First thing’s first, I must apologize that the Dojo has slowed to a crawl as of late. I have a lot going on at the moment, and I haven’t had the time to write. Hopefully within the next few days and weeks I can get back to posting content more regularly.
Anyway, the world of video games has a lot to celebrate, as today marks the thirty-seventh anniversary of Super Mario Bros., and this month marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Magnavox Odyssey, the world’s first commercially released video game console.
Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find an exact date for the Magnavox Odyssey’s release, and I’m not old enough to have experienced it firsthand. Still, the fact that video game consoles are now officially five decades old seems like the kind of thing to celebrate, even if I may not know the exact day in September 1972 that the Odyssey was released. But seeing as today is also the anniversary of Super Mario Bros’ release in Japan, now felt like a good time to write about it.
To say the games on the Magnavox Odyssey were primitive is an understatement. They were so rudimentary, so bare bones, that they consisted of little more than controlling lights on the screen. And since graphics and animation hadn’t been created for video games yet, each game came with an overlay to put on the TV screen to differentiate them from each other (seriously). And though the games had gameplay rules written in their manuals, there wasn’t really anything stopping the players from moving their respective lights wherever they wanted on the screen to just goof off. Again, it was primitive, but video games had to start somewhere. And you could say the system lived up to its name, as it began the odyssey of gaming itself. Oof, that was cheesy. But I meant it.
So here’s to the big five-oh of the Magnavox Odyssey and, by extension, video game consoles themselves! Thanks Ralph Baer!
Fittingly, the same month we celebrate the first commercial video game console, we also celebrate what is most likely history’s most impactful video game: Super Mario Bros.
Released in Japan on September 13th 1985, Super Mario Bros. revolutionized video games, lifted the medium out of a dark age, paved the way for Nintendo’s many franchises (and Mario’s many sequels and spinoffs), and continues to influence game design to this day. Simply put, the world of video games would be a whole lot less enjoyable had Mario (and Luigi! Can’t forget Luigi) not adventured through the Mushroom Kingdom to save Princess Peach from the villainous Bowser. It’s still a true classic.
September is apparently a very influential month for video games, and has given players many reasons to celebrate. Hell, just today Nintendo officially announced Pikmin 4 will be coming to the Switch next year! So throw that on the pile of video game things to celebrate today!
Happy Video Games, everyone!
As an added bonus, tomorrow, September 14th 2022, will mark the twentieth anniversary of when Kirby: Right Back at Ya debuted on the FoxBox block on Fox! And that means it’s been twenty years since the world was introduced to this little beauty…
Today marks the thirtieth anniversary of the release of Kirby’s Dream Land on the Game Boy and, by extension, the thirtieth anniversary of Kirby himself!
Released in Japan on April 27th 1992, Kirby’s Dream Land introduced the world to Kirby, the pink puffball who would go on to become the mascot of developer HAL Laboratory, as well as one of Nintendo’s (and gaming’s) most enduring characters. Not to mention the cutest (sorry, Pikachu and Yoshi)!
With Sonic the Hedgehog being released the year prior, video game characters (particularly platforming mascots) were becoming “cooler” and “edgier” (or trying, at any rate. None of Sonic’s imitators ever actually matched him). So in retrospect, Kirby seems like a beautifully defiant act on Nintendo and HAL’s part. Doubling down on the cuteness of their character while everyone else was aiming for “attitude.”
Hilariously, it seemed because of that, Nintendo’s marketing didn’t know how to advertise Kirby to western audiences at the time, with Kirby’s Dream Land 2’s US commercial depicting Kirby and his Animal Friends as a bunch of mean looking tough guys who beat up a bunch of bikers during poetry night! Don’t believe me?
Or what about this other advertisement for the same game, which literally says not to call Kirby and his friends cute!
It’s like, what is the taboo here? Kirby IS cute! Embrace that and roll with it!
Thankfully, they did that eventually. But it certainly took a while for the marketing to have the profound revelation that people like cute things!
Anyway, Kirby managed to power through such questionable marketing due to the quality of his games. With Kirby’s Adventure (1993), Kirby gained his signature copy abilities, which would become the series’ staple mechanic thereafter. Kirby would go on to star in dozens of games over the decades, both his traditional platforming romps and in more experimental spinoffs, making Kirby second only to Mario as gaming’s most versatile character. The most recent Kirby release, Kirby and the Forgotten Land, is the first 3D platformer in the series, and has quickly been praised as one of Kirby’s best. So the little guy certainly isn’t slowing down.
