Retro Round-Up is a weekly feature that looks at the world of retro gaming. This week, I take a look at the line-up for Nintendo’s recently announced Kirby’s Dream Collection for the Wii, and talk about the games that should have been featured in Kirby’s big 20th birthday celebration.
Kirby is one of Nintendo’s more lower key mascots; despite selling more than 30 million games in his twenty year run, HAL Laboratory’s pink puffball doesn’t quite get the same respect that fellow Nintendo mascots like Mario or Link get. Sure, he’s not quite as old as those characters, and the games he’s appeared in are arguably less influential, but still, Kirby is a very important part of Nintendo’s pantheon. A lot of Nintendo’s current brass got their start making Kirby games: the character himself was created by Masahiro Sakurai, who nowadays is best known as the director of the uber-popular Smash Bros. series, and early games in the series were produced by Satoru Iwata, who, as you probably know, is now the current president of Nintendo.
Despite the talent behind him, Kirby’s never been “cool.” Go to PAX or E3 and you’ll see plenty of grown men proudly wearing Zelda shirts or trading Pokemon in public, but I doubt you’ll see anybody over the age of 12 wearing Kirby merch. All of Nintendo’s franchises get stereotyped as “kiddy” by the “hardcore” dudebro elements of the gaming community, but Kirby seems to be especially stigmatized. Maybe it’s cause he’s pink… and adorable. It’s a shame though, because Kirby has appeared in just as many quality games as his compatriots.
There are two things I remember about 1993: the bloody showdown at Waco, Texas, and Kirby’s Adventure. Good times all around.
The line-up for Nintendo’s “Dream Collection” does a decent job of showing Kirby’s platforming chops: the upcoming bundle includes the original Kirby’s Dream Land, Kirby’s Dream Land 2, Kirby’s Adventure, Kirby’s Dream Land 3, Kirby Superstar, and Kirby 64. It’s certainly a far more comprehensive selection that the half-assed Mario All-Stars re-release that Nintendo put out to “celebrate” Mario’s 25th, and while it’s great that classics like Kirby’s Adventure and Kirby Superstar are being given the opportunity to reach a new audience, the Dream Collection is still missing a handful of games that illustrate Kirby’s best qualities.
You see, while the Dream Collection shows off the best games from Kirby’s main series (and Kirby 64 :/,) it completely glosses over Kirby’s more experimental spin-offs. While the main Kirby games are fairly standard (though impeccably designed) platformers, it’s in the spin-off games that Kirby really shines. Nintendo’s designers were obviously free to try pretty much anything they wanted with these games, and while the results weren’t always spectacular (Kirby’s Air Ride for Gamecube, I’m looking at you,) oftentimes they were, and these “weird” Kirby games are some of gaming’s most innovative and creative products.
Take, for instance, Kirby’s Tilt N’ Tumble, which was one of the company’s first experiments with motion controls. The game came on a cartridge equipped with a tilt sensor, and the game was controlled entirely via physical motion: tilting your Game Boy rolled Kirby around the game’s Marble Madness-like stages, and quickly flicking the system up and down (“waggle” by the modern vernacular,) would cause Kirby to jump. The idea sort of worked better on paper than it did in practice: while the tilt sensor could accurately gauge how you were moving the system, it was really hard to see where you were going while you were moving the system around (keep in mind that the game came out on the old, non-backlit OG Gameboy and Gameboy Color.) Still, the game has its fans, and it’s a nice, early experiment in the motion controls that would eventually define Nintendo’s Wii. It would’ve been nice if Nintendo ported the game to the Wii with the tilt-functionality remapped to the Wii-mote, but I suppose that would’ve been too much work for a simple retro collection.
Just as Kirby Tilt N’ Tumble gave us a preview of the motion controlled future, Kirby Canvas Curse was one of the first handheld games to show us the gaming potential of touch-screens. While everybody loves the DS now, back in 2006 nobody was expecting Nintendo’s ugly, weird silver brick to become a smash success (especially with the looming threat of Sony’s PSP, which back then seemed like a safer bet,) but games like Kirby Canvas Curse proved that Nintendo’s bizarre handheld really was a system capable of giving gamers experiences that they’d never had before. Where as most other early DS games simply used the touch screen for minigames or for status screens, Canvas Curse made the bottom screen the focus of the action, and proved that it was possible to create a satisfying, challenging “core” experience using only touch-screen based gestures. Canvas Curse is out of print nowadays, and it would’ve been great if Nintendo either re-released the DS game or figured out a way to port it to Wii for the Dream Collection, but I suppose that too would’ve been asking for too much.
Kirby doesn’t need special hardware to be interesting either; sometimes plopping the pink glutton into an old genre was enough to breathe new life into a tired style of game. Kirby’s Dream Course blends two seeming disparate types of games — golf games and platformers — and manages to combine the two into a game that might just be one of the best titles in both genres. Players maneuver Kirby through the game’s courses by putting him like a golf ball (and, considering it’s a SNES game, there’s some fairly robust physics at work with the game’s golf mechanics,) and try to get him into the hole within a certain amount of strokes (insert immature sex joke here.) These aren’t simple golf courses though: each course is filled with iconic Kirby enemies, power-ups, and more than a few bottomless pits. It sounds like a weird combination, but it works, and I’d recommend anyone who’s a fan of either golf games and platformers to give it a shot. SNES copies of the game usually go for around 10-20 bucks, and the game can be downloaded from the Wii Virtual Console for 8 dollars.
Of course, no retro collection is every truly all-encompassing, and while I may wish that Nintendo included some of Kirby’s more experimental outings in his Dream Collection, there’s no denying that the games that are on the collection are pretty great. Kirby’s Adventure came out late in the NES’s lifespan and I know a lot of people missed out on it, so it’s great that a wider audience will finally be able to experience one of the NES’s best (and most technically impressive) games. Of course, Kirby’s Superstar is the real, uh, superstar of the collection, so if you somehow missed that game when it came out on the SNES or when it was remade for the DS, you’re in for a treat. While Superstar is still mostly a platformer, it toys with some of the experimental concepts that I’m so fond of, and shakes up the traditional platformer formula a bit in an interesting way. So yeah, while I wish Kirby’s Dream Collection had a few more games in it, I’ll still definitely buy it when it comes out. There’s just too much history and quality there to pass up.