Tag Archives: Kirby

Kirby’s Dream Course Review

*Review based on Kirby’s Dream Course’s release as part of the SNES Classic*

Good ol’ Kirby. Nintendo’s most underappreciated of workhorses has never truly got the recognition he deserves, often held down in the shadows of Nintendo’s more prominent franchises like Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid. Sure, he may not have a title quite as heralded as Super Mario World or Ocarina of Time to his name, but Kirby has also never had any atrocious edutainment titles or CDi games under his belt, either. Nor does his series house a game anywhere near as bad as Metroid: Other M. When a series’ worst entry is still a game as charming and creative as Kirby Air Ride, I’d say it’s doing alright for itself.

Kirby is usually known for his 2D platforming adventures, which are easier and friendlier than Mario or Donkey Kong’s journey’s in the same genre. Kirby is a gloriously overpowered character, being able to eat enemies, copy their abilities, and even fly over hazards. But the series has never not been fun, and that remains true even for Kirby’s spinoff titles. Perhaps one of the most under-the-radar Kirby titles – and the out-of-left-field entry in the SNES Classic Edition – is Kirby’s Dream Course, which combines the colorful world of Dreamland with miniature golf.

This 1994 SNES title sees Kirby transported to isometric golf courses, where the goal is to defeat all enemies – save for one – on a course. Once these enemies are defeated, the final foe becomes a hole which serves as the stage’s goal. Get Kirby into the hole within a set number of turns, and you can move on to the next stage.

Kirby is controlled here like a golf ball, with players able to adjust the power, angle and spin of Kirby’s movements. As in golf, the player receives a better score if they can get Kirby into the hole in the least amount of turns, but being a video game, Kirby loses a life if too many turns are taken. Players can gain extra turns when Kirby defeats an enemy and makes it into a goal, but will lose turns when hit by an enemy attack, and will immediately lose an entire life if he falls off a stage.

It’s a simple setup, but the core gameplay is a lot of fun. Better still is that Kirby’s copy abilities have found their way into the mix, with Kirby gaining an ability when he defeats a foe that happens to possess one. The powers can then be activated by a press of the B button once Kirby is on the move. The wheel power, for example, will boost Kirby’s speed so he can glide on water and move easily through tough terrain, while the stone ability will bring Kirby to an immediate halt, which can be a lifesaver on more elaborate courses.

If there’s any notable complaint to be had with the gameplay, it’s that – for a game with a pretty unique setup – Kirby’s Dream Course doesn’t exactly do the best job at giving the player a decent learning curve. The simple act of ‘striking’ Kirby can be a little confusing if you jump right into things, and although there’s a tutorial available to help out with that, it fails to explain some of the finer details of the experience (such as giving Kirby light boosts with the A button). The same applies to the aforementioned copy abilities, with the game more or less leaving you to guess how their individual physics will affect those already present in the game. It’s not overly cryptic, but for a Kirby game to be cryptic at all seems strange.

Visually, the game is another impressive showcase of the timeless colors and charms of the SNES, and the sound effects and music are delightful remixes of classic Kirby tunes. And while the single player adventure may feel a little repetitive at times, a two-player competitive mode gives the game some nice replay value, with players taking turns to see who can best a course the quickest.

Kirby’s Dream Course may not be one of the most remembered Kirby games, but it is another testament to the pink hero’s often-overlooked versatility. While Mario frequently reaps praise for his chameleon-like ability to blend into any genre, Kirby has been doing the same thing for nearly as long, but to much littler fanfare. And though Mario’s offshoots usually deserve their praise, when it comes to golf, Kirby has the former-plumber beat. The later Mario Golf on Nintendo 64 looked and felt like a typical golf game, but with Mario characters attached. Kirby’s Dream Course, on the other hand, actually feels like what golf might be like in Kirby’s whimsical world.

 

7.5

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The Difficulty Dilemma

Not every game needs to be difficult. I say this because it seems there’s an ever-increasing trend among the video game community that states a game isn’t good unless it kicks the player’s ass, and that any game that doesn’t prove to be crushingly difficult is automatically bad. But frankly, that mentality seems like little more than gamers (once again) putting on an air of pretentiousness based on their skill at a particular game.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good challenge. A high difficulty curve means that there’s a rewarding sense of accomplishment for overcoming it. I’m an immense fan of the Dark Souls/Bloodborne series, largely because of the huge sense of satisfaction you get when you finally manage to find success after various, crushing defeats. But not every game needs to be that challenging in order to be good.

“Kirby’s Epic Yarn is a game where you can’t even die. But it’s also an utter joy.”

