3/18/2010

For relaxing times, make it Kirby's Adventure time



Kirby's Adventure is the follow-up to Kirby's Dream Land, and unfortunately it was not marketed in North America or Europe under its much cooler Japanese title, Hoshi no Kirby: Yume no Izumi no Monogatari, or Kirby of the Stars: The Story of the Fountain of Dreams.

It's a true masterpiece (any serious NES player knows it's a great game), but many people still have not bothered to play it, or in some cases may not even have heard of it. Which is not necessarily surprising: Kirby's Adventure was released in May 1993, quite late in the NES's lifecycle, a time when the 16-bit console generation was on the ascendant. The SNES had been released about 20 months prior, the Genesis fully two years before that, and at that point new NES releases were not exactly being hungrily devoured by the public. Not that the game wasn't successful, but I don't think it enjoyed the extraordinarily broad exposure that NES games tended to get in, for example, 1989 or 1990.

Kirby's Adventure was also bright and cheerful and very cute at a time when the video game zeitgeist was IN YOUR FACE early-'90s 'tude. That probably didn't help, nor did the fact that within the eminently nonthreatening package lies an appropriately easy game. Just play cautiously and pretty much the whole thing is a cakewalk: I mean, you have a six-point health bar, there are bountiful 1UPs, and you can fly at will. In a platformer.

But that is actually part of the experience. To understand the genius of Kirby's Adventure is to relax and let it take you along, like inner-tubing down a slow river. It is just challenging enough to keep you engaged, but so well-designed, so forgiving, that the real point of the affair is to just relax and enjoy this singularly beautiful game. The use of color alone puts it in its own class visually.












In terms of gameplay it's a basic platformer, very much in the Super Mario Bros. 3 mold, but unlike Mario Kirby gains novel abilities by inhaling and then swallowing his adversaries. There's a huge variety of abilities, 24 in all, everything from Fire, Laser, and Freeze to U.F.O., Parasol, Tornado, Wheel, even Sleep!

The game is structured like Mario games in a few ways: there are seven distinct levels, each with a number of small stages accessed through a hub world. These are each introduced with a funny little animation, and are also some of the most impressive visuals in the game (click the hub world pictures for a larger version).






















At the end of every stage there's a little bonus chance (like in Mario games) where you get bigger bonuses, or even a 1UP, the more accurately you time a press of the A button...







... there are colorful switches hidden in some stages that open up secret areas (like in Super Mario World)...



... and at the end of every level there's a boss battle, each one completely different than the last.








There are also three minigames you can play periodically throughout the game for bonus points and extra 1UPs. There's Crane Fever, a crane game where you try to pluck Kirby dolls out of the pile, Quick Draw, where you try to out-duel five increasingly challenging opponents, and Egg Catcher, where Kirby's nemesis King Dedede throws eggs and bombs and you have to try to catch as many of the former as you can in Kirby's mouth without swallowing any of the latter.

Did I mention the music is amazing too? Dig these tunes:







It's a very complete game: everything fits together right, everything is nicely designed and finely tuned, HAL didn't skimp on the details anywhere. And it's easy enough that you can see it all without much trouble. Pure pleasure.

It's all topped off with a spectacular finale too. The final stage, 7-6, is a brilliant pastiche of Kirby's Dream Land, basically an abbreviated version of that entire game in one stage. Kirby himself remains in color, but everything else is black and white, just like on the Game Boy--the music is even made to sound like it's being produced by the Game Boy's sound chip! It's like you're leaving the NES game temporarily, and returning to Kirby's Dream Land itself.




That delightful romp is followed by a fantastic final boss battle and great ending/credit sequence.



Download Kirby's Adventure

Note: this game was remade as Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland for Game Boy Advance. That version is not bad, but I strongly recommend you stick to the original, which really is far superior.