Think Pink! Day 3: Crystals, Cakes, and Cell Phones
Posted by Captain K
Think Pink! is a week long tribute to the pink puff we all know as Kirby. In honor of Kirby’s new game Kirby’s Epic Yarn, every day this week we’ll be taking a look at a different set of his adventures. From Dream Land to amazing mirrors, golf to pinball, canvas to knitting, we will celebrating every single one of Kirby’s games. Enjoy!
The 3 games today represent the pinnacle of refinement in the Kirby platformer series. With new enhancements come growing pains, but what followed were some very tight designs. While these can hardly be considered the most creative games in Kirby’s career, they stand to show that sometimes more of the same isn’t such a bad thing.
Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards
Platform: Nintendo 64
Release: June 26, 2000
Developer: HAL Laboratory
I’ve mentioned before that games from this era have not aged especially well. 3D gaming was all the rage back then, and while it was new and fascinating, it imposed certain visual limitations on the hardware. Some developers found ways around that by creating games that used the 3D polygonal tech, and applied it to a 2D design. Thus the 2.5D game was born. Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards used the Nintendo 64’s power to it’s advantage by being one of those games. This technique allowed the developers to use dynamic camera angles to show off the action while keeping the system’s processing power focused on a more simple 2D plane. The result makes for a unique blend of modern and traditional gameplay elements that maintains a level of visual clarity otherwise impossible in a game with a more free-roaming design. It also must be noted that screen shots do this game no justice. It rarely reaches the point of being considered one of the better looking Kirby titles, but it is good looking in its own right, especially when played on the Wii’s Virtual Console. Speaking of which, not only is this the better looking way to play this game, it’s also the better way to control it. The Nintendo 64’s controller was not designed for 2D games of any sort and playing this with the Wii’s Classic Controller makes things feel much more natural.
Like Kirby’s Dream Land 3, I didn’t give this game much attention when it was first released. Upon playing it more recently it is clear that while I was a bit too harsh, it still has it’s faults. The game is at it’s best when it’s just Kirby running, jumping and absorbing powers. New to the franchise is the ability to combine these powers in order to change their effects. While this mechanic can be very fun to play around with, the results can sometimes be truly bizarre. For example, combining “spark” and “fire” abilities results in Kirby rubbing a towel on his head, thereby creating enough static electricity to set himself on fire, at which point he runs forward engulfed in flames. It’s at these moments where the overwhelming creativity of the developers can be seen. It’s unfortunate though, that the brilliance of most of these powers are completely negated by the game’s speed. This game is SLOW. You never feel like you are traveling at more than a snail’s pace, and it really detracts from what would otherwise be a fantastic design. Kirby’s walking speed is slow enough, but some of the animations for the new powers take so long to execute it renders them useless in addition to grinding the action to a complete halt. The stupid animal friends are gone, but Kirby 64 introduces a whole new set of weird characters. While never as intrusive as kirby’s old buddies, this new cast is not only poorly designed but they clash horribly with the game’s world. For the first time Kirby is introduced to some very human looking characters and it just doesn’t fit. All that being said, this is still overall a good game. Far from the high points of the series, but still worth the play if you have the chance.
Kirby & The Amazing Mirror
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Release: October 18, 2004
Developer: Flagship Games
After the success of Nightmare in Dream Land, Nintendo green lit an all new Kirby adventure for the Game Boy Advance called Kirby & The Amazing Mirror. With HAL Laboratory busy developing other projects, development duties went to Flagship Games. Known for their previous work for Nintendo on The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords, Flagship seemed like the perfect studio to emulate HAL’s brilliant work on the Kirby franchise while simultaneously taking things to the next level. Sticking to the framework created for Nightmare in Dream Land, Flagship introduced some new elements to keep things fresh without losing the sense of familiarity. The game takes place in Mirror Land where Kirby has been split into 4 multi-colored versions of himself. The 4 Kirbys must work together to solve puzzles and defeat the bad guys, all while keeping in touch via cell phone. Several times throughout the adventure the player would encounter obstacles that would require the strength of more than one Kirby to overcome. When this happens you turn to your trusty cell phone and all the other Kirbys are warped to your location. This mechanic was obviously designed for multiplayer, but going solo was still an option with the AI controlling the other Kirbys. And thank goodness for that, because while the game is certainly better played in a group, the odds of finding 4 people with 4 GBA’s, 4 copies of the game, and 4 link cables were pretty poor.
It was at this point where the Kirby platformers had really hit their stride. While not bringing anything groundbreaking to the franchise, this game stands on its own by simply being exactly what it is. New powers like Cupid, which gave Kirby little wings and a bow, and little touches like a name display for the monsters you were fighting at the time, added to the sharpness of the presentation. It’s been years since I’ve played this game as its one of the few Kirby games I don’t own, but the little time I spent with it left a great impression on me. After slower games like Dream Land 3 and Kirby 64, playing an all new Kirby platformer with this kind of vibrant personality and awesome music felt like a breath of fresh air. Go ahead and click on that link. I dare you not to get that music stuck in your head.
Kirby: Squeak Squad
Platform: Nintendo DS
Release: December 6, 2006
Developer: Flagship Games
When the Nintendo DS came along developers were vey excited to make new games using its unique interface. Among them was HAL, who created Kirby’s brilliant first appearance on the DS, Kirby: Canvas Curse. This was a very non-traditional title that took a very innovative approach toward how to make a game on the new handheld. We’ll discuss that game more later, because today we take look at what came next, Kirby: Squeak Squad. The story for this game is easily the most absurd in the franchise. A bunch of mice calling themselves the Squeak Squad stole Kirby’s strawberry shortcake. Aaaaand that’s it. You would think that a story so inane would detract from the game, but it actually serves to give it more character. It’s turns out to be a nice change of pace for our hero. With Development again going to Flagship, this game is very similar to Amazing Mirror. A few subtle improvements to the graphics and animation are present, but on the whole it feels and plays much like the previous Game Boy Advance games.
Reviews for Squeak Squad were mixed because of its lack of innovation when compared to Canvas Curse, but the overall experience is extremely solid. The controls are spot on, the music features remixes of old tunes, there are new powers (my favorite of which is “animal” which gives Kirby the ability to dig around and claw at enemies), and there are some killer new features. On the bottom screen, you get a look at what appears to be the inside of Kirby’s stomach where he can keep all the powers he inhales. Because of this, you can now keep a stock of multiple items and powers at your beckon call. It’s also possible to combine healing items to make them stronger. Finally, there are multiple ways to utilize Kirby’s arsenal as each power now comes with a set of Street Fighter-esque moves giving you new methods to dispatch your enemies. Even if the innovation level was low, it had no effect on the overall quality. Squeak Squad is a very successful and fun game, certainly worth your time.
Well, that does it for Day 3. Come back tomorrow when we’ll be looking at a few of Kirby’s forays into the realm of parlor games. Our hero will be trading in his arms and legs for flippers, bumpers, and blocks, while adding a whole new twist to some classic designs. See you then!