“It was tough for me to see that every time I made a new game, people automatically assumed that a sequel was coming…”
HAL Laboratory’s late-generation NES platformer Kirby’s Adventure was the first game to inform the universe that the little round Swiss-army-knife was in fact pink and not white. The confusion originally existed because Kirby’s first appearance in Kirby’s Dream Land was on the original Nintendo Game Boy, where obviously he appeared colorless. With Kirby’s Adventure, the cutest living vacuum cleaner was brought to life in vivid candy-color.
Kirby’s Adventure is also notable for many other reasons, like its auto-saving feature. Auto-save in an 8-bit game? On the NES? Yes. This is no mere NES game. Released very late in the NES lifespan in 1993 (Super Mario World was already out for 3 years), Kirby’s Adventure treated the Nintendo Entertainment System as a ripe Florida orange, squeezing all of its juices and pulp out into one delicious beverage. Kirby’s Adventure utilized nearly every last bit of processing power and graphical trickery capable on the NES to create one of the best and most coveted games on the console. Heck, it might just be the best game in its franchise!
At 6 megabits, this game was huge for its time. That’s evidenced by its seven-different worlds with side-scrolling overworld maps, numerous enemies, fluid animations, array of 24 different special abilities, and scores of secrets. This game was the finale chorus for the NES and ensured that the beloved system, often considered to be the greatest ever made, went out with a grand bow.
The placid world of Dream Land is troubled when Kirby wakes from a food coma and realizes that he didn’t dream. When he goes to the Fountain of Dreams (the Dream Spring) to uncover what went wrong, he discovers that the naughty, trouble-making King Dedede has shattered the Star Rod, a magical artifact that powers the Fountain of Dreams and enables the residents of Dream Land to enjoy their imaginative slumber.
King Dedede has scattered seven pieces of the Star Rod across Dream Land, giving six pieces to his friends (including Meta Knight in his first appearance) and keeping the last piece for himself. Kirby has no choice but to track down every last piece of the mystical Star Rod and repair the Fountain if the residents of Dream Land are ever to dream in their country again.
But that’s no mean task. The seven worlds of Dream Land are full of the servants of Dedede and hosts of other enemies. And on top of that there are the six underlings of the King who await at the end of each world, guarding their piece of the Star Rod. Kirby will need to use every trick in the proverbial book if he hopes to restore the Fountain of Dreams. Luckily, “tricks” are right up Kirby’s alley.
Debuting his iconic “copy” ability, Kirby can use his insatiable esophagus to inhale and swallow enemies and either spit them back out as projectiles OR infuse them into his cutesy DNA, taking their powers and skills for his own! Whoever came up with this idea on the design team needs to win a Nobel. The “copy” ability severely increased Kirby’s lasting power and wide appeal throughout the years. It made him interesting, and it solidified him as a Nintendo icon.
Copying enemies means that aside from the gift of flight, his jumping, and his sliding and exhalation attacks, Kirby has a whole skill set of weapons and superpowers that he can pick up anywhere in any level, depending on the foes he’s facing. There is no obstacle or enemy too dangerous for the little pink powderpuff. He can pick up a power for any occasion.
Cutter is best for quick long range attacks. Stone is great for striking down vertically onto your enemies. Wheel and Fireball are fantastic for closing in on them rapidly. Kirby can execute more complex attacks with Back Drop or Throw, or opt for sheer melee proficiency with Hammer or Sword or even Parasol. And let’s not forget the almighty U.F.O.!
When finally Kirby recovers the pieces of the broken Star Rod, King Dedede begs him not to restore the Fountain of Dreams. Kirby pays him no mind, thinking the trickster is up to his old ways. But when the Star Rod is set back in its place, a horrible Nightmare arises from the Fountain! It turns out that King Dedede, though inept, was trying to protect Dream Land from the awful night terror. With Dedede’s aid, Kirby pursues the Nightmare through the darkened skies for one last faceoff…
I won’t tell you how it ends, but this game has been out for what? Like since the dinosaurs walked the Earth? This is a gaming hallmark. It ought to be “required reading” for every gamer. Seriously, if you haven’t played this 8-bit classic, the definition of classic, you should feel bad. Feel bad right now.
