Mega Man X3 Review

*Review based on Mega Man X3’s release as part of Mega Man X Legacy Collection*

There is more than a little bit of irony in Mega Man X3’s very existence. Six Mega Man games were released on the NES, with only small windows of time between releases. Mega Mans 2 and 3 were stellar sequels that easily surpassed the original, but 4 through 6 – while undeniably fun games – presented very little in the realms of newness, leaving the series feeling wrung dry by the time the SNES rolled around. Enter Mega Man X.

The Blue Bomber’s 1994 foray into the 16-bit age was created to be a breath of fresh air for the franchise, with a new Mega Man, a new setting, and just enough new elements to make the series’ gameplay feel fresh again. The very next year saw the release of Mega Man X2, which was a worthy successor, if a bit familiar. Then we had Mega Man X3, the third entry in the sub-series in as many years. While X2 had the benefit of being merely second in line – thus making its familiarity easier to forgive – and added its own twist in the forms of three optional side-bosses who altered the story, Mega Man X3 is where things might start to feel like they’re entering ‘conveyor belt’ territory.

The original Mega Man series found new heights with its second and third entries, only becoming formulaic with its second trilogy’s worth of installments. But Mega Man X – the series created for the purpose of revitalizing Mega Man – started to cool off a lot faster. That’s not to say that Mega Man X3 is a bad game by any stretch of the imagination (Mega Man’s gameplay was always more refined than any platformer of its day not directly created by Nintendo), but it does feel like a copy-and-paste sequel of Mega Man X2.

Strangely enough for a platformer, it’s the story of Mega Man X3 that seems to differentiate itself most from its predecessors. After the events of X2, the Reploids – humanoid robots capable of thought and emotion – live in peace with humans, as the Reploid scientist Dr. Doppler has begun reprogramming Mavericks (Reploids who seek war with humanity). It turns out to be a rouse, however, as soon enough Dr. Doppler himself goes rogue, and all the Mavericks he reprogrammed now obey his every command. Of course, it’s up to Mega Man X – as well as Zero – to put an end to Dr. Doppler’s plot.

“Even the Mavericks feel like a step down from the past two lineups. Except my man Volt Catfish here, but even he’s no Overdrive Ostrich.”

The game follows the usual setup: There’s an introductory stage, followed by the eight selectable main stages that end with a boss fight against a Maverick, Mega Man gets a power from every defeated boss to use against other Mavericks, and a final series of stages are unlocked after the eight bosses are felled.

On the plus side, the level design remains challenging and fun. X’s wall-jumping abilities really get put to the test, with platforming challenges that really work in favor of the mechanic. Perhaps the biggest introduction to the gameplay is the ability to actually play as Zero, who comes equipped with a laser sword! Though as enticing as that sounds, it ultimately comes across as a tease, as Zero’s playable role is pretty limited. You can switch to him in the pause menu, but if you switch back to X or die while playing as Zero, you can’t select him again until you get a game over or move on to the next stage. That would already be pretty limited, but the game will find seemingly every opportunity to force the player to switch back to X. Don’t expect to face off against any sub-bosses as Zero, as X will automatically come back into the picture, which once again prevents you from re-selecting Zero.

X3 may have the biggest emphasis on secret collectibles in the series up to this point. The usual Mega Man X secrets return: Heart Tanks increase X’s maximum health, while sub-tanks store health items for later use, and X can find hidden upgrades for his arm canon, armor, helmet and legs. There are two new secret collectibles added to the mix in X3, though one is definitely better utilized than the other.

“Using Ride Armors in previously completed stages can often lead to hidden goodies.”

The first new item are the “Ride Armors,” the same mecha suits found in the previous games, but with a new twist. After finding one of the four Ride Armors, they can be summoned in certain sections of every stage once you find a special platform. Each of the Ride Armors has their own strengths and weaknesses, and being able to find their uses on different stages does add a little something different to the proceedings.

The other secret item introduced in X3 are four special chips which, like the upgrades, grant X new abilities and passive bonuses. The caveat with these chips is that you can only get 1 in any given playthrough. That would be a unique twist if you had the option to replace the one you chose, but when they say you can only have one chip they really mean it. So you pretty much have to look up a guide ahead of time to know which one you want. There is an even bigger issue with the chips, however, in that there is an additional fifth chip in one of the Dr. Doppler stages that grants all of the abilities of the four other chips. Like the other four, the fifth chip cannot be obtained if you’ve claimed another one. But this just leaves the other four feeling completely pointless. Just go for the fifth one. Why even have the others in the game?