To use perhaps the most prominent example of a game not needing to be difficult in order to be good, let’s take a look at Kirby. Kirby games are easy. It’s titular hero is gloriously overpowered – being able to steal a wide array of powers from enemies and being capable of flying over most pits – but Kirby is also a character who’s fun to control, the different abilities make for some varied gameplay, and there are fun little ideas scattered throughout Kirby’s adventures that keep things feeling fresh. I can breeze through most Kirby games, but I also don’t think I’ve ever played a bad one. Sure, not every Kirby game is great, but there’s not a Kirby game that exists that I would describe as a bad game.

The ideas that Kirby manages to pull off work so well because they’re well thought out and executed. Rarely are they ever trying to be difficult, but it doesn’t stop them from being fun or creative.

Now, to go to the other end of the spectrum, being difficult doesn’t always benefit a game. Battletoads on NES – while I ultimately think it’s a fun game – often pulls cheap stunts to make the game more difficult (both players can hurt each other), which only end up detracting from the experience. Simply put, if you have to resort to cheap tricks to make things challenging, well, you’re still resorting to cheap tricks.

“The bee boss in Cuphead has fist missiles that can track you even when they’re off-screen, which is more cumbersome than challenging with everything else going on on the screen.”

I know I’ll get some flak for this, but I think a more recent example of a game that would have benefited from toning down the difficulty just a little bit is Cuphead. Don’t get me wrong, overall I thought Cuphead was a great game (I scored it an 8.0 out of 10), but there were a handful of instances where it just felt like the screen was getting bombarded by distractions. This wasn’t much of a problem with the more “bullet hell” bosses, since your character is on a scrolling stage during those fights. With everything moving at a similar pace, it made the onslaught of on-screen objects less of a problem. But in Cuphead’s more traditional run-and-gun platforming bosses, you could often lose track of your character amidst all the hullaballoo. The boss characters on their own were challenging enough, did Cuphead really need to throw in a bunch of bells and whistles on top of them? It just feels like unnecessary padding.

Still though, it seems many people will still cry foul at a game unless it’s excruciatingly difficult. Some are even trying to write Super Mario Odyssey off as being “too easy” (I take it these people haven’t attempted the post-game content). Sure, Odyssey isn’t the most difficult game out there, but its consistently creative and surprising, and always rewarding the player’s curiosity in ways few games can match. No, Odyssey isn’t all that difficult until the post-game, but it’s brilliant in everything it does attempt.

Compare that to Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels (or the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2). It’s a decent game, but it’s arguably the only Mario platformer that doesn’t hold up very well, largely because much of its difficulty consists of challenges that are out of the player’s control. The poisonous mushroom, for example, looks strikingly similar to the super mushroom in the game’s original NES release, so anyone who played the original Super Mario Bros. would of course assume it’s a super mushroom. But nope. It kills you. And that’s just the first level! Later levels have gusts of winds taking Mario off-screen, so players have to focus on the momentum of said wind without seeing Mario on the screen in order to make long-distance jumps.

The Lost Levels isn’t a bad game, but there’s a reason Nintendo hasn’t attempted to replicate its difficulty since then. They learned from it, and realized which elements were difficult but fair, and which ones were just kind of BS.

“Ah, Dark Souls. Difficulty done right!”

Again, I’m not trying to knock difficult games. I adore Dark Souls and Mega Man, and plenty of other games that stomped all over me before I managed to make a dent in them. But I too often hear people complaining that a game isn’t any good because it didn’t throw them around like the Hulk did to Loki at the end of The Avengers. High difficulty doesn’t mean good, and easy doesn’t mean bad. It’s a lot more complicated than that. It’s the execution of a game’s ideas that count. A game could be difficult for all the wrong reasons, while another game could be easy for all the right ones.

Video Game Awards 2017: Best Handheld Game

Handheld gaming has been a staple of the video game industry for decades. The idea of taking video games on the go with you is just too good of an idea. Of course, the concept of handheld gaming has wildly changed these past few years. Mobile games have put easy and accessible titles on everyone’s cellphones, and Nintendo – the longtime champions of handheld gaming – have now merged the concept with their home consoles with the Nintendo Switch.

While cellphone games have their place, and the Switch combining Nintendo’s development teams was the most obvious evolution for the company, this also means that traditional handheld consoles are becoming a thing of the past. Which is a crying shame, because handheld consoles had finally gotten to the point where taking a game n the go no longer meant sacrificing some of its quality.

Anyway, 2016 could be one of the last years where I have the opportunity to name a “Best Handheld Game” under any traditional sense. So my introduction of this award may prove to be a one-time deal. But let’s hope not.