Kirby even had his own animated series in the early 2000s which lasted 100 episodes, and “Kirby Cafes” which serve Kirby themed foods have become an actual thing in Japan. So even though Kirby may not be as recognizable as Mario, Sonic or Pikachu, he’s had a similar impact.
Thirty years ago, the world was introduced to the cutest of video game heroes. Today, Kirby is still going strong as one of gaming’s best, most consistent (and strangely underrated) series.
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 hadto 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.
Nintendo had a new Direct today, which maybe not-so coincidentally happens to be the 132nd anniversary of the founding of the company (happy 132nd birthday, Nintendo!). It was certainly an improvement over their E3 Direct this year (not a very high hurdle to jump, but I meant it as a compliment). There were numerous big announcements, so let me talk about the ones that caught my attention.
First thing’s first, Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis games are coming to Nintendo Switch as part of an upgraded Switch Online. That’s cool, and with the NES and SNES already a part of it, it just feels more complete now. All the classics together again for the first time since the Wii (I know many people would hate me for not including Atari consoles as part of “the classics,” but let’s not pretend like those hold up). A lot of the obvious games will be included at one point or another, like Super Mario 64, the N64 Zelda titles, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, etc. But then they (briefly) showed something that really caught my eye…
Yes, Banjo-Kazooie is coming to Nintendo Switch, making it the first time since its original release that Banjo-Kazooie is on a Nintendo console (where it really belongs, if we’re being perfectly honest). It was a “blink and you’ll miss it” kind of announcement, which is odd, seeing as it’s actually a pretty big deal given the whole history of the series (and developer Rare) with Nintendo and then Microsoft and everything. Could this mean a new Banjo-Kazooie game is in the cards? Probably not. But it gives some semblance of hope for a future for the series. Plus, Banjo-Kazooie (and the other N64 games) on the go? Sounds great!
Before we move on to more games, let’s take a moment to talk about something else that was discussed during the Direct: the upcoming Super Mario animated movie!
While the fact that the film is being made by Illumination has me a bit skeptical (their movies tend to be perfectly content with being “adequate”), I would be lying if I said I weren’t interested. Particularly after this Direct, when Shigeru Miyamoto himself announced the cast!
Chris Pratt wouldn’t have been my first choice for Mario, but I can totally imagine it now after the announcement. I admit I’m a bit disappointed that Seth Rogen is voicing Donkey Kong. But Anya Taylor-Joy as Princess Peach and Jack Black as Bowser? Hot diggity dog! I mean, I always imagined Brad Garrett as Bowser (he was great as Krang in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows), but Jack Black is a more than worthy substitute.
Also, Cranky Kong is in the movie.
Also also, Foreman Spike is in the movie. Now THAT is the kind of deep cut I was hoping for from this Mario movie. The kind of deep cut Super Smash Bros. USED to do, but would never do these days.
Speaking of Super Smash Bros., the last DLC fighter for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate wasn’t announced during this Direct, but will be announced in October. I’m kind of glad they didn’t reveal them here. It’s probably just going to be another anime guy with a sword or another vanilla fighting game character. They’ll likely be a character who has little to nothing to do with Nintendo’s history anyway, so why sully this Direct with another inevitable disappointment from Super Smash Bros?
Anyway, back to the good stuff. Next year will see the release of Chocobo Racing GP, a Switch exclusive sequel (or maybe remake) of a semi-obscure Mario Kart-style racing game from the Playstation One.
I. Loved. This.
I have many fond memories of Chocobo Racing back in the PSOne days (hard to say how well it would hold up, since I haven’t played it in such a long time, but for its day I had a lot of fun with it). Never would I have thought Square-Enix would actually make a sequel to it after all this time. I’m happy they are. Especially since Nintendo seems to keep forgetting to make Mario Kart 9, a kart racer like this is all the more welcome. So happy to see Square-Enix remember something other than Final Fantasy VII for once.
And finally, the big news (for me, anyway) was the announcement of Kirby and the Forgotten Land. The first fully 3D Kirby game!
Good gracious, that trailer. It started off quiet, showing off an abandoned civilization. Typical video game stuff, but with an added colorfulness not usually seen in “abandoned civilization” scenarios. Then we cut to Kirby waking up on a beach. “Oh cool! A new Kirby game!” I thought. Kirby’s always reliable in producing quality games, though he is a Nintendo mainstay so it wasn’t the most shocking revelation.