“Okay, I also like Gravity Beetle. Gravity is cool, and beetles are cool.”

X3 brings back the concept of mid-bosses entering the levels after two Mavericks have been defeated, but somehow misses what made the concept unique in X2. Two bosses – Bit and Byte – are located in mandatory mid-boss rooms, while a third boss – Vile, the suspiciously Boba Fett-esque secondary villain from the first X – is hidden in certain levels, but can only be fought before you fight Bit and Byte. While X2 had players uncover hidden bosses to alter the story, the only real point of fighting Bit, Byte and Vile is determining whether or not you fight them again in Doppler’s fortress (defeating them with particular Maverick weapons wipes these bosses out for good the first time around). And by making two of these bosses mandatory, it kind of takes away from the whole concept that X2 introduced.

Though Mega Man X3 retains the high quality visuals and audio of its predecessors, the graphics are more or less the same as those of X2, while the music is a relative step down in quality (relative in that even a step down for Mega Man music is still pretty darn good). Thankfully, the aesthetics have aged well, but that’s because it replicates two games that already achieved that timeless aspect. X3 doesn’t seem to try to surpass the visuals or sound of its two predecessors, instead simply making due.

Mega Man X3 is all too familiar of a sequel for it to match the greatness of either Mega Man X or X2, but it’s still replicating two exceptional games, and on its own merits has held up pretty well over the years. The Mega Man formula is timeless, so even a lesser entry that follows the series rulebook will still probably end up better than many of their contemporaries. Mega Man X3 may be the point where the series started to feel less special, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a whole lot of fun, even by today’s standards.

 

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Mega Man X2 Review

*Review based on Mega Man X2’s release as part of Mega Man X Legacy Collection*

When Mega Man X was released in 1994, it served as a unique take on the Mega Man series. It starred a newer, edgier Mega Man that fought evil robots called ‘Mavericks’ over a hundred years after Dr. Light and Dr. Wily of the original series had passed on. The more mature take on Mega Man proved to be a roaring success, so much so that it ended up launching its own sub-series. Mega Man X2 followed suit with its predecessor a mere year later, and while X2 may not add too much newness to the formula, it still provides a stellar sequel.

Set six months after the defeat of the evil Sigma, Mega Man X2 sees the titular Mega Man X (or simply ‘X‘) as the new leader of the Maverick Hunters, following the death of Zero in the first game. Three of Sigma’s most loyal followers – the oddly named trio of Serges, Agile and Violin – have rallied Sigma’s remaining forces in an attempt to destroy X and the Maverick Hunters and rebuild their empire. The evil trio – collectively known as the “X Hunters” – also hold Zero’s body part, which X seeks to retrieve in hopes of rebuilding the fallen hero to repay his sacrifice. The relatively personal plot (bad guys with a vendetta, Mega Man trying to save Zero) helps X2 not only stand out from its predecessor, but the franchise as a whole.

As you may expect, X2 follows the series’ trademark setup: an introductory stages teaches the basics, choose from eight different main stages and defeat the Maverick boss fight at the end of each one, get said Maverick’s power, use that power on a later boss who is weak against it. After all eight stages are completed, the final few levels can then be played in sequential order.

In that sense, Mega Man X2 is a very tried-and-true sequel, but one of the benefits of the platforming genre is that even with similar core gameplay, the level design can make for a very different experience. And in that sense, X2 does a great job in standing out from its predecessor, with new ideas and level gimmicks that keep things fresh and exciting. One stage has X riding on a motorcycle  in the desert, and another sees him avoiding searchlights to prevent traps from activating, Metal Gear style.

“Life goals.”

The eight Mavericks here are Bubble Crab, Morph Moth, Magna Centipede, Wire Sponge, Flame Stag, Wheel Gator, Crystal Snail and Overdrive Ostrich (which is possibly the best character name in video game history). Admittedly, they aren’t as memorable as the Mavericks from the first game on the whole (we’re only into the second entry and they’ve already resorted to a sea sponge?), but the stag, ostrich, snail and gator are pretty darn cool.

