Kirby’s Adventure Review

While Mario, Zelda and Metroid are usually seen as the ‘main events’ of any Nintendo console, it’s Kirby who has traditionally performed the curtain-call. Whenever Nintendo’s ‘big three’ are preparing for the next console in line, it’s Kirby who is holding down the established fort to give it one last hoorah. This tradition goes all the way back to the NES, when Kirby’s Adventure closed the book on Nintendo’s trailblazing home console.

The year was 1993, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Genesis were well established by this point. With everyone invested in sixteen bit consoles, Hal Laboratory made the bold decision to release the second entry in their Kirby franchise on the nearly decade-old NES. It’s a gamble that ultimately paid off, however, as Kirby’s Adventure proved to be a fitting swan-song for the NES, one which could hold its own amidst the sixteen bit giants of the time.

Despite being Kirby’s second outing, Kirby’s Adventure feels more like the true beginning of the series. It was here in Adventure where Kirby could gain the abilities from the foes he inhaled. It also introduced the majority of Kirby’s classic rogue’s gallery (including the first appearance of Meta-Knight), as well as establishing King Dedede as a more comical, secondary antagonist, with a greater cosmic threat working behind the scenes (which has since become common place for the series). Dream Land may have been the original template, but Kirby’s Adventure is where Nintendo’s pink hero found his identity.

“Whispy Woods: The perennial first boss.”

Being released at the tail-end of the NES’s lifespan, Kirby’s Adventure brought out the very best in the system’s capabilities.It wouldn’t be a stretch to say it was the most graphically impressive game on the console, with large, lively sprites, colorful environments, and even some special effects you wouldn’t think the NES was capable of (including rotating objects that would look more at home on the sixteen bit consoles of the time). Kirby’s graphical fidelity is matched by one of the NES’s best soundtracks, which includes the origins of many of the series’ most iconic tracks.

It is of course in gameplay where Kirby shines brightest. His newfound copy abilities – of which there were 24 in their debut showing – made the gameplay substantially deeper and more varied than Dream Land. Hal implemented these abilities wisely, making Kirby’s Adventure a platformer that emphasized combat over actual platforming (seeing as Kirby can just fly over obstacles anyway). While later entries in the series would expand upon Kirby’s arsenal (the abilities here are one move apiece), Kirby’s Adventure used what it had to its fullest, even providing some rooms in between stages that simply gave Kirby access to some powers, that he might take one and unleash it upon the stages at his leisure.

The overall adventure is admittedly a bit brief, but pretty deep for an NES title. It will only take a few hours from starting Kirby off on his journey to his final confrontation with the Nightmare that threatens Dream Land. An additional difficulty setting, boss rush and sound test can be unlocked – foreshadowing the series’ eventual love with additional content – but you may wish there were more secrets to uncover in the main story mode other than a few different mini-game segments (Mini-games which, admittedly, might be the weak point of the game).

Kirby’s Adventure may have since been bettered by some of Kirby’s later, well, adventures (with Kirby repeating his ‘late to the party’ excellence on the SNES, N64 and Wii to great effect). But Kirby’s NES outing remains a definitive entry in the series. It’s Kirby in his purest form; blast through stages as the overpowered puffball, steal enemy abilities, and wreak havoc upon Kirby’s foes by giving them a taste of their own medicine. The formula may have been bettered with subsequent entries, but Kirby’s Adventure has aged gracefully, perhaps more so than any NES title that doesn’t have the names ‘Mario’ or ‘Mega Man’ attached.

The NES was a console that introduced the world of gaming to many of its biggest names. Kirby played a bit of role-reversal, however. Kirby began life on the Game Boy, but with his second outing, he gave the NES a new breath of life.

