Bros. community. The “Big Three” or the “Impossible Three” they became known, due to their immense demand yet apparent inability to make the roster.

Ridley and K. Rool’s absences were strange, considering they are Nintendo characters, but most assumed Geno – being owned by Square-Enix – couldn’t make the cut for legal reasons. Snake’s reveal for Brawl changed all that. Although Geno didn’t make the cut for Brawl in 2008, he still remained a consistently popular character that people wanted to see. Super Mario RPG rightfully sits as one of the most acclaimed and beloved Mario games of all time, yet it’s also the sole Mario game whose legacy seems confined to itself. As classic of a game as it is, the elements and characters introduced in it have only ever been seen again, well, in Super Mario RPG’s re-releases on Wii, Wii U and the SNES Classic Edition. They still have yet to appear elsewhere (aside from Geno’s aforementioned cameo in Superstar Saga, and even that was removed from the game’s 2017 remake).

Of course, these re-releases only added wood to the fire. Geno was only becoming more and more popular and requested as Super Mario RPG found new audiences. Still, some claimed that Geno was “too obscure” of a character to make it in Super Smash Bros. as a playable character (a rather odd argument, considering esoteric Nintendo characters have been in Super Smash Bros. from the beginning. Ness and Captain Falcon weren’t exactly household names).

Super Smash Bros. creator Masahiro Sakurai continued to ask for character requests to consider for inclusion in subsequent games, and sure enough, Geno – like Ridley and K. Rool – remained one of the top choices. With the exclusion of all three characters in the fourth entry in the series (Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS), fans began wondering if their wishes were falling on def ears. But then, there was a glimmer of hope (or a slap to the face, depending on who you ask) when a DLC costume for the Mii character was introduced that paid homage to Geno.

It was…bittersweet. On one hand, it showed that Sakurai and company were well aware of fans’ cries to see Super Mario RPG acknowledged, but with the high level of demand for the character, simply making a Mii costume based on Geno stung more than a little bit. Was Sakurai trolling us?

Apparently not, as it turns out. In a later interview, Sakurai revealed that he has always been a big fan of the character, and has wanted to include Geno in Super Smash Bros. since Brawl. Geno was planned to make an appearance in Super Smah Bros’ third and fourth entries (or third, fourth, and fifth, depending on if you consider Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS one or two games), but Sakurai claims he “wasn’t able” to make it happen. Though no specifics were given, one would assume it had something to do with the legalities of the character.

However, the Geno Mii Fighter costume does indicate that, if Square-Enix was the culprit, they’ve softened up a bit. The inclusion of Final Fantasy’s Cloud, another Square creation, becoming a DLC character also showed an obvious strengthening in Nintendo/Square relations.

So if Square is willing to let their characters appear in Super Smash Bros., and went so far as to give Sakurai permission to use the likeness of Geno for the Mii Fighter costume, that’s definitely a positive in terms of Geno’s likelihood for a future appearance as a Super Smash Bros. fighter.

Well, here we are with only a few months to go before the release of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, an entry so daring it has the word Ultimate in the title. As in, this is the Super Smash Bros. And so far, Ultimate has been doing a great job at living up to its name: every character from the series’ past is returning, there are new modes of play that look to beautifully change up the experience, and even small little details that show how Sakurai and company are really going all out (like being able to ‘stack’ an echo fighter with its base character on the selection screen. A totally unnecessary but welcome addition for prudes like me who complain about the echo fighters).

More importantly though, Ultimate has finally, finally added Ridley and King K. Rool as playable characters. On top of Splatoon’s Inklings and Castlevania’s Simon Belmont, that’s a hell of a lineup of newcomers whose quality more than outshines the relative lack of quantity.

Yes, there are always going to be characters fans want, but none of them have had the same devoted followings of Ridley, King K. Rool and Geno. And sure, there other characters that could be added to Ultimate, and a few I’d personally love to see (Banjo-Kazooie!). But it seems like, at this point, the only necessary piece to be added to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate to make it live up to its name is Geno. I mean, we’ve gotten to a point where people would actually be more surprised if Geno didn’t make the cut in Ultimate than if he did. With Ridley and K. Rool in the mix, the hype for Geno is at a fever pitch. Here’s hoping the fans – and apparently Sakurai himself – can finally get Geno in Super Smash Bros.