Hunt it down in its numerous remakes and rereleases for the Wii Virtual Console, the Game Boy Advance or the Nintendo 3DS, but nothing beats diving into its pink and gold dream worlds on that original rectangular controller.
The 8-Bit Review
It’s impossible to exaggerate the awesomeness of the graphics that Kirby’s Adventure achieved. I mean, we are talking about an 8-bit game here, on a system with plenty of charm but full of games with black backgrounds and heavily pixelated images (of course, we love that sort of thing, though). But Kirby’s Adventure was playing around with detailed imagery bridging on 3D. Nintendo’s first fully 3D console wouldn’t appear until the Nintendo 64, and it is true that SNES games were already being made in ’93, but here the original NES was tampering with the visual concept of 3D, most notably in a stage where a tower in the background rotates in a three-dimensional fashion as Kirby traverses its circumference.
Parallax scrolling is another graphics technique that Adventure made use of, the result being 2D levels that appeared to possess real depth and perspective. But first and foremost among the graphical successes of Kirby’s Adventure was the classic charm and magic of its characters and their animations, expressions and emotions. Not only was this a visually vibrant game, but the sprites of its cartoon characters were extremely well-animated. Easily in the Top 5 best looking games on the NES and taking just its own console into consideration, it deserves a ten outta ten for what it accomplished with 8-bit imagery. This was advanced NES graphics at their peak.
Even more relentlessly optimistic than the music of the Super Mario Bros. NES trilogy, the music of Kirby’s Adventure is a triumph of lighthearted chiptune sound with layered depth to match its visuals. You can distinctly hear the bass lines, the percussive track, the melody and the accents without it sounding all muddled as is the case with many NES soundtracks.
What was most surprising to me in revisiting this particular OST was how fast-paced and hyperactive it is. Given that the setting is Dream Land and the hero is a gluttonous pink waif, if you think about it you might expect a more relaxed soundtrack, with more soothing melodies and a slower tempo, much like you can encounter in Kirby’s Epic Yarn for the Wii. But here on the NES, the word of the day was “rock”, and Kirby’s Adventure has a really dynamic and rapid, perky soundtrack.
It translates the guitar riffs and full set drums of a game built on rock n’ roll like Mega Man II into cuter, cheerful noises with its synthetic flutes, pipes and xylophones. But it’s still got that rock feel, the kind of lively NES sound that makes you want to drive really, really fast. It’s unmistakably 8-bit, and that at its finest with a huge variety of songs, many unique down to a single area.
Since this linear game is fairly long by NES platforming standards with its seven worlds and multiple stages in each, the auto-saving innovation turns out to be crucial. The game saves after completing each stage so there’s little to worry about and no long-winded passwords to fumble with. Stages take the form of doors on a 2D side-scrolling world map, or “lobby”. This is an interesting difference from the top-down perspective map from Super Mario Bros. 3, and in Kibry’s Adventure this is where the secret areas will appear as unlocked doors.
Secrets include mini-games, arenas, and museums. Museums showcase a variety of different enemies depending on the world and Kirby can just waltz in like he’s the curator and swallow the exhibits. It’s an easy way to prepare yourself for a boss fight or tough stage by starting off with a copied enemy ability.
Arenas are where Kirby can fight against different mini-bosses, which again vary depending on the world. If he can beat them, you’ll be rewarded with a healing item and on top of that Kirby will have access to an even more powerful enemy ability from the conquered mini-boss.
Finally, there’s the mini-games. These are really fun and imaginative reprieves from the side-scrolling action. There’s an arcade style crane game where you control a claw and can pick up Kirby plushies, earning extra lives. Another mini-game puts Kirby at the mercy of King Dedede, who hurls eggs and bombs at the pink hero. Kirby must ignore the bombs while swallowing the eggs to get a high score. My favorite of the mini-games puts the versatile Kirby in the shoes of a cowboy in a gun-duel Wild West style. This will put your timing to the test as you have to push a button to quick draw your gun, or you’ll be blasted to smithereens.
The one thing that keeps the gameplay from being perfect is ironically one of the elements that made it so whimsical in the first place: Kirby’s flight. Flying ensured that this platformer would stand out from the other gravity-encumbered platformers like Super Mario Bros. and Metroid, but it unfortunately meant that you could “cheat” your way through some levels.
