Special thanks to LightsaberBlues, mattavelle1, Superfakerbros, ASuch, Laer_HeiSeiRyuu, IINIGMA, sjmartin79, nerdman, Mr-Chris, ItsSilverLPS, terribledeli, FriedShoes, riotmaker, GamingFreak1988, MANGANian, and DarkKevit of the Nintendo Enthusiast Forums.
Kirby, to me, is how a franchise should be. There is a core concept in place among all the titles, but each game isn’t afraid of expanding and experimenting with this concept. Each game takes Kirby into new territory and the franchise as a whole has so much variety that if you dislike one game, it’s entirely possible to love another; a feat not common in franchises. Of course, to any gamer that pays attention, this knowledge of Kirby isn’t newsworthy, so it’s all the more baffling to me why Kirby doesn’t get as much love as he deserves.
Now, I know Kirby is popular. In terms of sales numbers, he beats out other Nintendo properties such as Metroid and Fire Emblem, and Kirby himself can be considered a house-hold name, so what exactly am I talking about? Us. The core gamers who are very passionate about our pass time. Often times when a new game comes out in a popular franchise, like Mario, or Grand Theft Auto, or even more niche titles like The Wonderful 101, people keep talking about it months after its release date. Memes are posted on Reddit, forum users talk about how epic it is, etc. In the case of Kirby Triple Deluxe, it’s like the game never even saw a release date. Our very own forums mostly ignored it, and for a bunch of Nintendo enthusiasts, I find this very sad. It hasn’t even been out for a month, and while it’s still making head way on sales chart, it seems like the gamers have overlooked it. I’m here to ask: why?
I’m also here to counter some opinions discussed by our own forum users. Prior to typing up this article, I asked on our forums what everyone thought of Kirby and whether they play the games. To my surprise, the vast majority dismisses Kirby. Now to be fair, it was mostly due to “it not interesting [them]” rather than thinking Kirby is bad. The main reason seems to be the difficulty, or lack thereof. I’m not going to deny Kirby games aren’t meant to be played for their challenge, but in the age of spectacle and set piece AAA gaming, a lack of challenge seems very odd to me.
Kirby has always been a way for less talented gamers to get into the medium, but I didn’t get the memo saying more advanced players shouldn’t play it, especially for how focused on fun the whole franchise is. No matter if I’m controlling ten Kirby at once or combining two copy abilities like a mad scientist, I’ve always found fun in a Kirby game. Kirby always made great use of whatever system he’s on, and his games mostly would have been impossible on previous hardware. Crystal Shards introduced 3D polygons, Amazing Mirror had 4-player multiplayer on a handheld with each person playing their own way and Mass Attack and Canvas Curse make great use of the touch screen. When Kirby eventually makes his way to the Wii U, you can bet your bottom dollar he’ll make great use of the gamepad to deliver yet another unique experience. While the main campaigns generally aren’t too difficult, Kirby games comes with bonuses and extra modes that really show off what this pink puff ball can do. Whether it’s the original’s second quest, or Return to Dreamland’s challenge mode, there is a ton of challenge to be found in the series.
The last few games I’ve personally played (Amazing Mirror, Mass Attack, Triple Deluxe and Return to Dreamland) all made me rage a bit due to their challenge. Getting 100% completion rate in Amazing Mirror requires exploration skills and fast reflexes, while getting Gold Medals in Mass Attack demands perfection, as you can’t let a single Kirby get hit once; it’s brutal and made me quit that certain task for now. Return to Dreamland is a bit different, in that the campaign isn’t challenging (despite some few bonus rooms), but its challenge comes from the appropriately named Challenge Mode. You better bring your A-game if you want to perfect some of the later challenges, and don’t even remind me of the extra challenges from the 20th Anniversary Collection. Coming from someone who beat games like Zelda 2 and Ghosts N’ Goblins, it was a great sense of accomplishment beating this games, I’m sure my blood pressure doesn’t agree with me though.