Each of these eight levels feel unique from one another. And like the first game, they hide a host of secrets. Each stage features a hidden Heart Tank to increase X’s maximum health, while four stages hide Sub-Tanks (collectibles which store health to be used at a later time), and four contain hidden upgrades for X’s helmet, armor, legs and blaster. While the blaster upgrade is more or less identical to that of the first game, the other upgrades provide different bonuses than they did the first time around.

X2 adds a nice twist to the formula, one that contributes to the game’s aforementioned story. After two Mavericks are defeated, Serges, Agile and Violin will then hide out within the six remaining levels, and can be fought if Mega Man X can find the optional boss room within the stage’s they’re currently hiding. If X defeats one of the X Hunters, he is rewarded with one of Zero’s pieces, and the game’s story is altered if X collects all three. But the X Hunters jump to different stages every time the player completes a level or gets a game over, and they don’t visit completed stages, which will further influence which order the player chooses to complete the levels.

Another area in which Mega Man X2 shines are the visuals. The original Mega Man X was already a visually timeless title that has held up beautifully, and X2 adds to the aesthetic appeal with more detailed environments and character animations (Overdrive Ostrich being a tiny silhouette in the distance before jumping to the foreground to confront Mega Man is a particular highlight). X2 even went the extra mile and added new visual effects into the mix, including some 3D boss enemies.

While Mega Man X2 equals its predecessor in most respects, there are a few areas which prevent this sequel from being an all-out improvement. The concept of levels being altered depending on which order yo play them in – which helped set the first Mega Man X apart from the original series – seems completely forgotten with this second go around. One could argue that the X Hunters traveling between stages is X2’s equivalent of the first game’s altering of levels, but simply replacing one element with another, when so much of the game is decently similar, may not seem like a fair trade-off to some players. Additionally, the music – while still great in its own right (this is Mega Man, after all) – doesn’t quite reach the same heights of its predecessor.

Mega Man X2 continues what its predecessor started, even if it doesn’t surpass it. While that obviously raised some eyebrows given the reason that Mega Man X existed in the first place was because the Mega Man franchise had grown a bit stagnant, X2 is still an exceptionally fun action-platformed even today. Mega Man X2 may feel like a tried-and-true sequel, as opposed to a series-redefining second installment like Mega Man 2 was for the original series, but if this is a case of ‘more of the same,’ then it’s more of the same of a very excellent experience. And that’s not so bad, right?

 

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Mega Man X Review

*Review based on Mega Man X’s release as part of Mega Man X Legacy Collection*

Perhaps it’s because video games were in their impressionable infancy during the time when movies began their franchise boom in the 1980s, but franchises have been vital to the development of the video games. Gaming has a better track record with sequel-heavy franchises than the world of cinema, largely due to gaming’s tendency to emphasize ideas over a direct plot.

A key difference between a good video game franchise and a great one is their ability to change and adapt. After Mega Man had grown a little weary from a series of similar sequels on the NES, it was in need of some change if it was to remain one of gaming’s greats. Mega Man X sought to breath new life into the Mega Man series and bring it up-to-date for the 16-bit era. If Mega Man’s status as a great video game franchise was ever in doubt, then Mega Man X silenced the skeptics and ensured Mega Man’s place among the timeless greats.

Mega Man X takes on a relatively more mature tone than the NES entries. Set a century after the original Mega Man series, follows the exploits of Dr. Light’s last creation, Mega Man X. This new model of Mega Man could reason, think and feel as a living individual. Realizing the potential danger of his creation, Dr. Light sealed X away in a diagnostic capsule for further research. But Dr. Light passed away before his work could be finished. 100 years later, was uncovered by Dr. Cain, whose fascination with X’s free will prompted him to create a series of robots of his own to follow in X’s design (dubbed “Reploids”), ignoring the warnings of Dr. Light’s research.

Dr. Light’s fears come to fruition, as many Reploids turned against humans. These renegade Reploids became known as Mavericks, who eventually came to be ruled by the evil Sigma, who plans all-out war on humanity. X takes it upon himself to stop the Mavericks, and joins the mysterious and powerful Zero in order to bring an end to Sigma’s reign.