Two of the “Impossible Three” have finally made the cut. With all the other additions and tweaks the game is making to the formula, it seems like after Ridley and K. Rool have been brought in, Geno is the last piece of this puzzle to make it all come together.

 

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Top 5 Most Wanted Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Characters

The release of a new Super Smash Bros. game always gets people hyped. And while the E3 Direct and playing the E3 demo accomplished just that, for me, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was something to be excited for, but one that seemed a bit familiar. That is until earlier this month with the second SSBU-focused direct, which revealed a host of new information on the upcoming entry, and kicked things into high gear with the announcements of Simon Belmont and King K. Rool!

Of course, being a series built on Nintendo’s history (or just plain video game history at this point), people always have their characters that they’d like to see make the Super Smash Bros. roster with every new entry. So far, the newcomers for Ultimate reads like a shortlist of winning selections: The Inklings represent a contemporary Nintendo franchise, Simon Belmont hails from the third-party franchise most synonymous with Nintendo’s early years (except maybe Mega Man), and Ridley and K. Rool have been among the most requested characters to join Super Smash Bros. for ages, so their inclusions feel like gifts for the fans.

The following characters are the ones I’d most like to see be announced in the coming months to join the ranks of Super Smash Bros. fighters in Ultimate. I know, people might bring up that Sakurai has already stated there won’t be too many newcomers (outside of echo fighters) this time. But this list isn’t called “Five Characters Who Will Totally Make the Cut in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in Addition to the Ones Who Have Already Been Announced.” It’s a list of the five characters I’d most like to see make it. Not expecting all five, but I like to think my top two picks have more than a fighting chance.

The funny thing is I had originally planned to make this list before the last Smash Bros. Direct, but never got around to it. And since Simon Belmont and King K. Rool were originally going to be on this list, I had to change things up a bit after they were announced.

Also, my list includes a mix of Nintendo characters and those of third-parties. Because honestly, Super Smash Bros. now has most of Nintendo’s most notable characters. There aren’t too many left that would make a big splash outside of an Assist Trophy. Kind of have to branch out at this point.

With all that out of the way, here are the top five characters I’d most like to see become playable characters in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. But first, a runner-up.

Continue reading “Top 5 Most Wanted Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Characters”

Kirby Battle Royale Review

All streaks must come to an end, I suppose. I’ve long-since touted that Kirby has secretly been the most reliable video game character. Sure, he may not have ever reach the highest highs of Mario or Zelda, but he also never had any flat-out stinkers like the Mario edutainment games or the Zelda Cdi titles, either. Kirby Battle Royale may not be nearly as flawed as those ghastly games, but it is the first time I can think of where I wouldn’t recommend a game starring Kirby. So while Kirby’s reliability of never starring in an all-out stinker may be intact, his streak of having his name be  attached to recommendable games has finally been broken.

On paper, Kirby Battle Royale sounds like a decent concept, It’s a Kirby brawler. With Kirby’s history in the Super Smash Bros. series, it seems like it would make for a welcoming transition. Problems soon arise, however, when it becomes apparent that KBR doesn’t boast anything near the depth of Super Smash Bros., nor does it have enough variety in the gameplay to make up for it.

Long story short, players can take control of their own Kirby, and select a specific copy ability when going into battle. There are death matches that seem to make the most sense with the concept of Kirbys with different abilities battling each other, but things already fall short in this area, as the copy abilities only have their basic moves, lacking in the varied movesets that have been a part of the series since Kirby Super Star. If ever there were a time where it made the most sense for Kirby’s abilities to boast different moves and combos, you’d think it’d be in a multiplayer brawler. Yet this is one of the few Kirby titles of recent years in which that element is absent.

There are other modes as well: Apple Scramble sees two teams working together to gather the most apples. Coin Clash is a contest to see who can claim the most coins, all while avoiding a coin-stealing ghost. Flag Ball has players attempting to throw a ball to their team’s flag, with the rub being that the flag can also be picked up, which makes things more difficult if the enemy team gets crafty.