8

Kirby’s Dream Land 2 Review

By 1995, Kirby had quickly established himself as one of Nintendo’s premiere franchises. Kirby’s Dreamland, though simplistic, found an audience due to the popularity of the Game Boy. It was with the 1993 NES sequel Kirby’s Adventure where the series really found its stride. Adventure gave Kirby his synonymous copy abilities, which in turn gave the series a stronger sense of depth in gameplay. Kirby had shown up in a few spinoff titles after his NES outing, but after three years it was time for the original Kirby’s Dream Land to get a proper follow-up. Kirby’s Dream Land 2 arrived on the Game Boy in 1995, and although it is a fittingly small game due to its hardware, its overall quality has held up almost shockingly well over the years.

Kirby’s Dream Land 2 adopted Adventure’s copy abilities, solidifying the mechanic as Kirby’s staple. Of course, the Game Boy had more limited capabilities than a home console, so the number of copy abilities were lowered to seven: burning, cutter, spike, ice, spark, stone and parasol. To compensate for the reduced number of powers, Kirby was given three animal friends for Kirby to ride (a la Mario and Yoshi), with each animal friend altering the copy abilities.

Rick the hamster, Coo the owl, and Kine the fish all join Kirby on his second Game Boy adventure. Rick travels faster on land than Kirby does on his own, while Coo takes to the air and Kine makes swimming sections a breeze. Best of all is that the game makes good and varied use of every animal friend. If you want you can stick with your preferred animal friend for most of the game, but certain secret areas will need the use of particular animals and/or powers to access. While most such areas provide hidden 1-Ups and similar items, certain levels contain an extra secret ‘Rainbow Drop,’ which are required to face the secret final boss.

Dream Land 2 is a much bigger game than the original. While the first Dream Land simply featured five short stages, Dream Land 2 contains seven worlds, each with multiple stages of their own. It still will only take players a couple of hours to finish, but things feel a lot more like a complete adventure this time around.

One stage in each world hides a Rainbow Drop, with the later drops being particularly difficult to find (often requiring you to have a particular animal friend and power just to find a clue, let alone the drop itself). If you find them all and defeat King Dedede, the true final showdown against Dark Matter takes place.

Some may wish that there were more hidden trinkets than simply one per world, but when you consider the limitations of the Game Boy, it’s actually quite impressive how much Kirby’s Dream Land 2 managed to pull off. Even Kirby’s Adventure had you go directly from Dedede to its big bad by default, so the fact that Dream Land 2 had you uncover secrets in order to obtain that final challenge was novel at the time.

Of course, being released on the original Game Boy, Kirby’s Dream Land 2 is not a particularly pretty game to look at. On the plus side, it was released late enough in the Game Boy’s life to take full advantage of the Super Game Boy (an SNES attachment that allowed you to play Game Boy titles on the console, with added color). This means that the added colors could later be found when playing the game on a Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, or in one of its later re-releases. It may not match the visual charm of Kirby’s Adventure, or the outright timeless graphics of the later Kirby Super Star or Dream Land 3 on the SNES. But if you manage to play Kirby’s Dream Land 2 on the proper hardware, it’s one of the few original Game Boy games that isn’t a total eyesore.

What Dream Land 2 lacks in visual fidelity, it makes up for in one of the Game Boy’s best soundtracks, with that distinct Kirby charm permeating through every tune. Each animal friend even gets their own theme (with Coo’s being the best).

Kirby’s Dream Land 2 may not match the “fire on all cylinders” feeling of Kirby’s Adventure, and it goes without saying that later entries topped it. But the core gameplay is fun and deep enough to make Kirby’s Dream Land 2 one of the few titles for the original Game Boy that has held up incredibly well. It’s still a lot of fun.

 

7

Kirby’s Dream Land Review

The Nintendo Game Boy became a video game phenomenon. Taking video games on the go was a revelation, and Nintendo took full advantage of it by giving their established series handheld iterations on the Game Boy. But the accessibility of the Game Boy also opened the door for Nintendo to create new franchises on the console, an opportunity that would lead to the creation of Pokemon and Wario. Among Nintendo’s franchises that began life on the Game Boy was Kirby, who has remained one of Nintendo’s most reliable names ever since. It all began with Kirby’s Dream Land in 1992. Though the original Dream Land may be incredibly simple when compared to later entries in the series, it still succeeds in what it initially set out to do: be an introduction to video games.

