Nintendo has this odd habit of putting Kirby games out on consoles at the end of their life cycles. This usually means that many of Kirby’s games have been skipped or ignored by gamers who have already moved on to the new hotness. So, it is quite fitting that Kirby’s Dream Collection is looking to be the last first party offering for the Wii before the Wii U gets all second screen up in here.
It ain't over till I say it's over.
I’ll cut right to the chase, for Kirby fans … this is a must buy. You get the six classic games that stick the closest to the “core plot” of the DreamLand Saga. Some of these games are good, some are average, others are masterful, but all are platformers. Let’s make a quick lap through these classic titles and I’ll rapid fire my thoughts on them.
#1) Kirby’s DreamLand – originally released in 1992 for the GameBoy
This is the game that launched the franchise and very nearly didn’t star Kirby at all. See, it is rather common to first code a simple placeholder sprite to get the movement and feel of the game world down before you design the protagonist. However, that simple little blob that attacked with eating quickly wormed his way into the developer’s hearts and thus Kirby was officially born.
Today this title seems like an odd prototype more than a true Kirby game. He can’t copy enemy powers, he can’t run, and he’s not even pink. It is, however, still a fun little title. It showed just how differently you should design a platforming game when your main character can fly. Sure it's easy - the Kirby series was designed to introduce the platforming genre to new gamers. Heck, I got through the game in around 13 minutes. However, if you input a special code (that you learn after you beat normal mode) at the title screen you can enter the surprisingly challenging Extra Mode. It's just a shame that the concept of “Kirby with a hard mode” wasn't retained.
#2) Kirby’s Adventure – originally released in 1993 for the NES
This is the game where Kirby’s design solidifies to how we recognize him today. He can run, slide, and he's pink. This is also when they wisely gave him the ability to steal the powers of the enemies he eats. Yes, if you really think about it, this game revolves around a hero who devours his foes and steals their souls in order to use their abilities against their comrades. Cute!
This game is much longer but still a pretty average length for a NES title. No longer a strictly linear game, there's a world map that gets uncovered the more levels you complete. You will also uncover doors that lead to minigames that you can play for more lives or power museums that make it easy to regain certain powers. While the game almost always gave you the enemies with the power needed to solve the occasional secret puzzle within the level, the freedom to replay certain levels in order to obtain all of the secrets or just grab your favorite power was nice for its time.
As I already said, this game came out quite late in the NES’s life cycle. So late, in fact, that the SNES had already been on the market for almost two years before Kirby showed up. So while Kirby’s Adventure is impressive for a NES game, at the time it was largely ignored in favor of the 16 bit consoles.
#3) Kirby’s DreamLand 2 – originally released in 1995 for the GameBoy
This is technically the second game in the DreamLand series (plotwise) but it did bring with it the improvements to the formula that Kirby’s Adventure introduced. It plays exactly like you’ve come to expect from Kirby, but with one twist: animal pals. There was Rick the Hamster who helped you run faster, Kine the Sunfish that helped you swim faster, and Coo the Owl that helped you to fly, uh, faster… hmmm, noticing a pattern here? Each animal would also alter how the power you had obtained functioned, which added variety. It's rightly regarded as one of the ten best GameBoy games of all time.
#4) Kirby Super Star – originally released in 1996 for the Super NES
This is the Kirby game. Hands down. Bar none.
It might have something to do with the amazing music or the vivid 16 bit art style. It could be the way it was presented as “8 games in 1”. It could be that it was directed by Masahiro Sakurai (father of both Kirby and the Smash Bros series) and produced by Shigeru Miyamoto (if you don’t know who that is, turn in your gamer card). It is the lightning in the bottle that they have been trying to recapture ever since.
Beyond everything else the game did two things better than anybody: engaging co-op and rewarding combat. When Kirby had a power, at any time he could sacrifice that power to create a helper. This helper took the form of the enemy the power spawned from and was either AI controlled or could be controlled by the second player. This is one of the best examples of couch co-op gaming has ever had.
The combat, though, is why I keep returning to this game time and again. Whereas before, if you had the beam ability you could only do one thing … fire a beam in an arc in front of you. Here you are given an entire new moveset for each ability. If you are dashing before shooting, you’ll perform a more damaging capture beam. If you hold down the button, you’ll charge a much more powerful attack. If you're in the air, you can fire downwards on your enemies. Each one of the abilities is deep enough for a whole game to be built around it but here you have dozens of choices so you never really get bored.
The only negative I can really put on the game is that because of how diverse his abilities can be, the level design can be a bit blander than say a Mario game. There are some areas definitely designed with certain powers in mind, but since the game has to make it possible to get through with all/no powers it does limit what the developers could do. Still, this game is the best of the bunch and a joy to play through with a buddy.
#5) Kirby’s DreamLand 3 – originally released in 1997 for the Super NES
This is definitely the least played (and my least favorite) of the main platforming Kirby titles. It launched a year after Kirby Super Star AND a year after most people had moved on to playing their new N64s. I wasn’t kidding when I said Kirby will always show up late in the lifecycle.
