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.
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.