Overall, there are ten different game modes. While that may sound like a lot, and some of them (like Flag Ball) can be fun, they all end up being more in line with mini-games than they do full-on gameplay modes. So what you have feels like Mario Party without the board game segment and only 10 mini-games which, as you can imagine, can only hold your attention for so long.

There is a story mode in the game, which sees Kirby and Bandana Waddle Dee (I still can’t believe that’s the character’s actual name) competing in the “Cake Royale,” a tournament that sees the heroic duo taking on King Dedede’s army of Kirby clones in order to win the ultimate cake. I have to say, I love that the Kirby series can be about saving the universe in one game, and then be about winning a cake the next. What other series has such drastic shifts in the seriousness of its plots?

In the story mode, players start out in the Beginners’ League, and work their way through the Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum Leagues. Each stage is comprised of the ten aforementioned games, but in a nice twist, not every stage in a league has to be completed, only as many as it takes to earn enough points to move on in the tournament (though you are free to do them all, if you so desire).

The more points you get, the more copy abilities you unlock in the story mode. Though the game’s top-down perspective can make certain abilities harder to use than they should be (shooting fire and ice from Kirby’s mouth isn’t so accurate as it is  in a 2D plain). Additionally, once you reach the Platinum League, you can equip special orbs before a match that can be used in-game to temporarily boost your abilities. The orbs are an interesting concept, but they end up being too little, too late, given that they only appear in the story mode’s final act.

The basic gameplay of Kirby Battle Royale can be fun, the problem is that it seems to settle on its bare assets far too often. The entire game feels more like it could have simply been a bonus mode in one of Kirby’s meatier (and far superior) 3DS outings like Kirby Triple Deluxe or Kirby Planet Robot.

I suppose if you have enough friends who are interested, you can have some fun play sessions with Kirby Battle Royale. The graphics are also nice and the music is – per the norm for Kirby – memorable and catchy. But for the first time ever, Kirby feels like he’s grown complacent. A Kirby brawler sounds like it could be a roaring good time, but in its execution, Kirby Battle Royale constantly feels like it could be more.

 

5

Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Review

When the Wii brought in a resurgence of 2D sidescrollers, it was inevitable that Kirby would make his triumphant return to home consoles, after years of being relegated to handheld exclusivity and spinoffs. When Kirby did receive a proper adventure on the Wii, it was in the unconventional Kirby’s Epic Yarn, a title which did away with just about every one of the series’ established elements (sans it’s trademark charm, which had never been stronger). One year later, in 2011, Kirby would receive yet another outing on the Wii, Kirby’s Return to Dream Land, which preformed double duty in bringing a traditional Kirby title to a home console for the first time since Kirby 64, and making sure audiences wouldn’t have to wait another decade for a console entry as they did between 64 and Epic Yarn. In those regards, Return to Dream Land does its job just fine. Though if one were to compare it to one of Kirby’s stronger titles – or some of the other side-scrollers of the time – it does fall a bit short.

That’s not to say that Kirby’s Return to Dream Land does anything particularly wrong, it just doesn’t go that extra mile to deliver something spectacular. It serves as a fitting apology for the baffling lack of Kirby in the decade prior, but rests a little too comfortably at simply being traditional Kirby in a time when that in itself seemed novel.

“Gotta clobbah dat dere Whispy Woods!”

The story here is that a visitor from another dimension has crashed his ship in Dream Land, and Kirby – being the kind-hearted hero he is – selflessly decides to help out, and uncover the visitor’s missing ship parts (which of course are protected by each world’s bosses). A Waddle Dee and Meta-Knight decide to help Kirby out on his adventure, as does an uncharacteristically generous King Dedede, despite having nothing to gain from the adventure (not that it matters, any excuse to play as King Dedede is a good one).