It’s still a simple “save the world” plot, but it’s certainly more elaborate than what the original series provided story-wise.

You could say that ‘more elaborate’ nature finds its way into the gameplay. At first glance, Mega Man X looks a lot like its NES predecessors: You have eight stages to choose from, each of which ends with a boss fight against a Maverick.

“What exactly is a Kuwanger and how does it Boomer?”

The Mavericks are Chill Penguin, Spark Mandrill, Sting Chameleon, Storm Eagle, Flame Mammoth, Launch Octopus, Armored Armadillo and Boomer Kuwanger. Each Maverick grants Mega Man X their special power when defeated, and just like the Robot Masters of the original series, each Maverick’s power is particularly effective against another one in a complex game of rock-paper-scissors.

Things are taken to a whole new level in this department, however, as now certain levels will be altered if a specific Maverick is defeated before tackling it. Defeat Launch Octopus before Sting Chameleon, and the latter’s stage will be flooded in some areas. Take down Chill Penguin, and the lava of Flame Mammoth’s stage will be frozen solid, making for a much easier trek.

There are several other changes made to the classic formula that give Mega Man X an identity all its own. An introductory stage takes place before the eight proper levels that sets up the story (a feature that would be carried over to the original series in Mega Mans 7 and 8). Mega Man now possesses a wall jump to scale vertical surfaces, and then there are brilliant little touches that take place in individual stages, like piloting heavy mech suits and (true to SNES fashion) riding a cart in the mining level.

Even more notably, there’s a light sense of RPG added into the mix. Each Maverick stage contains a hidden Heart Tank, which will increase X’s maximum health once obtained. Four of the stages also hide “Sub-Tanks,” which add a great twist to the original series’ E Tanks. Whereas the E Tanks were single use items that fully healed Mega Man when used, if X is at full health, any health recovering items will be stored into X’s available Sub-Tanks to be used later, and can be refilled after each use. Finally, there are four capsules throughout the game, which contain holograms of Dr. Light, who upgrades X’s abilities when found. A mandatory capsule grants X with a speedy dash, while the other three are hidden, and upgrade X’s armor, helmet and arm canon.

“The more upgrades X receives, the more he begins to look like a separate character from the original Mega Man.”

Hunting down these items adds a stronger depth to the stages than what was found in the original series. You often have to replay certain levels after having obtained a particular Maverick power or upgrade in order to uncover them. Most of these items aren’t necessary to defeat Sigma and beat the game, but they definitely add to the experience. Uncovering secrets to improve X’s health and abilities can make Mega Man X feel like Capcom’s answer to The Legend of Zelda.

Mega Man X builds on the structure and level design of the NES Mega Man titles, with each stage introducing their own variety of gameplay twists, many of which rival Mega Mans 2 and 3 as the best in the series. Perhaps the only disappointment is Launch Octopus’s stage, which features more than one segment that teeters on tedious. But one out of eight is easy to forgive, especially considering how excellent the gameplay and level design are on the whole.

Complimenting this gameplay excellence are absolutely stunning aesthetics. Twenty-four years later, and Mega Man X’s visuals have not aged a day. The character sprites are colorful, their movements are fluid, and the background environments are intricately detailed. The Legacy Collection includes an HD filter, which makes things look smoother than ever, but you honestly don’t need it turned on for Mega Man X to look great. It’s timeless.

Since day one, the Mega Man series had always been highly regarded for its music, and Mega Man X is certainly no exception. The more mature tone is  complimented with an edgier take on the Mega Man-style score, making for one unforgettable track after another. The SNES is still acclaimed for its many great soundtracks, and Mega Man X should stand among the best of them.

Mega Man X remains a textbook example of how to revitalize a gaming franchise. It may not completely reinvent the wheel, but it adds a lot more depth to the tried-and-true formula, while also adding its own bag of tricks to the proceedings. If Mega Man was starting to get on a bit by 1994, Mega Man X showed that there was more than enough life left for the Blue Bomber. It’s one of the best games to ever grace the SNES, and one of Mega Man’s finest hours.

 

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Top 10 Video Game Launch Titles

With my recent overhaul of Wizard Dojo (with a new overall look and new scoring system), I figured I’d ring in this new era of Wizard Dojo-ing with a revised version of the very first ‘top list’ I ever posted here at the Dojo; Top Video Game Launch Titles!

