"Without his ability-stealing powers, Kirby’s a pretty dull hero. He can gulp down some air and fly, he can spit that air at enemies and he can swallow them and their projectiles to either shoot at other foes or eat. And that’s all. He won’t pick up a sword or hammer. He can’t emit an freezing barrier to turn foes into blocks of ice. He’ll never transform into a fast-moving, laser-shooting UFO. Kirby might not simultaneously suck and blow, but those are about the only things he is capable of doing."
It’s amazing how one gameplay element can do so much to make a rather pedestrian game pretty damn memorable. Case in point: the lovable enemy-gobbling, marshmallow-like Kirby.
My first encounter with him was during the dying days of the NES in 1993’s Kirby’s Adventure. While this platformer was extremely easy, I still loved it. Part of that was because of the presentation -- I mean, the graphics weren’t much worse than the average first-generation SNES title. But, the thing I loved most was Kirby’s ability to steal the abilities of certain monsters.
Kirby’s main form of attack was to inhale foes into his large mouth. From there, he could either spit them out -- creating a lethal missile capable of taking out everything in its way -- or devour them. If an enemy possessed a special power, whether it be the ability to wield a sword or simply turn into an indestructible rock, eating it would bestow that upon him, making Kirby an extremely versatile character and giving this particular game a ton of replay value.
A year earlier, HAL Laboratory debuted Kirby in Kirby’s Dream Land for the GameBoy. As this was the first game in the series, the company was still tinkering with the little fellow and hadn’t come upon the idea of allowing him to steal abilities. The result was an overly easy, shallow disappointment of a game. While it only took me about an hour to get through the scant five levels of this one (and that was with me dealing with occasional distractions), that time seemed to drag on eternally.
Without his ability-stealing powers, Kirby’s a pretty dull hero. He can gulp down some air and fly, he can spit that air at enemies and he can swallow them and their projectiles to either shoot at other foes or eat. And that’s all. He won’t pick up a sword or hammer. He can’t emit an freezing barrier to turn foes into blocks of ice. He’ll never transform into a fast-moving, laser-shooting UFO. Kirby might not simultaneously suck and blow, but those are about the only things he is capable of doing.
Don’t get me wrong. Kirby doesn’t NEED any of these skills to bust through this game -- it’s just that having them might have made this game a bit more entertaining. The thing about Kirby’s Dream Land is that, with the exception of the final stage, it’s just too repetitive and easy to be particularly fun. As Kirby goes through this game in order to defeat King Dedede, who committed the cardinal sin of stealing all the food in the land, he’ll be confronted by numerous foes, most of whom seemingly have no method of attack other than walking or flying right into his open mouth. In the event one gets through his guard, it’s no big worry, as the little marshmallow can take six hits before succumbing and healing items are fairly plentiful.
Without special abilities, boss fights are especially bland, as all Kirby does is wait for them to shoot something at him, so he can inhale it and blast it through them with the force of a cannon ball (imagine Super Mario Brothers 2 minus the fun). The climactic battle with Dedede is especially tedious as the big.....whatever it is.....has at least five attacks, only two of which produce projectiles that may be used against him, meaning that I spent a lot of time waiting and dodging, hoping against hope that THIS TIME, he’d do something that would let me chip away at his fairly lengthy life meter. None of his attacks are particularly tricky to avoid, so instead of finding the big boss tricky, he merely was boring.
Kirby’s Dream Land does have two factors that partially redeem it, though, as both the final level of the game and the “bonus quest” actually have what it takes to get a player’s heart rate pumping a bit. The game’s last level is an enhanced boss gauntlet where Kirby fights the first four bosses after going through very brief stages and then battles Dedede. However, if there were any medicinal items anywhere around here, I couldn’t find them, which meant I had to clear four short levels and beat five bosses on one life bar. While not the most challenging task out there, it was the first time I felt at risk of losing a life by means other than accidentally running into the slow, but devastatingly damaging, spiked balls occasionally found throughout the game.
Then, after beating Dedede (or by looking at the “cheats” section for the game on this fine site), players will get a code for a much tougher quest. While the worlds are exactly the same, their denizens are vastly different. Many enemies have been replaced by quicker, more aggressive ones; while virtually every boss has been upgraded with new attacks.
The short amount of time I spent with that “bonus quest” almost made playing Kirby’s Dream Land worth it. Almost. That quest doesn’t take away from the fact this game is extremely short, with four stages of intermediate length and one extended boss gauntlet. It also didn’t make me forget that this early version of Kirby was a pretty generic hero with none of the sweet powers he’d later gain. While future games were loaded with cool abilities and many diverse worlds to get through, the series’ originator just doesn’t pack the punch to make much of an impact.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (February 21, 2008)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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