The core gameplay is what it usually is: the gloriously overpowered Kirby can steal copy abilities from enemies, which he can then use to his advantage. You make your way through 2D stages, fight bosses, and uncover hidden collectibles (Energy Spheres in this particular entry). It’s all straightforward and easy (with only some of the Energy Spheres being particularly difficult to find), but the Kirby formula is always fun.

As you may have guessed, the key difference here is that Return to Dream Land features four player co-op. One mode of co-op features first player as Kirby, with the other players taking control of Waddle Dee, Meta-Knight and the great King Dedede himself. Naturally, Kirby is the only one who can steal his opponents abilities (with Dedede using a hammer, Meta-Knight his sword, and Waddle Dee a spear). This makes Kirby the most versatile of the characters, but the other three do provide a nice change of pace. Another form of multiplayer sees all four players control different colored Kirbys. Both multiplayer modes have their advantages (in the all-Kirby mode everyone can copy powers, while in the mode with different characters, you get different play styles…and King Dedede).

Unfortunately, the ability to play with four players – though a welcome addition – is really the only big change to the series formula that Return to Dream Land makes. There are also the occasional “Super Abilities” – temporary copy abilities with devastating power – but otherwise, Return to Dream Land is possibly the safest entry in the series.

Again, that’s not a horrible thing, as the adventure is fun, the visuals are cute and charming, and the music is, in typical Kirby fashion, pretty darn great (making Return to Dream Land a far more aesthetically distinct adventure than Mario’s side-scrolling return to home consoles in New Super Mario Bros. Wii). And once the adventure is completed, a host of post-game modes are unlocked, and there are even some mini-games to serve as a nice detour for you and some friends.

There is a lot of fun to be had in Kirby’s Return to Dream Land, especially when you have four players at the ready. The only thing holding it back is that it’s an uncharacteristically complacent entry in an otherwise inventive series. We don’t even get the nice narrative level structure and dynamic camera angles of Kirby 64, and even the ‘Dream Land’ in the title feels misplaced, as this Wii adventure shares very little with the Dream Land trilogy (at least give us the animal friends if you’re going to put ‘Dream Land’ in the title).

Kirby’s Return to Dream Land is a solid title, and makes for some great, multiplayer fun. But whether it was simply trying to make up for lost time, or being released within a timeframe that also saw exceptional 2D platformers like Kirby’s Epic Yarn and the Donkey Kong Country revivals, Return to Dream Land seems satisfied with simply meeting the status quo for the series. On the plus side, it did open the doors for more stellar Kirby experiences such as Triple Deluxe, Planet Robobot, and Star Allies (the latter of which making for a more inventive realization of co-op Kirby). For that alone, I suppose we should be grateful.

 

7

Kirby’s Epic Yarn Review

Ten years. That’s how long it took Kirby to get another console entry after Kirby 64. Hal’s pink hero featured in a number of handheld games during that decade-long interim, but the only title starring Kirby on a home console during all that time was the racing game Kirby’s Air Ride on the Game Cube. Sure, Kirby began life on the Game Boy, but it seemed strange for him to suddenly be entirely confined to handhelds after appearing in a quartet of memorable games on the NES, SNES and N64. But in 2010, Kirby finally returned to a home console, when Kirby’s Epic Yarn arrived on the Nintendo Wii. Epic Yarn wasn’t your normal Kirby adventure, however, and did away with most of the series’ usual elements. Despite the changes, Kirby’s Epic Yarn quickly garnered critical praise. Though in typical Kirby fashion, Epic Yarn seemed to just ad quickly fall under the radar. This is a crying shame, because Kirby’s Epic Yarn remains one of the best entries in the series, and one of the Wii’s unsung gems.

Developed by the aptly-named Good-Feel (who previously made the gorgeously animated Wario Land: Shake It), Kirby’s Epic Yarn is quite likely the most charming video game ever made, and a rare instance in which striking visuals actually enhance the gameplay.