 

Winner: Kirby: Planet Robobot

I know most people were obsessed with Pokemon Sun and Moon when it came to Nintendo gaming in 2016, and while those games were great in their own right, for me, the best Nintendo game of 2016 was Kirby: Planet Robobot.

Kirby has always been Nintendo’s unsung hero, having the diversity of Mario and an undefeated streak of quality games (seriously, I can’t name a bad game Kirby has been in). Kirby: Planet Robobot was yet another testament to Nintendo’s underrated champion.

By combining traditional Kirby gameplay with new “Robobot” suits (which combine with Kirby’s powers to make something entirely new), Planet Robobot was a beautiful marriage of the old and new. It may not be the best Kirby game out there, but it’s yet more proof that more people should really start paying more attention to the series.

Runner-up: Pokemon Sun and Moon

Kirby: Planet Robobot Review

Kirby Planet Robobot

Kirby: Planet Robobot is the second Kirby title to hit the 3DS, after Kirby Triple Deluxe. While Robobot uses many of Triple Deluxe’s assets, it improves on its predecessor in nearly every way, creating one of Kirby’s best adventures in years.

The main story mode of Kirby Planet Robobot sees Kirby’s home world of Pop Star invaded by the Haltmann Works Company and its army of robots, who wish to convert the planet and its citizens into more machines. Naturally, it’s up to Kirby to save the day.

While that may not be much of a plot, the game benefits from it in terms of aesthetics. Though it runs on the same engine as Triple Deluxe, Planet Robobot’s robot motif gives the Kirby universe a fresh twist. Environments are either partially or completely converted into metal worlds, and even classic Kirby enemies get a robotic makeover.

Kirby can still eat enemies and gain their powers, with most of the usual checklist of powers being accounted for, along with three new ones. The EarthBound-inspired PSI Kirby, the devastating Poison Kirby, and the relatively underwhelming Doctor Kirby. While Kirby’s usual gameplay remains as fun as ever, the biggest twist to the gameplay also stems from the game’s robot-centric theme.

Kirby Planet RobobotIn various points of the game, Kirby can pilot his own Robobot, a powerful mech suit reminiscent of those found in Mega Man X. While the Robobot Armor gives Kirby strong physical attacks, it’s best feature is that it, like Kirby himself, can copy enemy abilities, effectively doubling the number of powers in the game, and putting new spins on old classics.

Though the Robobot Armor doesn’t appear on every stage, it proves to be a meaningful game changer. It’s up there with Kirby 64’s combined copy abilities as one of the best gameplay additions in the series history. Hopefully it will make a return in some form in future installments (come to think of it, the same goes for the combined powers concept as well).

Also like Triple Deluxe, Planet Robobot takes full advantage of the 3DS’ 3D visuals. Many of the game’s stages emphasize the differences between the foreground and backgrounds, with its best levels and puzzles keeping the player involved with both perspectives at once. It joins its predecessor, Pushmo and Super Mario 3D Land as one of the few 3DS games whose gameplay benefits from having the 3D turned on.

One downside to the game is that, while Triple Deluxe made full use of the 3DS in ways other than visuals – with a number of puzzles requiring the use of motion controls – those elements have all but disappeared from Planet Robobot, save for a few very brief instances near the end. It isn’t a big complaint, but considering how Planet Robobot builds so strongly on almost everything Triple Deluxe started, it’s a shame that such a prevalent element from Triple Deluxe seems nearly forgotten and tossed in at the last minute.

Kirby Planet RobobotThe main adventure alone is incredible, with great level design that takes full advantage of the classic Kirby gameplay and Robobot’s new additions, sharp visuals, an infectious soundtrack, awesome boss encounters (including a thrilling finale), and some good replay value with collectible stickers (which can decorate the Robobot Armor) and Code Cubes (a few of which are required to reach each world’s boss, with the rest unlocking secret levels and one-hundred percent completion). But, as has been Kirby’s trend for a few years now, the game boasts a number of additional game modes for even more content.

From the get-go, players can select two other play modes: Team Kirby Clash and Kirby 3D Rumble. Team Kirby Clash is a fun combination of RPGs and fighting games, where up to four players can team up to take on large bosses (found exclusively in this mode) as one of four different classes, based on the Sword, Hammer, Doctor and Beam powers from the main game. Meanwhile, Kirby 3D Rumble places Kirby in a series of micro-levels played from a top-down perspective, where Kirby relies solely on his ability to inhale enemies and objects to rack up points and combos.

