Kirby, a series of video games centering around the adventures of a spherical, red-footed creature who has the ability to swallow his enemies whole and copy their skills and use them to his advantage, is one of Nintendo’s most profitable and well-known franchises (as well as being my personal favorite Nintendo franchise). Although not quite on the level as Mario or Zelda, the little pink puffball has gone on to star in various other forms of entertainment, such as manga and Saturday morning cartoons. And today, we’re going to take a look at where it all started, with the 1992 action-platformer Kirby’s Dream Land.
The game takes place in the titular Dream Land, a fantastical world packed to the brim with all kinds of weird and wacky thingamajigs, as the greedy eagle/penguin-thing King Dedede, has stolen all of the food of its’ inhabitants for his midnight feast, therefore being Kirby’s job to make his way throughout several treacherous worlds in order to face Dedede and get all of the food back before the feast. Does Kirby’s debut still hold up after all these years, or is this one dream that you’ll want to wake up from as soon as possible? Let’s find out, shall we?
THE LOOKS – As some of you might recall in my review of Wario Land, I said that the Game Boy wasn’t exactly the most visually advanced gaming system at the time, and that because of that, many of the games that were on it didn’t look as good as they could’ve been. However, these sentiments have most certainly changed drastically, and now I can truly see how much it did with such little graphical power. Starting off with the look of the game itself, although it doesn’t have any color, you can still see how much creativity went into designing the environments and characters. In fact, I’d argue that this is one of THE most creative-looking games of the period that it was released! The character sprites and backgrounds, while simplistic, are just OOZING with pure imagination, such as the serene and cloudy Green Greens and the tall and sprawling Castle Lololo. It’s not perfect, of course – there are some areas in which the graphics feel a bit too simplistic, even for a Game Boy game, but it’s not too much of a problem, depending on the point of view of the player.
THE SOUND – One thing that the Kirby series gets praised for time and time again, it would most certainly be its’ music. And BOY, does it deserve it. If there was ever an award for “Best Soundtrack To An 8-Bit Handheld Game”, this would easily be a contender. Going along perfectly with the game’s lighthearted, jolly feel, the music decides to be just that as well, being lighthearted and jolly all the way through. But not only is it that, it does it WITHOUT being annoying or insulting! In fact, this might be one of the best soundtracks to an 8-bit game that I’ve EVER heard, being catchy as all heck and having a real “feel-good” tone to it. Although this might not be in my Top 10 video game soundtracks, it’s easily in the Top 20 or 30.
Someone’s barked up the wrong tree…
THE GAMEPLAY – All yes, all of the classic gameplay elements that make the Kirby series as instantly recognizable as it is! Floating, swallowing, spitting, inhaling, the ability to copy the ability of your enemies…the last of which hasn’t been implemented yet. Yeah, initially Kirby could inhale or swallow his enemies, but he couldn’t copy their abilities. This is what many people refer to as “Early Installment Weirdness”, in which the world of a work of fiction hasn’t truly been defined or fully realized, and thus can come off as a bit off-putting to those who are more familiar with the more recent iterations. Not that this makes the gameplay bad, though – FAAAAR from it. Starting off with the level design, although it’s mostly linear, there are some parts in which there are plenty of secret areas and items to be found, which helps to not make it monotonous. As for the gameplay itself, it’s very enjoyable. Kirby controls very smoothly, and his ability to inhale and swallow his enemies really helps to make this game stand out from all other platformers released at the time. There’s also boss fights at the end of each and every stage, all of which being challenging as they are fun. As for power-ups, you can regain lost health by eating tomatoes, gain extra lives by gathering up enough points, and can turn invincible by eating a lollipop. Also, although Kirby can’t copy the ability of his enemies yet, that doesn’t mean he can’t gain abilities at all. By eating Mint Leaves and Superspicy Curry, you can go up in the air and use Kirby’s Air Gun attack and spit fireballs at enemies, albeit not for very long. However, if there’s long glaring flaw that I’d like to point out, it’d have to be the ability that you can skip entire stages by using Kirby’s float. Of course, this is optional, but it just makes everything feel too easy if used. But even overlooking this, the gameplay still manages to set new heights for handheld platformers.
THE BOTTOM LINE – Kirby’s Dream Land might not be the best Game Boy game or the best Kirby game, but it’s still a fun and entertaining little platformer after all these years. If you’re a Kirby fan or if you’re just seeking a good handheld game to kill time, I would definitely recommend this.
THE RETR0PIA RATING – 8/10