But then… it happened.
The camera zoomed out behind Kirby. “No, it can’t be…” I thought, before Kirby started moving around freely in this new environment! It’s a Kirby 3D platformer! Good heavens, it’s a Kirby 3D platformer!
Do you know how long I’ve waited for a 3D platformer starring Kirby? Way too long! To pull back the curtain on the depths of my nerdhood, I’ve sometimes thought about what kind of games I would make in various existing franchises, and one of my recurring ideas has always been a 3D Kirby platformer. And now it’s actually happening. I actually got a little misty-eyed in the trailer.
But what am I telling you for? Just watch it yourself!
Now, to be fair, 2D platformers have a much better track record than 3D ones (3D Mario games are amazing, but they haven’t had any real competition since the days of Banjo-Kazooie). But the potential has always been there. And in this day and age, when Rare hasn’t been present in the genre for well over a decade, Mario’s 3D platformers (sublime though they may be) are really the only ones out there. Oh, you can bring up Ratchet & Clank all you want, but that series is far more an action-adventure game than a platformer (just because it has cartoony characters doesn’t mean it’s a platformer). So we need 3D platformers now more than ever. There’s never been anything wrong with 2D Kirby games (literally, there’s never been a bad one), but I’m happy to see the series branch out with a full-fledged 3D platformer after all this time.
There were plenty of other things discussed in the Nintendo Direct, such as a long-awaited update to Animal Crossing: New Horizons (yes please), and a new trailer for Bayonetta 3 (which closed out the Direct for some reason. I personally would have ended it with Kirby, which has a much richer history and – I’m just going to say it – is a much better, less button-mashy series). But if you just want the news that came out of the Direct, you can read that elsewhere. I’m just giving my thoughts on my favorite bits of the presentation. So hopefully you enjoyed reading my thoughts on this Nintendo Direct.
With a name like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the Switch’s edition to Nintendo’s massively-successful crossover fighter certainly gave itself a lot to live up to. Somewhat miraculously, Ultimate manages to pull that very feat off, delivering what is undoubtedly the best entry in the long-running series to date. Bursting at the seams with content and fine-tuning the series’ gameplay, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate lives up to its lofty expectations, even if a lackluster adventure mode and a thin (and inconsistent) lineup of new fighters means it doesn’t quite surpass them.
Super Smash Bros. really doesn’t need an introduction at this point. The franchise has become one of Nintendo’s biggest sellers thanks to its engrossing gameplay, which combines elements of traditional fighting games with Mario Kart-esque party elements, all while incorporating sumo style rules that make it unique unto itself.
By ‘sumo style’ rules, I of course refer to Super Smash Bros’ key mechanic of sending opponents off the screen – similar to sumos throwing each other out of the ring – in order to defeat them, as opposed to depleting a health bar as in most fighters. Though with that said, the ‘Stamina mode’ first introduced to the series in Melee, in which players do deplete each other’s health, returns as one of Ultimate’s primary game modes, no longer relegated to a kind of bonus mode as in the past.
That seemingly small change is indicative of the very nature of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. This is the Super Smash Bros. that attempts to legitimize every play style for the series, and to appease every type of Smash fan. And for the most part, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate wildly succeeds in doing just that.
If you’re a serious Smash player, you can remove items and play on flat stages a la Final Destination or small stages with minimal platforms in the vein of the classic Battlefield stage, with no match-altering Final Smashes included. Players who want chaotic fun can have all items active, Final Smashes turned on, and enable every last, crazy stage hazard and gimmick. Or, if you’re somewhere in between, you can play on the standard stages with the gimmicks turned off, only allow Final Smashes by means of building up a power meter during battle, and only enable the occasional Pokeball and Assist Trophy in regards to items.
The ways in which you can customize matches are boundless. This really is the Super Smash Bros. that can appeal to any Nintendo fan. At least in terms of the core gameplay, that is.
If there is one glaring downside with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, it’s with the game’s adventure mode. Dubbed ‘World of Light,’ Ultimate’s adventure mode is mind-numbingly tedious, and simply not worth the time and effort it takes to see it to the end.