You could in fact fly over many of the game’s obstacles and bypass some of the enjoyment of combat. Smart level design in small part did away with this by creating indoor and underground stages where Kirby would be forced to navigate side-scrolling labyrinths and tunnels, unable to idly float his way to victory, but the ease of flying past obstacles, though a conscious decision by the developers, ends up being a decision with lets a bit of the air out of the tires of fun gameplay.
The Japanese title translates as Kirby of the Stars: The Story of the Fountain of Dreams, which really makes the game sound much more majestic than it turns out to be. There’s a sense of magic about the game that’s difficult to place with its heavy reliance upon the imagery of dreams and stars. The surprise final boss goes a little way to put the story at slightly average, considering that most games of this era (particularly platformers) had little to no story at all. If they did, they very rarely could you find actual plot twists or anything beyond a straightforward good vs evil scenario. The modern infatuation with the “sympathetic villain” was also uncommon. There isn’t a whole lot of dialogue or narration in Kirby’s Adventure, so there isn’t much to grade here, but it does get a boost in score for crafting instantly endearing characters, too. Meta Knight is now a real fan-favorite.
With Kirby, the focus is always simplicity. There’s no hunting for crazy secrets and dungeon crawling as with Link. There’s no staving off loneliness and hordes of monsters as with Samus. There’s no cataloguing lists of animals as with Ash Ketchum. There’s no demanding jumps as with Super Mario. Kirby’s games, and Adventure is no exception, are notable for their accessibility. The stages are far from crowded, leaving much room to experiment with each new ability. And with his slow and adorable movements, novice players or even people unfamiliar with gaming can pick up the controller and get into the game themselves. This level of ease-of-play is something which a few games would do well to emulate.
Flight may make a lot of Kirby’s Adventure too easy but ease was clearly the direction they wanted to take with the character. That doesn’t mean that the game is totally without its challenges. There are a handful of stages that can wear down the pink powderpuff to his very last hit point. Considering that Kirby drops the special ability he copied any time he’s hit, the difficulty will actually fluctuate. You may be able to plow through enemies and bosses with abilities like Laser but if you get hit, the challenge ramps up, forcing you to use Kirby’s basic attacks until he gets another chance to consume a foe. Good thing you have a brief opportunity to suck up the special attack you dropped when it, which takes the form of a bouncing star.
Some of the bosses, though pattern-based as befitting the 8-bit era, can prove difficult. I particularly remember fighting Mr. Shine and Mr. Bright, the sun and moon bosses. They were quite the challenge in my early days. But it’s really Meta Knight that takes the cake. I still think he’s the hardest thing in the game next to the Nightmare. You can’t fly your way past him. You can’t blast him away with an assortment of special abilities. You’ve got to face him mano y mano in a sword duel, and you’ll need some quick reflexes for dodging and striking to survive. Easy place to get stuck in a game that’s otherwise pretty easy.
As the second game in the franchise, how can this game be as highly unique as it is highly scored? Because this is the game that really sold the character and endeared him to hearts across the globe. This is the game that gave us Meta Knight, auto-saving, two dozen special abilities, Kirby’s iconic copying, and it is one of the most colorful and delightful titles for the NES. Compared with its predecessor… well, there really is no comparison.
My Personal Grade: 10/10
Super Mario Bros. 3, Mega Man IV, Maniac Mansion and Kirby’s Adventure were my gaming bread and butter back in the golden age when all I owned was an NES, though there was a time when Adventure eluded me. I simply couldn’t find it for purchase anywhere and it became a kind of “holy grail” to hunt down and find for my own-some. One of the games I wanted most. I’d consider Kirby’s Adventure more so than Dream Land for the Game Boy to be the birth of an icon, one which has been shown to be as enduring as any other in the Nintendo roster. Kirby has firmly taken his place in the inner circle right beside Mario and Link and Pikachu, and in the opinion of this writer, it all began with the purple and pink gumdrop game, that magical 8-bit masterpiece: Kirby’s Adventure. I recommend it to anyone interested in returning to wonderful library of the NES.
Aggregated Score: 8.6
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Categories: Game Review