All these bonus modes and extras bring me to my second argument: re-playability. It seems like the general consensus is that Kirby games are short and aren’t worth the price of admission. While the original Dreamland can be beaten in a lunch break and the campaigns aren’t epic adventures, there is always more to do. Later games in the franchise generally have hidden collectibles in stages, like Epic Yarn’s patches, CDs, and beads for medals, or Triple Deluxe’s keychains and Sunstones. These usually unlock bonus stages or mini-games to play. Kirby Mass Attack goes overboard with its unlockables, featuring a pinball game with boss fights, a vertical arcade shooter, a whack-a-mole styled game, a turn based strategy combat simulation, and more. Return to Dreamland alone gave me over 20 hours collecting everything and perfecting my challenge runs. Plus, no matter which game you play, there are bound to be levels that are so fun that they warrant multiple plays. I played the original Dreamland twice this month already, and I can easily pick it up once more.
Speaking of the levels, a less popular answer I received was that Kirby is just plain un-engaging, whether it’s because of its easiness or because it doesn’t make great use of Kirby’s copy abilities. While some levels have, for example, ice blocks that can only be melted by fire moves, simply beating the stage rarely requires a specific power. However, copy abilities are essential for collecting all of the hidden items. The two games in the franchise that I find this most prevalent in is Amazing Mirror and The Crystal Shards. Amazing Mirror functions as a Metroidvania game, and as in such games, some areas and items are only accessible with the required ability. This is Kirby though, so experimenting is a bit harder due to only being able to carry one move at a time, and the required power-up may not be available in the immediate area. The best example I can think of is a treasure chest hidden behind special bricks that are flush along the floor. The only way to break these are with an UFO or Rocket ability, but they tend to be rare, so you have to eventually find them, then backtrack to the area without losing said ability.
In Crystal Shards, each ability can be combined with another to form a totally different one. You can be boring and simply use the bomb, but why not combine that with cutter to make ninja stars? It offers a unique sense of freedom not often found in 2D platformers. The game takes it one step further as well, as each ability is colour-coded. So bomb is black, cutter is green, fire is red, etc. Some crystals are behind a wall that may have red and brown on it, so it’s up to you to know that fire and rock are needed to break the wall down. One section simply has a crystal way up a cliff. You can’t float that high, and the game doesn’t give you much in the way of clues; you just have to know to combine rock and cutter, which turns Kirby into various creatures and items, and you just have to know that hamsters can climb walls. It’s a great little puzzle to liven up the experience.
As I briefly mentioned last paragraph, the design choice of making Kirby copy abilities is a creative freedom that’s simply genius. Some people I asked on the forums love this aspect, as when you play a Kirby game for the first time, there is a certain joy and sense of discovery swallowing enemies and awaiting to see if you get a new power or not. Sometimes you get new personal favorites like the Sword or Bombs, and sometimes you get useless ones like Sleep that makes Kirby fall asleep and then disappears. Levels can be completed in different ways thanks to these abilities, and with later games, some abilities have pages of move combinations to learn. Fighter Kirby will always be a personal favorite as it’s like playing a 2D platformer with a Street Fighter character.
The last topic I want to briefly touch on is the artstyle. I don’t know when it became popular opinion that colour meant “kiddy”, but Kirby games always look beautiful to me. Sure, they rarely push a system to its limits, but they exercise such great visual design that they always age well. Maybe Kirby can be a bit too cute for his own good sometimes, but seeing ten Kirby dance when I stop playing Mass Attack, or seeing him cry a river of tears when I miss an item in Crystal Shards always brings a smile to my face. All my problems simply drift away when I’m playing with Kirby.
After all that, Kirby is still not as popular as he should be among us gamers. Maybe it’s the fact he hasn’t left the second dimension for his main games, despite them showing off how much variety can be had with a limited frame. If you ask me, Kirby beats out “New” Mario in terms of showing off how to do 2D and moving a series forward. At the end of the day, I’m still not exactly sure why the majority of “core gamers” ignore Kirby, but maybe it’s because the negative tend to be the loudest voices in the room. Regardless, Kirby is a great experience whose charm has never ran out. Next time you’re looking for a new experience, perhaps put down the assault rifles, stop calling me a noob and just have fun in its purest form.