Naturally, the story begins in Dream Land, where a sorcerer named Yin-Yarn – hailing from the parallel world of Patch Land – has invaded, turning everything and everyone into yarn as to take control of Dream Land (for reasons he himself is not sure of). Yin-Yarn stumbles across Kirby, and transforms our hero into a yarn version of himself, unable to inhale objects and enemies. The sorcerer then banishes Kirby to Patch Land – which Yin-Yarn has unstitched – in order to move on to Dedede’s castle. In Patch Land, Kirby meets Prince Fluff, who teaches Kirby his new yarn body allows him to transform into a variety of shapes and sizes. Kirby and Prince Fluff then team up to find the Magic Yarn needed to stitch Patch Land back together, find a way back to Dream Land, and stop Yin-Yarn from wreaking havoc. It’s an appropriately simple (and even silly) plot that adds to the game’s charms, as does it’s narration, which evokes a grandfather reading a storybook.

Cute though the story may be, the fabric theme also adds to both the visuals and, most importantly, the gameplay.

In the world of Patch Land, everything is made out of fabric. Whether it’s the fuzzy environments, string-like enemies, or zipper-laden castles, Kirby’s Epic Yarn is one of those rare titles where you can imagine everyone involved with its production had a blast thinking about how everything in the game world comes together. It’s an absolute joy to look at, and dare I say Kirby has never been cuter.

What ascends Kirby’s Epic Yarn’s visual aesthetics into the realms of all-time great video game art directions, however, is how it integrates into the gameplay. Kirby can often zip, stitch, and patch up the environment around him. And his new yarn form allows him to change shape to glide as a parachute, ground pound as a weight, and take the form of a car to move faster. Many of the game’s puzzles are built around the aesthetics, making Kirby’s Epic Yarn the first game to turn the concept of knitting into an engaging gameplay mechanic.

On top of all this, certain sections will see Kirby full-on transform for a limited time. Throughout the adventure, Kirby and Prince Fluff can take the forms of a robot-tank, a UFO, a train, a surfing penguin, a dolphin, a mole, a fire truck, and a race car. With the variety of ways the developers used the fabric motif, Kirby’s Epic Yarn would already be a game full of variety. But with the transformations added into the mix, the game stays fresh throughout its entirety (though some may find the motion controls of the train form a tad cumbersome).

Another twist to the Kirby formula – and video game conventions as a whole – is that Kirby can’t die in Epic Yarn. Being the overpowered character Kirby is, his games have always tended to be on the easy side, and you might say Epic Yarn increases the ease ten-fold now that Kirby is essentially invincible, which won’t sit well for everyone. That wouldn’t be an entirely accurate claim, however, as Kirby’s Epic Yarn does manage to give a challenge for completionists in the form of beads.

Beads are scattered throughout every stage, and depending on how many beads Kirby manages to hold onto by the end of a stage, players can earn bronze, silver and gold medals. Even a single hit from an enemy will result in Kirby’s collected beads being scattered about Sonic rings style, disappearing completely after a short time. Some players may find themselves restarting a level should they fall down a bottomless pit, and see bead after bead fall into the abyss as Kirby is brought back to safety.

Additionally, every stage also hides two secret objects and a music CD to find, making for an extra challenge for those seeking that elusive 100% completion. The objects in question can be used to decorate Kirby’s new apartment at the player’s leisure (bringing a little taste of Animal Crossing into the mix), and certain objects can be placed in other apartments in the same building to get new tenants to move in, with each new arrival providing their own series of time limit-based mini-games (like trying to find friends hiding within a stage, or defeating a set number of enemies). So in case the adventure itself somehow weren’t enough, the collectibles and mini-games give Kirby’s Epic Yarn some great replay value.

“Though the bosses lack difficulty, they are consistently creative. This includes my main man, King Dedede, naturally.”

The game features seven worlds in total, each with four mandatory levels and a boss fight, along with two additional levels that can be unlocked if you collect enough bead during that world’s boss. Though it may not be the most difficult game out there, Kirby’s Epic Yarn still provides a hefty and undeniably fun adventure for one or two players, with Prince Fluff joining Kirby in the game’s co-op mode.

To wrap the experience up nicely, Kirby’s Epic Yarn features one of the most memorable soundtracks in the series. Fittingly, the music is softer and more relaxed than most Kirby soundtracks, with beautiful live band and piano pieces ranging from cute and sweet to surprisingly beautiful. This makes hunting down those aforementioned CDs well worth the effort.

