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Kirby's Adventure (NES) artwork

Kirby's Adventure (NES) review

"Few platformer heroes can hope to match the versatility of Kirby. By swallowing his enemies and absorbing their powers, the pink puffball can gain an immense repretoire of moves ranging from basic melee attacks to awesome, screen-shattering abilities that clear entire fields of enemies. Of course, he can't do all of these at once - Kirby can hold only one power at a time, and enemies he swallows up while holding a power can only be spat out as a projectile. "

Few platformer heroes can hope to match the versatility of Kirby. By swallowing his enemies and absorbing their powers, the pink puffball can gain an immense repretoire of moves ranging from basic melee attacks to awesome, screen-shattering abilities that clear entire fields of enemies. Of course, he can't do all of these at once - Kirby can hold only one power at a time, and enemies he swallows up while holding a power can only be spat out as a projectile.

It's only fitting, then, that Kirby's Adventure seems to have been developed through this very same philosophy. At the beginning, Kirby's Adventure is just a fairly average platformer, much like how Kirby himself is nothing special without the powers of his enemies. Sure, it doesn't lack Nintendo's usual solid game design; Kirby himself controls well, there's no unfair or frustrating segments, and Kirby's ability to fly at will adds an interesting new dimension to the gameplay. But there's no flair to the title, nothing to really set it apart, until Kirby swallows his first enemy and gains his first power.

Just as Kirby copies his enemies' abilities, Kirby's Adventure isn't afraid to borrow elements from other Nintendo games. There's the familiar graphical motifs - bright cheery grasslands with sparkling waterfalls in the background; "nighttime" levels with colorful, psychedelic patterns of stars; even tower levels remniscent of Super Mario Bros. 3's Sky World. The weapons and powerups, too, remind one of Nintendo's other classics. Just like Mario, Kirby throws fireballs and swings hammers. His skill with a sword rivals Link's in effectiveness (if not grace). And Metroid fans will surely smile at the "Ball" power - where the already-spherical Kirby becomes even rounder in imitation of Samus's Morph Ball.

But when you start to send deadly sickles flying across the screen, when you set yourself ablaze and hurtle through the air as a fiery ball of flame, when you transform into a cute little UFO and pelt enemies with lethal laser beams - you'll realize that Kirby's Adventure is much more than a simple retreading of Nintendo's past successes. Of course, you could handily beat the game using only the most pedestrian, commonplace powers; indeed, you could beat the game without using powers at all. But to do so would be to rob yourself of a singular, amazing experience.

It isn't just the sheer variety of Kirby's powers, though HAL certainly did an excellent job with that. Two powers might seem identical at first glance - the Hammer and the Sword are both close-range melee attacks, while the Laser and the Fireball are both long-range projectiles - but there's always some subtle difference between the two. The Hammer hits harder and can break certain blocks that that sword can't, while the Sword strikes faster and can also hit enemies behind you. The Fireball is powerful and easier to aim, but the Laser richochets off slanted surfaces - which gives the potential for some thoroughly creative havoc. A health refill, an extra life, or even an optional mini-game might all be hidden behind some ingeniously created obstacle that you absolutely need a specific power to get around, so you just might find a new nook or cranny just by re-playing a level with a different power.

But it's the intangible rewards that make Kirby's Adventure so fulfilling. When you blow through an entire mundane platforming section by spinning around so fast that you actually become a tornado, or barrel across a tortuous sequence of hills by turning yourself into a wheel which crushes all in its path, you'll understand - there are workable ways, acceptable ways to beat Kirby's Adventure, but there is also the right way to beat it. There's a wondrous feeling of discovery, a sense of epiphany even, when you finally stumble upon just the right power to unlock the magic in a level which was previously just well-designed. You won't find such earth-shattering revelations in every level, but they do come - and they serve as that perfect little touch to make the game go from good to great, the exclaimation mark at the end of a sentence.

The cleverly-designed boss fights, too, punctuate the experience with just the right amount of pizzazz. While the basic idea behind most of the bosses is the same - swallow up the enemies or projectiles they invariably launch, then spit it out back at them - the presentation of each boss fight is so widly different and creative that you almost won't notice. One early boss is an artist whose paintings of drone enemies actually come to life from its very canvas. A later fight pits you against a digger constantly eating and moving through the dirt, forcing you to keep up with him while desperately trying to swallow up one of the enemies it spews out. But the most memorable duel in the game is surely a daring swordfight with an opponent nearly as agile as you are, requiring quick thinking and quick reflexes.

Of course, sometimes it does seem that Kirby's Adventure bit off a tad more than it could chew. HAL did an admirable job of creating a vivid, radiant world with some of the finest animations seen in an NES platformer, but it's clear that the aging NES - then nearing its tenth birthday - couldn't quite keep up. Catastrophic slowdowns often occur when too many opponents on the screen at once, and the uninspiring soundtrack sounds horrendously tinny at times. The NES's paucity of face buttons means that the control scheme sometimes seems constricted. Given its 1993 release date, One couldn't help wondering whether Kirby's Adventure could be even better, even more enchanting, with SNES technology and its controller's four face buttons.

But I don't really care what it could have been. Kirby's Adventure has heart. There's a sense of great care and love that comes from this little 8-bit platformer, as if the developers had been working extra hard to give the NES one big retirement present. At its release, it might have been lost among such 16-bit giants as Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past or Sonic the Hedgehog 2, but it deserved to stand every bit as tall as they did.

lurkeratlarge's avatar
Community review by lurkeratlarge (December 14, 2004)

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