It’s true, while Kirby has become one of Nintendo’s most enduring series, it’s original title was created for the purpose of being a kid’s first video game. If young audiences found the later levels of Super Mario World too difficult, they could instead play Kirby’s Dream Land to get a better understanding of how games work. In this sense, Kirby’s Dream Land remains a roaring success. On the downside, that also means that Dream Land is an incredibly simple game that lacks depth, which is only more apparent today seeing as modern Kirby titles throw in as much extra content as possible.

Yes, Kirby’s original game is only five stages total in length. And more notably, while Kirby could still inhale enemies in his debut outing, he could not yet steal their abilities by doing so (that would be an innovation of the more substantial Kirby’s Adventure, released one year later on the NES). Kirby’s Dream Land can be completed in well under an hour, with an ever-so-slightly more challenging mode being unlocked upon completion.

It wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that Kirby’s Dream Land is as bare-bones as it gets. But at the same time, it still controls pretty well for a game originally released on the Game Boy. Perhaps more importantly, not only would it serve as a great introduction for young children to the world of video games, but if you’re interested in game design itself, Kirby’s Dream Land may also serve as a nice first-step in that regard as well. What Dream Land lacks in depth, it makes up for in its sense of education to how games work.

The layout of the stages and enemies serve as a study to the game’s mechanics (and by extension, the mechanics of platformers as a whole). And each subsequent stage introduces some new gameplay elements (including a space shooter segment, food that give Kirby new abilities, and a boss rush final stage). Yeah, it is a little cheap that Kirby can pretty much avoid any non-boss obstacle in the game by flying (later entries would provide enemies and hazards to prevent such an exploit of Kirby’s powers), but again, this was a title designed to introduce young children to the medium.

Kirby’s Dream Land may not be the most timeless of Kirby titles. If anything, it’s utter simplicity compared to its sequels and spinoffs may retroactively make it the weakest entry in the series. But it’s hard to be too critical on a game that’s simply trying to open the door for children to get into gaming, and the soundtrack holds up nicely (King Dedede has the longest-standing theme music of any video game character for good reason. His theme is awesome!). Kirby’s first adventure may not be a classic, yet it still has its charms.

 

6

Kirby Star Allies Review

It can’t be stated enough that Kirby has always been the unsung hero of Nintendo. The pink, spherical star warrior has often been in the shadows of Mario, Zelda and Metroid, while quietly providing consistently entertaining and innovative experiences. So while Kirby may be relatively under the radar, he still deserves recognition for being one of Nintendo’s brightest stars. Kirby’s debut on the Nintendo Switch, Kirby Star Allies, continues the pink hero’s impressive resume. By combining elements from various titles from Kirby’s past, Star Allies provides a consistently fun experience that should rank as one of the highlights of the long-standing series.

Kirby Star Allies brings a traditional sidescrolling Kirby platformer to a home console for the first time since 2011’s Kirby’s Return to Dreamland on the Nintendo Wii. Like Return to Dreamland, Star Allies turns the Kirby experience into a multiplayer romp for up to four players. But while Return to Dreamland saw three additional players take control of Waddle Dee, Meta Knight and King Dedede, Star Allies takes a page out of fan-favorite Kirby Super Star’s playbook and allows Kirby to turn his standard enemies into partners (in addition to being able to copy their abilities). Waddle Dee, Meta Knight and Dedede are still available after certain points of the game, should players want to play as one of the series’ mainstays. But combining Return to Dreamland’s multiplayer setup with Super Star’s enemy-to-allies mechanic is Star Allies best hook.

Continuing in resurrecting elements from Kirby’s past, Star Allies also finds a means to bring in a sort of successor to Kirby 64’s ability-combining mechanic. Kirby can throw hearts at enemies to bring them to his side, and if Kirby’s team boasts the right combinations, they can work in tandem to create new powers.

“Ice + Rock = Curling. It’s science.”