In World of Light, players initially take control of Kirby, the only survivor of a Thanos-style mass extinction, as they progress through one battle after another, unlocking the other characters and collecting ‘Spirits,’ which are won after defeating opponents in possession of said Spirits.
These Spirits are a new feature in Ultimate, replacing the series’ long-standing trophy collectibles. It’s ultimately an unfair trade. While the trophies of Smash’s past featured unique character models and gave some insights into Nintendo (and gaming) history, the Spirits are merely presented as stock promotional art from past games, and provide statistical bonuses to your characters when equipped. Spirits can grant boosts to attributes like strength or speed, or provide you with a special ability (such as starting fights with a particular item, or being resistant to certain types of attacks).
This may sound interesting in concept, but it kind of goes against the very nature of Super Smash Bros. This is a fighting series all about learning the different play styles of the various characters. So if you have Spirits activated in the standard game, it makes things more about who has the best Spirits equipped, as opposed to who played the best in any given round.
Suffice to say the Spirits find all of their appeal in the single player World of Light mode. Though even then, the game often mishandles their usage. Pulling a page out of Paper Marios Sticker Star and Color Splash, there are a number of battles in World of Light in which it is necessary to have specific Spirits equipped in order to win. If the Spirits gave you advantages in these situations, that’d be fine. But on more than one occasion you will come across a battle in which victory is impossible unless you have a specific Spirit equipped.
Another issue with World of Light is that it’s just too long for its own good. It features an unnecessary amount of branching paths, alternate routes, and overall battles. And when it finally looks like you’re done with it, World of Light pulls a Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins on the player and extends the adventure by rather lazy means. To detract from the experience even further, World of Light is exclusively played by a single player. Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s adventure mode, Subspace Emissary, was far from a winner, but at least I could play that with a friend.
Not to mention Subspace Emissary served as a fast means of unlocking every character. But World of Light just drags on and on, with the lonesome tedium making you seek one of the many other means of unlocking the characters (thankfully, there are no shortage of options when it comes to expanding the roster). The fact that World of Light actually makes me long for Subspace Emissary could be a sign that maybe Super Smash Bros. is better off without an adventure mode at all.
Of course, the adventure mode is just a small part of the overall package, and every other mode included in the game delivers in spades: Classic Mode is more fun than ever, and includes unique challenges for every last fighter. Tournaments are easier to set up than ever before. New Squad Strikes have players selecting teams of characters and eliminating them one by one. Smashdown sees players cycle through the entire roster one at a time, with previously selected characters getting locked out after use. The variety never ceases to impress.
On the concept of variety, the biggest selling point of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is that every playable character from the franchise’s history is present. If they were playable in a past Super Smash Bros. title, they’re playable here. So those of you who missed Solid Snake for being omitted from Super Smash Bros. on Wii U/3DS, he’s back. Young Link and Toon Link can now face off against one another. Pichu makes his return after seventeen years (they can’t all be winners). The DLC characters from Wii U/3DS return. Even the good ol’ Ice Climbers have found their way back to the series, after technical limitations on the 3DS prevented their appearance in the last installments. And yes, we even get a handful of new characters joining the fray, meaning that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has all of the character variety of each and every one of its predecessors put together and then some.
Speaking of the new characters, that’s where things can be a bit inconsistent when it comes to selections. Ridley and King K. Rool feel like the most meaningful newcomers, given that they’ve been in high demand from fans since Melee. Splatoon’s Inklings also make sense as they represent one of Nintendo’s contemporary success stories. And Simon Belmont feels long overdue in the third-party character department (seriously, besides Mega Man, what other third-party character even compares to Castlevania’s early history with Nintendo?).
The remaining newcomers, however, are a bit of a mixed bag. Isabelle from Animal Crossing – though a welcome addition in her own right – doesn’t exactly come across as a character fans were dying to see join the series. Incineroar feels like he could have been any randomly selected Pokemon. And the downloadable Piranha Plant just feels like a big middle finger to the fans who have been requesting their favorite characters for years. That’s not to say that these characters detract from the gameplay by any means. But for a series so grounded in fanservice, some of these character selections feel misguided.
Perhaps with more newcomers the more disappointing entries wouldn’t stick out so much. But with most of the emphasis going towards bringing back every past character, you kind of wish that the smaller quantity of newcomers would have translated to a consistent quality. And that’s unfortunately not always the case.
Some fans may also lament that clone characters – now officially referred to as “echo fighters” – are still present, but at least now they’re categorized appropriately, and not treated as though they’re full-on additions to the franchise.
