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Kirby's Dream Land (Game Boy) artwork

Kirby's Dream Land (Game Boy) review

"When people think Nintendo, people think Mario, or Zelda, or Metroid, or even Pokemon. These are all very highly-acclaimed, very well-known, and long-running series that each lay claim to some truly superb games. In the case of Super Mario Bros. 3 or Ocarina of Time, some may even say the best games ever made. "

When people think Nintendo, people think Mario, or Zelda, or Metroid, or even Pokemon. These are all very highly-acclaimed, very well-known, and long-running series that each lay claim to some truly superb games. In the case of Super Mario Bros. 3 or Ocarina of Time, some may even say the best games ever made.

But once you get past those core Nintendo franchises, you start to delve into the "second tier" franchises. Donkey Kong, Star Fox, F-Zero, Fire Emblem, Pikmin...these are all "...oh yeah..." Nintendo franchises.

You may notice that Kirby is conspicuously missing from that list. This, of course, is because he is the subject of this review. The Kirby games tend to be an "almost" series: their sales are "almost" great, a few of the games are "almost" excellent, their fast-paced, fun gameplay are "almost" enough to overlook the severe difficulty deficiency in most of the games, and the characters are "almost" cute enough to make you barf.

It's with this knowledge in tow that we reach the first game in the series, Kirby's Dream Land. This is quite a nostalgic game for me, and as such, is difficult to review, since I get a warm-and-fuzzy feeling inside every time I play it due to all the childhood memories that come flooding back to me. Rated on its own merits, however, Kirby's Dream Land is an "almost" great platformer which unfortunately possesses two big flaws that bring the whole experience down a notch or two.

The storyline is simple: King Dedede has stolen some food, and it's up to Kirby to go get it back. Unlike every subsequent Kirby game, King Dedede is actually the main villain in this installment. But since no one really cares about the storyline in a platformer, none of this really matters.

The game itself is obviously cut from the same cloth as Super Mario Bros., to the extent where the game occasionally borders on plagiarism. For example, there's a lollipop item that grants Kirby about 15 seconds of invincibility, during which time he flashes, can kill enemies by running into them, and the regular music is replaced by a repetitive yet adrenaline-pumping tune. Sound just a little familiar?

I won't go over every example of not-so-subtle similarities between the two games, but don't be surprised if you have a sudden flash of deja vu every now and then playing Kirby's Dream Land.

To differentiate itself from SMB, Kirby's Dream Land incorporates two main gimmicks into its formula. The first is that Kirby has the ability to fly. And this isn't like Super Mario Bros. 3, where you have to have a powerup and a sizable stretch of flat land to gain speed on first. Nope. All you need to do to make Kirby fly is press up on the D-pad. Not only that, but your flight time is unlimited, and Kirby has all the dexterity in the air that he does on the ground. Needless to say, this is a convenient feature, even if it does contribute to the game's extreme easiness.

However, the game's primary gameplay concept is Kirby's ability to suck things up and spit them out. Quite simply, most of the objects and enemies in the game can be sucked up into Kirby's mouth, from which point they can either be swallowed, eliminating them (no copying powers in this game), or spat out as a projectile to damage enemies.

Though the mechanic is executed about as well as you'd expect, there really isn't a whole lot of potential in sucking things up and spitting them out to begin with. You can suck some enemies up, spit them out to kill other enemies, and the bosses randomly toss out projectiles for Kirby to suck up and use against them. And that's where the game's ideas end.

I can't really fault the game too much for not providing any new gameplay experiences, since it doesn't really need to. Its absurdly short length assures that it won't overstay its welcome.

True story: when I played through Kirby's Dream Land again for the purpose of having it fresh in my mind for this review, it took me 16 minutes to beat the whole game. And those 16 minutes even include the minute or so I stopped in Stage 5 to listen to King Dedede's awesome theme music.

This goes beyond being just another short game. Kirby's Dream Land may be the shortest game ever made. Hell, some games have introductions longer than 16 minutes. Just for kicks, compare this game to something like Dragon Warrior VII, where it takes you about two hours to reach your first battle. You can beat the whole of Kirby's Dream Land eight times in the time it takes for the basic game mechanics of Dragon Warrior VII to even be introduced. If that doesn't say something for how short this game is (...or how long DWVII is), than I don't know what does.

However, for as big as the lack of length problem is, the braindead difficulty of Kirby's Dream Land may be even bigger. Even when I was five years old, I had no trouble beating this game. Most of the enemies seem to show up out of obligation, and just kinda wait around for you to kick their ass so they can leave the game as soon as possible. In most games, the hero seems hopelessly outnumbered and outmatched against the hordes of enemies thrown at you. In Kirby's Dream Land, it's quite the opposite; Kirby is so much more powerful than his enemies that it's almost unfair. He has more vitality, more dexterity, and more abilities than they do. Even the bosses don't really seem like a worthy match for him.

Level design in the game is simple and straightforward, almost to a fault. The game has no puzzles whatsoever, and the fodder enemies thrown at you tend to be your only obstacle. I understand that the game was partly designed so small children could play through the game and see the ending, but I've even heard my four-year old cousin complain about how this game is too easy.

Yet, despite my many complaints, the game still manages to be fun. If you're ever feeling frustrated at a game for being too difficult, Kirby's Dream Land is the perfect comedown, since you pretty much have to make a conscious effort to die in this game.

Part of the reason for the game's fun factor are its smooth and precise controls. Everything is very responsive and fluid, jumping is nice and loose, and the whole flying mechanic comes in handy on many occasions. No real gripes here.

The game also sports a solid graphical package that, while not anything eye-popping, still has a fair amount of personality that few other games on the Game Boy can match. All of the character sprites are sharply defined on the handheld's screen, the game doesn't suffer from motion blur as much as most Game Boy games do, and while the game does have some slowdown here and there, it's not significant enough to be bothersome.

Possibly the game's strongest aspect is its soundtrack. Every track here is memorable, and every song has been remixed in one form or another in a subsequent Kirby game. Of particular note is King Dedede's theme, which I guarantee you'll be humming for a few days after playing the game. Surprisingly, the music doesn't sound nearly as tinny as most Game Boy games. I'm not sure why, but the tunes here seem to sound a lot meatier than is typical of the system.

Unusually for most games, the sound effects for Kirby's Dream Land are quite memorable. Even really little things like the sounds of Kirby jumping and landing on the ground have stuck with me for many years after playing the game. The "duzh" of Kirby being hit, the jingle of a 1-up, the "wheeeee" of Kirby inhaling...I'm not sure why, but the sound effects here really hit the spot like few other games do.

Kirby's Dream Land is an unfortunate example of a game which is outdone in every way by its sequels. With no enemy powers to copy, no animal buddies to ride, and no real nuances to the gameplay aside from sucking things up and spitting them out, the whole game feels a bit hollow and underdeveloped. But being extremely short may work to the game's advantage, since you won't really have time to get bored of the simple game mechanics on display here. If you're looking to kill about 20 minutes, Kirby's Dream Land is a good bet, and since the game is so short, you may as well just play through it anyway. The game itself is solid, but overall, Kirby's Dream Land simply doesn't have the length or difficulty to justify spending more than about two bucks for it. If you really need a Kirby fix, just go and play Kirby Super Star already. If nothing else, I can at least guarantee it'll last you more than 16 minutes.

phediuk's avatar
Community review by phediuk (March 22, 2006)

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