The first time around, I listed five games, plus some runners-up. This time around, I’m upping things to a top 10!

Video game consoles are defined by their best games. Sometimes, a console doesn’t have to wait very long to receive its first masterpiece, with a number of consoles getting one of their definitive games right out the gate. Although it used to be more commonplace for a console to receive a launch title that would go down as one of its best games, the idea of a killer launch title is becoming a rarer occurrence in gaming.

Still, launch games have more than left their mark on the industry. Here are, in my opinion, the 10 most significant video games to have launched their console.

Continue reading “Top 10 Video Game Launch Titles”

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars Review

*Review based on Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars release as part of the SNES Classic*

Since its inception in 1985, the Super Mario series has proven to be the avant garde of video games, prioritizing gameplay innovation and concepts unique to the video game medium over all else. This design philosophy has not only allowed the core platformers of the Super Mario series to consistently reinvent themselves, but has also turned its titular plumber into gaming’s renaissance man, able to adapt to seemingly any genre Nintendo decides to cast him in. Of the various “spinoff” Mario titles, Mario Kart gets the most widespread recognition, as it created the ‘kart racer’ sub-genre while simultaneously producing a series that rivals the core Mario titles in popularity. But while Mario Kart might be the most famous of Mario’s detours, the most outstanding might just be the 1996 SNES classic, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, the title that sent Mario into most unfamiliar territory.

Super Mario RPG was a bold venture. A joint effort between series’ publisher Nintendo and Final Fantasy developer Square-Enix (then Squaresoft), Super Mario RPG took the characters and world of Nintendo’s flagship franchise, and merged it with the RPG genre that Square was renowned for. Though a fan-favorite today, at the time many wondered if converting the Mario series into the narrative-heavy RPG genre could work. The fact that Super Mario RPG remains one of the most beloved Mario games should be a testament to just how successful the finished product was. Its hefty reputation is well deserved.

While Super Mario RPG is a joining together of the series and genre of its title, what makes it work so well is how it both pays homage and parody to both parties involved, and turns them on their heads.

“Where can I sign up to join the Koopa Troop?!”

The story here is that – just as Mario is about to defeat Bowser for another daring rescue of Princess Peach (here called Toadstool, as she was known in the west at the time) – a massive earthquake hits the scene, throwing Mario, Bowser and the Princess to different corners of the Mushroom Kingdom. The source of this quake is a giant, anthropomorphic sword that has fallen from the heavens and plunged into Bowser’s castle. The sword is called Exor, and declares Bowser’s Keep to be occupied by its master, Smithy, who plans to conquer the rest of Mario’s world.

As it turns out, Smithy is already closer to world conquest than he knows, as Exor slashed through the Star Road on its descent onto Mario’s world, shattering it into seven magical Star Pieces. The Star Road is what allows people’s wishes to come true. With its power scattered into seven fallen pieces, the wishes of the denizens of Mario’s world can no longer come to light. It then becomes a race between Mario and his companions to prevent the Smithy Gang from claiming the seven Stars, which would result in the evil Smithy’s dark desires coming to fruition.

What makes this story memorable is that it both adds a serious narrative to the Super Mario series (for the first time), while still maintaining the franchise’s whimsical lightheartedness. The premise feels like it could have been pulled out of a Disney movie, and the game takes advantage of the nature of the Mario series to add a good dose of humor into the serious RPG plot.

“Bowser reveals his artistic and sensitive side.”

Mario is joined on his adventure by four companions: The aforementioned Princess Toadstool is the obvious ally, but for the first time in the series, Bowser fights alongside Mario in a quest to reclaim his castle. The remaining two members of Mario’s party were original to Super Mario RPG; Mallow, the fluffy, cloud-like black mage of the group, and Geno, an otherworldly spirit occupying an action figure for its body.

It’s a memorable cast of characters. Mario is his usual, silent self, but the Princess becomes something of the ‘tough guy’ of the party after growing tired of being rescued, while Bowser steals the show as the insecure brute with a heart of gold. Meanwhile, Mallow is the kid of the group wanting to prove himself, while Geno has connections to the Star Road and is something of the Gandalf of the team (the wise, old badass). Mallow and Geno left such an impression that – although they have yet to properly appear in another game – fans still long for their return.