Kirby’s Epic Yarn is a rare kind of game, one that happily defies the status quo of its time. The 2000s were riddled in video games aiming to be as ‘mature’ and violent as possible, starring parades of angry bald dudes seeking vengeance on one thing or another who, in retrospect, almost seem to be making fun of themselves with their edginess. Meanwhile, most games released during the 2010s have tried their damnedest to replicate the look and feel of cinema out of a misguided means to earn legitimacy. Kirby’s Epic Yarn defied the decade that came before it, and still stands out in the years that have followed by emphasizing sheer joy and creativity over all else. Kirby’s Epic Yarn takes most of the trappings of what normally constitute ‘good’ video games and disregards them, aiming instead to simply leave a smile beaming across your face. It’s all the better for it.

 

8

Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards Review

It seemed like an unwritten rule during Nintendo’s earlier console generations that Kirby was to be the closing act. Kirby’s Adventure was the last great NES game, and Kirby’s Dream Land 3 was the last Nintendo-published title on the SNES. Kirby didn’t quite shut the door on the Nintendo 64, but he still arrived late into the game, with Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards arriving on the console in 2000, four years after the N64 launched, and one year before it was supplanted by the Game Cube. 2000 proved to be something of a banner year for the Nintendo 64, as it also saw the release of Majora’s Mask and Banjo-Tooie, two of the console’s few truly timeless games. While Kirby 64 may not boast the depth of those titles – and may even fall considerably short of the pink hero’s SNES outings – it still fit nicely into a stellar calendar year for the N64.

While the Nintendo 64 mostly saw Nintendo’s franchises aiming for a new, 3D perspective, Kirby decided to stick to his two-dimensional, side-scrolling roots (albeit with 3D graphics). Though it may seem a tad disappointing that there’s never been a full-on 3D platformer for the Kirby series, perhaps Hal simply knows something we don’t about how the series would make such a transition. After all, not every series can work in 3D (we all know what happened when Sonic tried his hand at it). Besides, Kirby has always done a fine job at innovating his own formula even in 2D, and Kirby 64 brought one of the best twists to the series: the ability to combine copied powers to form new ones!

Kirby 64 utilizes seven base copy abilities. There’s the usual fire, ice, spark, spike, rock and cutter, with the ‘bomb’ power replacing the usual parasol ability in the ‘Dream Land’ lineup. Each of these copy abilities can be combined with the others (including themselves) for a variety of new abilities that are both unique and humorous.

Combine bomb with spark, and Kirby becomes an explosive lightbulb. Combine two spikes together and Kirby becomes a Swiss Army Knife. Combine fire and ice and Kirby transforms into an ice block that melts into steam. And in perhaps the best idea for a Kirby power ever, combining spark and cutter results in Kirby wielding a double-sided lightsaber a la Darth Maul.

It’s a wonderful take on the classic Kirby formula and, at the time, many figured this would be the direction the series would take going forward. Unfortunately, this ended up being a one-time gig. Squeak Squad would feature a watered down method of combining a small handful of abilities, and Star Allies would add its own twist of combining elements of one power with another. But as far as outright taking two powers and cramming them together to make new powers is concerned, Kirby 64 is it.

This is all the more a shame, because not only is the idea one of the best concepts added to the series, but Kirby 64 doesn’t always do the concept justice in how it presents opportunities for these powers to truly shine within the stages.

Being the follow-up to Kirby’s Dream Land 3, Kirby 64 follows a similar formula, with hidden trinkets being hidden within the stages (in this case, magic crystal shards). Dark Matter has returned once again, and has conquered the distant planet of Ripple Star, whose now-shattered magic crystal can stop the evil entity. Like Dream Land 3’s Heart Stars, every crystal needs to be uncovered in order to face off with the true final boss and complete the game proper.