Elemental abilities like fire, ice, water, spark and wind (available via the broom and bird abilities) can be added to weapon-based powers such as the sword, hammer, yo-yo, whip and ninja. Other powers can be combined for one-time special attacks (such as spark and water, which send electrified splashes at enemies for extra damage). And other powers still have unique combinations with each other, such as the ESP ability (returning from Planet Robobot) being able to join with the rock ability to perform geokinesis. It may be a little disappointing to know that not all of Kirby’s abilities can combine with each other in the same way they could in Kirby 64, but finding which abilities go together and what they produce still makes for a constantly surprising and fun experience in Star Allies.

Of course, there are a few new copy abilities thrown into the mix as well: Artist allows Kirby to attack with a paintbrush, as well as send sentient paintings and sculptures at foes. The spider abilities sees Kirby trapping enemies in webs, as well as providing trampoline-like webs for his friends to jump on. And the staff ability has Kirby walloping baddies with a bo staff. These new abilities join a host of recently returning and long-standing favorites, making for one of the most robust libraries of copy abilities Kirby has ever seen (as well as giving players two through four plenty of character options).

“Keep rollin’, rollin’ rollin’, rollin’!”

That’s really the core of Kirby Star Allies: working together as Kirby and his friends (who can be controlled by surprisingly competent AI when playing solo) to work as a team to gain new powers and to complete the game’s stages and solve its puzzles. There are even sections in which Kirby and company will join forces to create bridges, form a wall-climbing train, form a wall-breaking wheel, and piloting a star (for some shoot-em-up action).

“Move over, Ben Swolo.”

The experience is consistently fun and enjoyable, and will surely leave a big smile on your face. The level design and gimmicks are varied, and though the adventure may sound short on paper at only four worlds, these worlds differ greatly in the number of levels they house, with myriads of secret stages being tucked away in each, should you be able to find their switches hidden in the standard stages. Star Allies even breaks tradition by not saving a singular boss fight at the end of each world. Instead, a number of levels end with a boss fight, and although they aren’t particular difficult (the penultimate boss was the only one that killed me in the adventure mode), the game is pretty generous with how many of them it provides. The final boss, in particular, provides one of the grander set pieces in the series’ (and Nintendo’s) history.

The easy difficulty extends past the boss fights, and indeed the entire adventure mode is a bit of a breeze. That should be expected from Kirby games by this point, and isn’t really a bad thing on its own. However, while past Kirby games have offered a host of hidden collectibles to add an extra challenge for completionists, the only hidden trinkets of Star Allies are puzzle pieces, which only unlock pieces of art work that celebrate Kirby games of the past (a fine unlockable for anyone who appreciates such things like myself, but I’m not sure they’d be incentive enough for most players to go through the trouble of seeking them out). A few extra collectibles – such as the strangely absent music tracks of past titles – could have made for an additional challenge in exploration.

If it is a challenge you want though, Star Allies follows suit with the more recent Kirby titles in providing a host of post-game modes which add some extra difficulty. But perhaps in the future it might be a nice option to have a more difficult mode available from the get-go.

Still, it’s always hard to complain too much about Kirby. Not just because the adorable characters and colorful worlds make it all too easy to smile, but because they have always provided such strong, straightforward fun. And Star Allies is certainly no exception. The charming and creative gameplay of Star Allies is joined by some truly impressive visuals (my goodness, the water effects!) and, like most Kirby games, a beautiful musical score that will, sadly, probably become underappreciated (the game playfully uses orchestral pieces for most stages, whether original or remixed tunes, while the aforementioned secret stages pull a classic track right out of Kirby’s past).

Kirby Star Allies is perhaps not the most original Kirby title: utilizing elements from Return to Dreamland, Kirby 64 and Super Star (as well as the cancelled GameCube Kirby title). But it uses these bits and pieces to create something of a Frankenstein’s monster that provides one of Kirby’s most fun adventures, while also celebrating the series’ storied history. And frankly, Kirby’s is a history that doesn’t get celebrated nearly as much as it deserves.

 

7

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

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

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

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.

 

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