Those that did play it found a direct sequel to the GameBoy title DreamLand 2, rather than a continuation of what Super Star brought to the table. The aesthetic was more pastel-like with crayon backgrounds (sort of similar to Yoshi’s Island). Gone are the multi-layered controls to abilities, instead replaced by the re-introduction of Kirby’s animal pals. You have six different animal friends to choose from, each of which will alter not only your movement controls but also the ability’s effect. This would be interesting if you had the dozens of ability choices from Super Star, but instead you are limited to eight, and one of those is broom. No, I’m not kidding, broom. It's about as helpful as you’d think.
There is a bit of a puzzle element to each level. You'll have a task that you must perform before level’s end and doing so will gain you the admiration of the character at the end of each level. Without looking it up, it can be challenging to put together exactly what you're supposed to do, but not overly so. This game’s biggest flaw is that it had a really tough act to follow, but with some patience you'll find a good rhythm and start to appreciate its quirks.
#6) Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards – originally released in 2000 for the N64
Again, showing up barely a year before the Gamecube would launch… along comes Kirby! Technically, the fourth game in the main DreamLand saga, this is a direct sequel to DreamLand 3. While everything is modeled in 3D, it is however technically a 2.5D platformer that can be played with a standard D-pad.
The new wrinkle in this game is that Kirby can acquire two powers at once. He can either get the same power twice and supercharge it, or he can mix & match to create fun combos. Cutter is nice, but Cutter + Spark is a double-edged lightsaber. Fire + Bomb? Fireworks. Needle + Stone? Enormous drill. These powers are fun to experiment with and each one of the 35 different combinations is needed in order to uncover all the secrets and unlock the good ending. It's a charming, if short/easy game and is worth a playthrough to experience its unique ability mechanic.
And the rest …
Along with the game, there is a history book that comes with a bunch of interesting notes and a look into the original design concepts for the games. The soundtrack CD consists of 45 tracks that take you through the music from almost every Kirby game ever made. Three of these tracks have never been put into a game, but are just songs that the HAL Laboratories’ sound team made for fun that were inspired by the Kirby series. This is so much better than the dozen songs and dozen sound effects the Mario collection CD had.
There is also an interactive digital museum that will take you through the entire 20 year history of the franchise, complete with little bits of historical trivia. You can view the box art of each game as well as see a quick video clip that showcases the title. There are even three episodes of his anime series hidden away in here.
Lastly, you can also play in challenge rooms that test your skills with different abilities. These will be familiar to anybody who has played the recent Wii title Return to DreamLand. They are fun little diversions and are a nice bit of new content to put a bow on the package.
However, it isn’t perfect. Once you start any of the classic titles, you are effectively playing a rom on a virtual emulator on your Wii. This means that while the true original experience is preserved… it also means the true original experience is preserved. In older titles, if too many characters enter the screen you get slowdown. The control menus within each title were not altered to tell you the Wiimote buttons. You can figure it out (or consult the instruction booklet old school style) but it would have been a nice touch. The worst thing, though, is that once you start a game, you cannot quit back to the main menu. So if you feel like switching to another game, you have to exit back to the Wii’s home menu (or hold A+B+1+2 down) to reset the game.
Choose wisely, there is no turning back.
Even odder is the fact that many of these games already have re-mastered versions that added more content and improved gameplay. The original is fun, but Nightmare in Dreamland is just plain better. Don’t get me started on how great the DS Super Star Ultra was at remastering and improving Super Star. It would have been nice to showcase the best Kirby has to offer instead of just a hurried walk down memory lane.
I would also have preferred it if they'd included the oddball spin-offs to the Kirby series, so that the collection had some variety, like the minigolf Kirby’s Dream Course or the Puyo Puyo clone, Kirby’s Avalanche. Why not take advantage of the Wii’s motion controller and put in Tilt n’ Tumble? Why not figure out how to port Canvas Curse and make use of the pointer? Maybe it’s more work, but the fans would appreciate it and that would have given a better picture of the whole Kirby franchise instead of merely focusing on the platforming part. It is a little like making a documentary on the history of pizza and only focusing on the different kinds of crust.
This collection, though, kicks the plumber’s crack out of that Mario 25th Anniversary collection we got earlier: more games, more new content, better soundtrack CD, better history booklet. Not just a quickie port of a single SNES game. This is obviously something Kirby fans would be remiss to not have on their shelf. It is also a great thing to pick up for those younger gamers who have only experienced Kirby through his Wii games. Almost all of these titles have been available for download on the virtual console for a while now, however the collection (at $40) is still cheaper than getting all of these games separately.
As far as Nintendo collections go, this is top of the heap. There are some odd decisions but overall it does well to both honor and educate players on the super tough pink puff. On the whole, it is a great collection that fans will enjoy, even if some parts suck.
Sorry but you have to make at least one “suck” joke per Kirby review. It’s the law.