No matter how iconic or likable these characters are though, it wouldn’t mean much if the game they starred in weren’t great. Luckily for them, Super Mario RPG was one of the best games of the genre’s golden era, and remains one of Mario’s timeless classics.

The battle system here at first looks like the usual turn-based affair, but with some fresh changes, such as each action in battle being mapped to specific buttons (A for regular attacks, B for defense, Y for special moves, and X for items). The biggest addition Super Mario RPG makes to RPG battles is one that’s subtle, yet game-changing: Action Commands.

During battles, players have more involvement than in other RPGs of the time. During attacks, well-timed button presses can increase damage (and timing them just right during enemy attacks can reduce damage), while special moves have their own interactive elements (repeated button-presses or timing, holding a button and releasing it, etc.). It’s such a seemingly simple twist on RPG norms, but it adds so much more fun to the proceedings than simply selecting items from menus.

There are some small quibbles in that there’s a lack of on-screen directions to inform you of when to use button-presses during many actions (directions are briefly explained before certain special attacks, but others are trickier to figure out). Still, most of the Action Commands aren’t too hard to get the hang of, so nothing’s too cryptic. But if you do manage to master them, you may find that the overall adventure is a bit on the easy side, though I suppose turn-based RPGs aren’t known for brutal difficulty anyway. Still, these hardly qualify as complaints, as they never get in the way of the enjoyment of the gameplay, story, or overall fun.

Meanwhile, wandering through the overworlds is also improved over other games in the genre, with just a dash of platforming added into the mix for – you guessed it – more interactivity than you’d find in other RPGs. The game is given all the more personality when you talk to NPCs, who often put that aforementioned humor on full display. In case that weren’t enough, Super Mario RPG features a myriad of entertaining mini-games and side quests, some of which are exceptionally well hidden.

Being released at the tail-end of the Super Nintendo’s life cycle, Super Mario RPG pushed the console’s capabilities to their limits. Super Mario RPG features highly detailed environments and an isometric perspective to give the game something of a 3D quality, with character graphics that are comparable to the Donkey Kong Country sequels (one enemy monster even resembles good ol’ DK, perhaps to emphasize this).

However, the best aesthetic qualities of Super Mario RPG are in its sounds. Composed by Yoko Shinomura – famous for her soundtracks of Street Fighter II and the Kingdom Hearts series – Super Mario RPG’s score is her masterwork, encompassing a wide range of styles and emotions,  and captures that distinct Mario personality while also creating an identity unique to itself. The SNES is widely regarded for the stellar soundtracks of its games, and Super Mario RPG is second only to Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest for the title of best musical score on the platform. It’s an all-time great gaming soundtrack.

“How can you not love a game in which Bowser can fight a giant, evil wedding cake?”

Sadly, while Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars remains one of Mario’s most memorable adventures, it seems to be the only entry in the entire franchise that was to be a one-and-done deal. It may have influenced spiritual successors in the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series of RPGs – which improved on a few individual elements (Paper Mario introduced on-screen button cues during attacks) – but none of them have captured the same magic of the whole experience that Super Mario RPG did, nor have they left the same kind of unique impact on the overall Mario series.

If anything, Super Mario RPG’s isolation from the rest of the Mario series has only helped it endure as one of the most beloved entries in the franchise’s peerless history (it’s even helped inspire games such as Undertale). Here’s hoping that, someday, we might see Super Mario RPG’s legacy continue in some form. For now, however, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars can at least still claim to be among Mario’s greatest adventures, and one of the best RPGs of all time. A legend indeed.

 

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Kirby’s Dream Land 3 Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Kirby Super Star Review

*Review based on Kirby Super Star’s release as part of the SNES Classic Edition*

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System had a way of bringing out the best in Nintendo’s most beloved franchises. Mario began the SNES with a bang in the form of Super Mario World – and would later create a whole genre with Super Mario Kart, before pushing platformers even further with Yoshi’s Island, and ultimately breathing new life into the RPG genre – while Zelda and Metroid both received installments so definitive that they served as the blueprints for their series from that point onward. And let’s not forget the reinvention of Donkey Kong that saw an entire trilogy hit the console. Kirby, Nintendo’s secret weapon of consistency, was certainly no exception. After a duo of spinoff titles hit the SNES, Kirby once again worked the nightshift for an established Nintendo console while a newer one (the N64) had already hit the market, this time with two very distinct adventures. The first of this duology of SNES Kirby classics was Kirby’s Super Star, a title which remains arguably the most beloved entry in the entire series.