Every stage in Kirby 64 hides three crystals, one of which requires a power combination to unlock. On paper, this may sound like an improvement over Dream Land 3’s ‘one Heart Star per level’ setup. But Dream Land 3 always seemed to find new and creative ways to use its powers and animal friends to uncover those Heart Stars. Kirby 64, on the other hand, rarely has you doing anything other than breaking a wall with a certain ability to claim that hidden crystal. And with the other two crystals on any given stage being barely hidden, there feels like a missed opportunity here in making the level design and power combinations mesh together to make something deeper.

Kirby is joined on his adventure by Ribbon, a fairy from Ripple Star, as well as returning characters Waddle Dee, Adeline and King Dedede. Sadly, these allies don’t really provide anything to the gameplay (Adeline sometimes paints a clue towards an upcoming puzzle, but nothing direct). The exception here is King Dedede, whom Kirby can piggyback in certain sections. Sadly, with these segments being few and far between, along with Dedede’s limited abilities, even the good king seems underutilized, which may simply leave you missing the old animal friends (who only show up here in cameo forms via the cutter/rock power combo).

Multiplayer shows up in a limited capacity, being relegated to three Mario Party style mini-games (which are fun, but again, there are only three).  you’ll probably miss the co-op gameplay found in Kirby’s SNES outings, especially seeing the N64’s emphasis on four-player party games.

Even with these shortcomings, Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards is still ultimately a fun game. The different power combinations are always exciting to discover and fun to use, the graphics look as clean and colorful as an N64 side-scroller could, and per the norm, Kirby once again boasts one of his home console’s most terrific but underrated soundtracks, with a number of its original tunes being some of the best in the series (which are thankfully seeing new appreciation with their remixes in more recent titles). The levels even have a fun sense of telling their own little stories, with the progression in each stage directly leading in to the next (the second world sees Kirby traversing a desert/canyon world, which eventually leads him to a spaceship. A little narrative that plays out within the stages of that world).

Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards remains a fan favorite for many, due in large part to the ability of combining powers, which remains one of the series’ best ideas. But it does stumble a bit in its execution of that idea, making for a solid entry in the series, if maybe not the most spectacular one.

 

7

Kirby’s Dream Land 3 Review

Kirby’s Adventure was the last great NES game, and Hal’s pink, spherical hero once again closed out a Nintendo console with the SNES. The Nintendo 64 had launched in 1996, with Kirby Super Star and a handful of other classic titles insuring the 16-bit system went out in style (it wouldn’t be inaccurate to claim the SNES had a better ’96 than the N64 did). But Kirby was to perform double duty for Nintendo’s 16-bit console, and saw a second adventure hit the SNES in 1997. Kirby’s Dream Land 3 was the last Nintendo-published game released on the SNES, and due to the N64 being well established by this point – as well as ignoring many of Super Star’s changes to the series in favor of a direct continuation of Dream Land 2’s formula – Kirby’s Dream Land 3 was far from a best-seller in its time, and even had a mixed reception upon release. This is a crying shame, because in many ways, Kirby’s Dream Land 3 feels like the series’ definitive entry, and ended the Super Nintendo’s run on a major high note.

As stated, Kirby’s Dream Land 3 left behind most of the abilities introduced in Kirby Super Star, instead adopting the seven ‘traditional’ Kirby powers (burning, ice, spike, cutter, parasol, rock and spark), as well as one additional new ability, cleaning, which takes the form of a broom. Like Dream Land 2 and Adventure, each ability consisted of a single move. By simple description, it’s easy to see why many would think this is a step back from what Super star accomplished just one year prior. But Dream Land 3 has a few tricks up its sleeve to not only give these copy abilities a sense of variety, but also in giving them a greater sense of purpose in the overall adventure.

The first – and most obvious – gameplay addition is that Dream Land 2’s animal friends (Rick the Hamster, Coo the Owl, and Kine the Sunfish) are joined by three additional friends: Chuchu the Octopus (who looks more like a female Kirby), Pitch the Bird, and Nago the Cat.