While these modes are both fun and add to the game’s content, they sadly don’t have too much replay value. The list of bosses found in Team Kirby Clash is rather short, and Kirby 3D Rumble can be completed in a few short minutes, and only those who want to beat their record times will have much incentive to go back. On the plus side, there are a few other modes that can be unlocked after completing the main game, so the variety keeps coming.

Kirby Planet RobobotKirby: Planet Robobot is one of the best Kirby titles in years. It takes most of what Triple Deluxe accomplished, improves on it, and adds some fun tricks of its own. The additional modes may leave you wanting a bit more out of them, but Kirby’s rarely been as fun as he is here, paired up with his delightful Robobot Armor.

 

8.5

Five Nintendo Franchise I Want to see Receive the Mario Maker Treatment

Super Mario Maker

Super Mario Maker is undoubtedly one of the best modern Nintendo games. In recent weeks I’ve found myself playing it as extensively as I did when it was first released. That’s the kind of longevity and replayability most games couldn’t hope for.

Why is it so addictive? It’s like I’ve said in the past, it turns the process of level editing into something that’s not only accessible, but fun in its own right. And playing the levels of other players provides countless surprises (some pleasant, others not so much).

While there were some limitations when the game first launched (and there still are a few that could be addressed), Super Mario Maker’s updates through the months have smoothened things out all the more, and added some great new features (the Fire Koopa Clown Car allows for more accurate shooter levels, for example).

Playing Super Mario Maker again has made me think about what other Nintendo franchises I’d like to see receive similar treatment. So here are five other such Nintendo series that I would like to see get a “Maker” of their own. They may not all be realistic options for one reason or another. But I want them anyway. Continue reading

Kirby: Squeak Squad Review

Squeak Squad

Kirby has one of the most varied libraries of games in the entire Nintendo canon. Kirby games often follow their usual platforming formula, or do something completely different. Kirby’s unique combination of familiarity and freshness is perhaps surpassed solely by Mario in the realms of longstanding gaming franchises. Though Kirby remained absent from home consoles from 2001 through 2009, he was still right at home on Nintendo’s handheld systems. The Nintendo DS was a particularly noteworthy showcase of the two sides of the Kirby series. 2005 saw the release of Kirby’s Canvas Curse, which utilized the DS’ touch screen in innovative ways, becoming one of Kirby’s most unique adventures and arguably the first great game on the handheld. Fast-forward one year later, and Kirby returned to the Nintendo DS in the far more traditional Kirby: Squeak Squad.

It’s understandable that Squeak Squad was met with a more lukewarm reception. After Canvas Curse marked a creative departure for the series, Squeak Squad felt incredibly safe. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that it remains a fun game in its own right.

Squeak Squad looks and plays a lot like the GBA entries in the series, but with even cleaner sprites due to the more advanced hardware. The characters are cute and well animated, and the gameplay remains simple, smooth and fun.

Kirby still goes through levels, eating enemies to copy their abilities. He still jumps, flies and slides. But Squeak Squad did introduce a somewhat intriguing addition in the form of bubbled powers and items.

When Kirby grabs a bubbled-item, he stores it in his tummy (displayed on the lower screen as an alternate dimension). You can store up to five items at a time, and many of which, including powers, can be combined by using the touch screen.

Don’t get too excited though. The ability to mix powers isn’t nearly as creative as it could have been. Kirby 64 remains the only title in the series where you could truly combine powers. In Squeak Squad, combining one power with another usually just results in a random roulette wheel to get another power. The only two powers that can be properly combined are Sword, which can be merged with Fire, Ice, and Spark, and Bomb, which can also be paired with Ice and Spark.

Though the ability to store powers for later comes in handy, you can’t help but feel that it was a hugely missed opportunity for the series to bring back Kirby 64’s mechanics and do something new with them.

Squeak SquadSqueak Squad does include some new powers though, most of which are pretty cool, but have yet to show up again in later entries. Some of the new abilities include Ghost, which allows Kirby to possess enemies, Animal, which gives Kirby sharp claws to dig through dirt and attack enemies,  Metal, which turns Kirby into an invincible metal form at the expense of speed and jumping height, and Bubble, which may be the most useful power in the game as it turns enemies into bubble powers.

Additionally, the Magic power from Amazing Mirror has been tweaked to become a proper power. With merging powers serving as a randomized roulette wheel, Magic Kirby can now attack with throwing cards, doves, and jack-in-the-boxes from a magic top hat. There are over twenty powers in the game in total, so there’s a good amount of variety in that department.