Still, it’s hard to complain too much when Ultimate boasts seventy unique characters (with more on the way via DLC. Here’s hoping some favorites make the cut). There’s simply never a shortage of characters to choose from, and all of them bring their own sense of fun to the gameplay (with the possible exceptions of the excessive amount of sword fighters from Fire Emblem, who often feel interchangeable even when they aren’t clones).
Each character’s Final Smash has also been altered this time around, as they take on a more cinematic approach. Unfortunately, while the Final Smashes look more impressive than ever, their infrequent interactivity makes them less fun than in previous installments. This was probably done for the sake of balance, which is admirable. Though chances are, if you have Final Smashes active, you aren’t exactly aiming for a balanced, competitive bout.
The stages also adhere to Ultimate’s “everything but the kitchen sink” mentality. Although there are a few omissions, the majority of stage’s from past Super Smash Bros. titles make a return (unfortunately, Brawl’s Electroplankton-inspired stage is bafflingly among them). There are only four brand-new stages in the base game: Odyssey and Breath of the Wild themed levels for Mario and Zelda, and courses based on newly-represented series Splatoon and Castlevania. That may not sound like a whole lot of newness, but more stages are planned to be added along with the DLC characters. Besides, with the returning courses, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate includes over one-hundred different locations to do battle. And as stated, every last stage comes in three different versions (standard, Battlefield, and Final Destination), so you’re not very likely to get bored from repetition.
For those who don’t always have someone at the ready for some couch multiplayer, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate also expands the series’ online capabilities. Creating online matches has been streamlined by means of creating arenas, where players can set the rules as they see fit. You can even search for specific rulesets if you want to join an arena that’s more to your play style (though admittedly, the search engine needs some work). It’s now much, much easier to set up or join an online match and play with or against Smash players from around the world.
Sadly, the online functionality still isn’t perfect. Though lag is considerably less frequent than in Brawl or Wii U/3DS, it’s still present more often than you’d like. It isn’t limited to worldwide matches, either. I’ve encountered some slowdowns in games against my friends. Again, the lag isn’t so common as to detract from the overall experience, but considering that in five years’ time I’ve never encountered any lag issues in Mario Kart 8 (whether on Wii U or Switch), you have to wonder how and why Nintendo can’t replicate that level of online functionality with their other multiplayer franchises.
Other quibbles with the online mode include some minor (but no less irritating) design quirks, such as leaving your place in cue for the next fight in an arena just to change your character’s color (let alone change your character). Or why entering the spectator stands also removes you from cue (why the cue and spectator stands aren’t one and the same is anyone’s guess). Again, these are all just minor annoyances, but you have to wonder why they’re there at all.
Of course, it must be emphasized that, with the exception of the World of Light adventure mode, all of the complaints to be had with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate are minor grievances in the big picture. The series’ signature gameplay has never felt so polished, the content has never felt this endless, and with every last character in franchise history present, Super Smash Bros. has never felt this complete.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is also a technical showcase of the Switch’s capabilities. Though it retains a similar overall look to Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS and Brawl, the graphics are much sharper and more refined. The level of background detail in the stages themselves – often so small you’d never see them in the heat of battle – is a testament to the abilities of the artists behind the game. The character animations are similarly impressive, especially those with unique characteristics (such as DK’s eyes bulging out of his head when hit, Donkey Kong Country-style; or Wario’s manic, sporadic movements).
Complimenting these visuals is a soundtrack that represents an unrivaled array of video game music, featured in both their original and new remixed forms in addition to many remixes from past Super Smash Bros. installments. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s quite as many new pieces of music added into the fray as Brawl and Wii U/3DS brought to the table, but it’s hard to complain too much when the music is this terrific. Not to mention the soundtrack to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is inarguably the biggest library of classic video game themes ever compacted into a single game.
On the whole, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is an absolute winner. Its overall sense of newness may not be as prominent as the past few entries, but its inclusion of the best elements of every past installment, along with each and every last one of their characters, makes this the definitive entry in the long-running Super Smash Bros. series to date. With the exception of its egregious adventure mode, everything about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is exploding with fun. With so many characters, stages, modes, and options, the content included in the package is seemingly bottomless, leading to an unparalleled replay value.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is not only the best game in the series, it’s one of the greatest multiplayer games ever made.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.