It’s not hard to see why Super Star has gained it’s lofty status in the franchise. It was with this entry where Kirby’s copy abilities became more than singular moves, with most abilities boasting an entire moveset. The game also included the most copy abilities up to that point, with memorable additions to the lineup like the Dragon Ball-esque Plasma, and the EarthBound-inspired yo-yo.

“Kirby Super Star started the trend of Kirby wearing a different hat with every ability.”

Super Star also brought co-op into the series, with Kirby being able to turn a copy ability into a ‘friend,’ allowing a second player to aid Kirby as one of the pink hero’s usual enemies. And with so many copy abilities, Kirby and his ally have no shortage of play styles.

That’s not where Super Star’s contributions to the series stop, however. Super Star’s primary ‘schtick’ was that it included eight games in one! This does, however, end up being a bit of a double-edged sword. On the plus side, the compilation presentation officially kickstarted the Kirby series’ love of packing in as much content into the package as possible. But on the downside, many of the games feel bite-sized, leaving them feeling more like pieces to one singular game, as opposed to Super Star fully living up to its promise as being ‘eight games in one.’

Okay, so maybe one shouldn’t expect an SNES game to have eight whole side-scrollers in it. But when two of the eight titles are merely mini-games (one of which being a samurai re-skin of one of Kirby’s Adventure’s mini-games), it does dampen the prospect of eight Kirby games being included in the package. A third, slightly larger mini-game is also present in the form of Gourmet Race, which pits Kirby in a race against King Dedede (while also introducing one of the series’ best tunes).

The ‘proper’ games include Spring Breeze, a remake of the original Kirby’s Dream Land now featuring copy abilities; Dyna Blade, a short adventure in which Kirby ventures to stop a powerful bird; The Great Cave Offensive, a Metroidvania that sees Kirby scavenging for treasures; Revenge of Meta-Knight, where Kirby prevents an uncharacteristically villainous Meta-Knight from conquering Dream Land; and Milky Way Wishes, a title which changes up the Kirby formula while implementing elements from the other games.

Sadly, both Spring Breeze and Dyna Blade – while fun – end almost as soon as they begin. Revenge of Meta-Knight feels like a more complete adventure, and adds a more serious tone to the proceedings, one which has found its way into subsequent games in the series. It’s Great Cave Offensive and Milky Way Wishes that feel like the main events, however. Great Cave Offensive proves the Metroidvania formula works wonders with the Kirby series, and it’s a wonder why Hal hasn’t dipped their toes into such waters more often (they have since only revisited the concept in Kirby and the Amazing Mirror). Milky Way Wishes mixes things up by removing Kirby’s ability to copy his foes’ powers by inhaling them, instead progressively unlocking each power to use at any time, should he be able to find them. These two re-workings of the standard Kirby gameplay bring an additional puzzle solving and exploration element (figuring out which powers to use where), and add a sense of depth that may be lacking from the other games in the package.

“Two of the games feature a boss fight against a string of RPG battles. Why hasn’t this boss returned?”

To top everything off, the game still looks visually stunning; with bright, cartoony graphics that haven’t aged a day. What’s better is that each game in the compilation finds a way to add their own visual distinction to the mix  – whether it be the more gritty, machine-based locations of Revenge of Meta-Knight or the starry skies and palette-swapped enemies of Milky Way Wishes – while still fitting into one, cohesive whole. As is the standard for the series, these visuals are complimented by a terrific and often-overlooked soundtrack, which captures as much variety as the games themselves, and should leave a lasting impression on players.

Is Kirby Super Star the best title in the series? That’s a tough call, seeing as Kirby has never made any notable missteps. But it may just be his definitive title in that it seems to be the one most subsequent entries have tried to live up to. Dream Land got things started, and Adventure gave Kirby his signature mechanic, but Super Star is the entry that established much of what we continue to see in the series even today. Not every game in the compilation may be equals, but when Kirby Super Star works, it’s impossible not to be won over.

 

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