The story of the game is that Kirby had a strawberry shortcake stollen from him. He initially believes King Dedede to be the culprit, but his cake has actually been stolen by a gang of mouse-like bandits called the Squeak Squad. The Squeaks have bigger schemes brewing, but all Kirby wants is his cake, and he’ll take out the entire Squeak Squad in order to get it back.

The plot is probably the silliest in the entire series, but it’s not too important anyway. Still, when Kirby is usually out trying to save his planet, the whole cake rescue mission thing is kind of underwhelming.

Squeak SquadLevel progression in Squeak Squad is incredibly straightforward. There are eight worlds total, each consisting of five required level, a boss fight, and a secret level. Kirby goes from one level to the next, beats the boss, and moves on to the next world in line. Considering how flexible level progression has been even in early Kirby titles, the point A to point B approach feels like a little step back for the series.

The levels themselves are pretty quick, but fun. Most won’t take much longer than two or three minutes to complete, if that. There has been some depth added to them through the use of treasure chests, which return from Kirby and the Amazing Mirror.

Each level has one to three treasure chests, many of which require a specific power to find them. When Kirby claims a chest, they are stored in his tummy along with any bubbled items (and yes, the chests count among the five maximum items you can store. So pick what items you want to keep wisely). Upon completing a level, the chests are opened and reveal the items inside, which range from spray paints to change Kirby’s color, music to listen to on the sound test, keys to unlock the aforementioned secret levels, and heart pieces, which work similarly to those in Zelda and increase Kirby’s maximum health when you find enough of them, to name just a few of the prizes.

While the treasure chests add some depth to the levels, most are pretty easy to find, and don’t extend the game’s replayability very much. You might be able to complete the entire game and find every chest in about two hours or so. There are a trio of mini-games which can be played in multiplayer if you’re playing the original DS version, but the multiplayer option is absent in the Virtual Console release. Still, they only add so much to the package.

If you simply want a quick dose of traditional Kirby goodness, then Squeak Squad is still a thoroughly enjoyable game. But if you’re familiar with the series, you’ll know that Kirby can do better, whether as a platformer or something else entirely.

 

7.0

Kirby’s Avalanche Review

Kirby's Avalanche

Though the Puyo Puyo series has become one of the more popular puzzle games out there, in the mid-1990s the series was still getting off the ground. In order to get the series some attention in its western release, the game was given various makeovers that implemented established video game characters into the puzzle game. While the Genesis version became Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine and used aesthetics from the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon series, the Super Nintendo version became Kirby’s Avalanche.

As you may have guessed, Kirby’s Avalanche gave Puyo Puyo a heavy dose of Kirby. In single player, you take control of Kirby, who challenges various enemies from his series as he makes his way to King Dedede and claim the title of Avalanche champion.

Of course, the aesthetics are as far as the Kirby element goes for the game. This is still very much Puyo Puyo title. But the Kirby characters give the title a great sense of charm, and the game includes some excellent remixes of classic Kirby music.

If you’re familiar with Puyo Puyo, you know how the game plays. Groups of two colored blobs fall onto your board, Tetris-style, and you have to match up four blobs of the same color in order for them to disappear. If the blobs stack to the top, you lose.

Kirby's AvalancheThe blobs come in five colors: red, blue, yellow, green and purple. The blobs can be connected vertically or horizontally, which not only gives you a greater opportunity to clump four of them together, but if you can strategize quickly enough and react fast enough, you can link one elimination to another, which will send marble-like blobs onto your opponent’s board. Naturally, your opponent can do the same to you, and the only way to eliminate the marbles is to complete a set of four blobs adjacent to the marbles.

That’s really all there is to the gameplay. But as simple as it is, it’s equally fun and addicting. It really will have you strategizing every little move in hopes you can outlast your opponent. It can become a genuinely hectic, head-scratching challenge.

As fun as the gameplay is however, it should be noted that the game becomes devastatingly difficult pretty quickly. The first few stages won’t be a problem, but later levels increase the speed in which the blobs fall drastically, giving you very little time to plan ahead. The later stages will leave you absolutely no room for error, which becomes very difficult with how your every decision becomes an on-the-fly one.

Kirby’s Avalanche also features a multiplayer mode where two players can go head-to-head. Sadly, the game lacks any additional modes of play. So unless you haven’t played a number of the other Puyo Puyo games before, there’s not a whole lot here that you can’t find elsewhere.

Really, the only real problems with Kirby’s Avalanche are the insane difficulty and the lack of freshness for those with previous Puyo Puyo experience. Still, it’s hard not to get sucked into the gameplay, and the addition of Kirby characters and music just adds that much more charm to it.

 

7.0