Nintendo delivers with a nostalgic retro collection starring everyone’s favorite vacuum mouthed hero that neither sucks nor blows; in fact, Kirby’s Dream Collection is a good example of how to do a retro compilation properly.
Game companies have made a lot of money this generation cashing in on our nostalgia: Nintendo runs their retro Virtual Console service, Sony has a comparatively small (but growing) selection of PS1 and PS2 game up for download on PSN, and relative industry newcomer Microsoft even charges a premium to get gamers to download “retro” Xbox 1 games that may or may not actually be retro yet, depending on your definition of the word. Pretty much every major publisher that’s been around for more than 10 years has released at least one or two collections of their older titles, and why not? It’s sort of a win-win situation: gamers get to relive the fun of their childhood, and game companies manage to churn some extra profit out of old material.
Well, it should be a win-win situation. Oftentimes, it isn’t: just check out half-assed retro compilations like Sega’s Dreamcast Collection or Konami’s infamously terrible Silent Hill HD Collection and you’ll see that a lot of video game companies don’t give their own classics the respect they deserve. A lot of these compilations are simply ROMs slapped on a disc, with little thought given towards bonus features or even accurate emulation. Even though Nintendo seemingly reveres their established franchises as much as their fans do, they’re not free from guilt either: Nintendo marked Mario’s big 25th anniversary by simply releasing the ROM of Super Mario All-Stars on a Wii disc with an equally half-assed booklet and soundtrack CD, and had the gaul to charge fans $40 for it.
So when Nintendo announced that they would be releasing a similar package for Kirby’s 20th birthday, I was understandably pessimistic. After all, after seeing how Nintendo treated Mario — inarguably the most iconic video game character of all time, and star of some of the most critically acclaimed games of all time — on his big anniversary, what kind of hack job would they give to poor little Kirby for his 20th birthday?
Thankfully, Nintendo seems to have listened to criticisms about the Mario Anniversary package and have delivered with a retro compilation that is, for the most part, a worthy celebration of Kirby’s two decade long career.
Kirby’s Dream Collection puts six games from the “main” Kirby series — Kirby’s Dreamland, Kirby’s Adventure, Kirby’s Dreamland 2, Kirby Superstar, Kirby’s Dreamland 3, and Kirby and the Crystal Shards — all in one disc, and for the most part these are all games that are still definitely worth playing. The Dreamland games were original envisioned as a way of introducing beginners to the mechanics and structure of “core” platformers, so veteran gamers may find them a little easy, but the games’ cute graphics, excellent chip-tune music and copious amounts of charm still make them worth playing through once.
The real star of the package is Kirby’s Adventure. This game was a late release for the original, 8-bit NES, and it was generally overlooked at the time of its release in favor of the flashier 16-bit games that were released alongside it, but the game has managed to achieve a legendary reputation among retro gamers since then. Kirby’s Adventure is simply one of the most beautiful 8-bit games ever made: each screen is bright and colorful, and filled with more detail than you’d expect from an NES game. The game even manages some fancy pseudo-3D and parallax scrolling effects that you wouldn’t think the NES was capable of.
Beautiful as it is, Kirby’s Adventure should also be remembered for its gameplay. This is the game where Kirby gains his iconic copy ability, and despite this being the first use of the power, the game makes clever use of Kirby’s various copy powers. Certain abilities are better in certain situations, and holding onto certain powers will grant you access to hidden paths and secondary level exits that you couldn’t reach otherwise. Unlike the Dreamland games, Kirby’s Adventure presents a little challenge at some points, and there’s plenty of secrets to warrant multiple playthroughs. Regardless of your skill level, you’re guaranteed to have fun with Kirby’s Adventure. It’s truly one of the best games of the 8-bit era.
Of course, there’s also Kirby Superstar, which is probably the most popular of all the games on this collection. While I prefer Adventure, Superstar is certainly no slouch either. The game is split it up into a number of smaller games, each of them a slightly different take on the usual Kirby formula.
Kirby Superstar’s willingness to experiment is its best feature, and you can tell that the developers were pretty much free to try anything they wanted and had a lot of fun doing it. While the first game in Superstar’s “anthology” is more or less a remake of the original Kirby game, the others games all add in their own twist: “The Great Cave Offensive,” for example, is a non-linear, almost “Metroidvania” style adventure, while “Milky Way Wishes” replaced Kirby’s on-the-fly copy abilities with the a selection of permanent powers that Kirby can hold onto for the entire game, a-la Mega Man.
I wish that whoever picked out the line-up for Kirby’s Dream Collection had more of an appreciation for the wild innovation that Kirby games often embody, because the biggest problem with the Collection is how it mostly sticks to the “traditional” Kirby games. There’s nothing wrong with any of the games in the line-up themselves; even the much maligned Kirby 64 is fun for a time, but the Collection completely glosses over the large number of highly experimental and clever Kirby spin-offs. It would’ve been nice to see the insanely underrated platformer-golf hybrid Kirby Dreamcourse get some love here, or maybe even a special Wii-mote enabled version of Kirby Tilt N’ Tumble, the Gameboy Color game that was one of Nintendo’s first experiments in motion control. As much as I love the platformers that are in the Collection’s line-up, the glaring omission of some of Kirby’s more innovative outings is the Collection’s biggest shortcoming.
Unlike the Mario anniversary package I mentioned earlier, Kirby’s Dream Collection is absolutely brimming with extras: the game features a sort of museum that chronicles Kirby’s entire twenty year history, featuring a short video clip of every game he’s ever appeared in (including games that aren’t playable on the collection,) as well as some basic info about each release. The museum even lets you watch a short orchestral performance of a medley of classic Kirby themesongs, and even has a couple episodes of the Kirby anime to watch.
In addition to that, the game features a handful of new challenge stages running on the same gameplay engine that last year’s Kirby’s Return to Dreamland for Wii ran on. Each stage is focused around one of Kirby’s copy abilities, and they’re generally well designed and fun to play through. You can probably completely all of the challenge stages in one sitting, but it’s still a rather meaty and welcome bonus feature.
Overall, Kirby’s Dream Collection offers a rather comprehensive history of the pink puffball’s career, and the included mini-book gives even more in-depth information on the development of each game. To sum it up: Kirby’s Dream Collection lives up to its title by giving us one of the best retro collections to ever be released. The line-up may have some unfortunate omissions, but the games that are on the Collection are all pretty good, and the copious amount of bonus features make this game a must-buy for anyone with an interest in retro games. Any game publishers looking to cash in on the past, take note: if your retro compilation isn’t as good as Kirby’s Dream Collection, then you’re doing it wrong.
Final Score: 8.5/10