Like in Dream Land 2, combining the different copy abilities with each animal friend produces a new power, which greatly expands the uses of both the powers and the animal friends. Additionally, along with Coo being able to fly with ease and Kine being a fast swimmer, Rick now gains the ability to wall jump, and each of the new animal friends come with their own abilities for travel. Nago is able to triple jump, and Chuchu can float for a short time, as well as cling on to ceilings. Pitch is able to fly as well, albeit his short stature makes it harder for him to carry Kirby’s weight, making him less graceful than Coo. Pitch can, however, run faster than any of the other friends on the ground, making him handy both on land and in the air.

Another deviation from Super Star is that Kirby can no longer turn his powers into allies for a second player. Co-op still returns, however, with the introduction of the character Gooey, a peculiar blob with the same copy ability as Kirby, though he prefers to use his prehensile tongue over inhaling foes. Gooey can even be summoned when playing solo, but it isn’t recommended, as he may take out enemies before you get the chance to take their powers.

Perhaps Dream Land 3’s biggest contribution to the series is that – while it is an easy adventure that makes for a nice, relaxing experience for one or two players – there is an added sense of difficulty brought into the mix for completionists.

Once again, the evil entity of Dark Matter is invading Planet Pop Star, possessing King Dedede and his minions and covering the world in negative energy. In order to combat this negative force, Kirby must do good deeds for the citizens of Dream Land, which rewards him with Heart Stars, which hold the positivity needed to drive Dark Matter out of Dream Land.

For more easy-going players, you can simply blast through the levels and make your way to a confrontation with King Dedede, which will still provide plenty of fun with the game’s clever level design and overwhelming charm. But if you want to beat the game to full completion, you’ll have to figure out how to claim every last Heart Star. And unlike Dream Land 2, which merely included one hidden item per world, every single stage of Kirby’s Dream Land 3 hides a Heart Star. In order to gain these Heart Stars, Kirby and Gooey will have to make full use of the copy abilities, animal friends, and combinations thereof.

Every Heart Star will require Kirby to perform a good deed for that level’s NPC. Some of these objectives are simple, like avoiding stepping on flowers or making sure you have a specific animal buddy by the end of the stage so they can meet up with one of their loved ones. But others will require deeper exploration into a stage, and will need Kirby to find the right ability combination to solve a puzzle, uncover hidden objects, or even overcome a mini-game. Kirby’s Dream Land 3 may never be full-on difficult, but it epitomizes the series’ combination of being an all-ages adventure while also providing an extra challenge for those looking for it.

“Every world begins with a humorous little animation, and many of the animal’s powers play into their personalities, adding to the game’s bountiful charms.”

Much like Kirby’s Adventure on the NES, Dream Land 3 being released at the tail-end of the SNES’s lifecycle meant that it brought out the best in the console’s technical abilities. Kirby’s Dream Land 3 is simply a beautiful game. Seemingly taking inspiration from Yoshi’s Island’s storybook aesthetics, Dream Land 3 takes things further with an art style molded from crayons and colored pencils. Kirby’s Dream Land 3 looks like a child’s drawing come to life in video game form, and somehow seems largely forgotten in discussions of great video game art styles, a discussion it very much belongs in. There are additional visual effects added to many stages, pushing the SNES to its graphical limits. These effects, combined with the art style, make Kirby’s Dream Land 3 one of the best looking SNES games. The only downside to the visuals is the knowledge that we’ll probably not see another game that looks like this.

As usual for the series, the timeless visuals are joined by a stellar soundtrack. Kirby’s Dream Land 3 features a score that, fittingly, sounds every bit as beautiful and dreamlike as the visuals look. Sadly, much like the game itself, the soundtrack never seems to get the attention it deserves, as it stands as one of the best in the series, and one of the more underrated soundtracks on a console that was no stranger to great soundtracks.

While at first glance it may seem like Dream Land 3 is merely lacking in what Super Star brought to the table, it ultimately feels like the deeper game due to what it does with the most traditional Kirby formula. It takes the foundation of Dream Land 2, and expands on it in every conceivable way. The new and returning animal friends, creative level design, and added sense of exploration make it a great game in its own right. Combine that with an all-time great art direction and a fantastic soundtrack, and you have what may not only be the best ‘traditional’ Kirby adventure, but also one of Nintendo’s most underrated and charming games.

 

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