Think Pink! Day 4: Oh Balls!
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!
Today we’ll be taking a look at some of Kirby’s less traditional titles. The great thing about having a character that’s little more than a pink ball is that, if you want to, you can turn him into just about anything. These two titles will demonstrate just how …ahem… well-rounded Kirby can be.
Kirby’s Pinball Land
Platform: Game Boy
Release: March 4, 1994
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Kirby’s Pinball Land marks the first time our rotund hero stepped outside of his platforming roots. While video game versions of pinball were not uncommon, this game set itself apart by concentrating more on the video game aspect. When most developers create a pinball game the goal is realism. HAL chose to embrace the fact that this was a video game by including features that could never be included in real life such as multiple stages, boss battles, and enemies to destroy. What resulted was an intense and fun pinball experience that played like little else at the time. Perfect for portability, the game’s pick up and play design of aiming for high scores was only the first layer of the experience. While you could play a quick game if you wanted to, a full campaign was also available where, if you met certain requirements, you could fight boss battles and eventually beat the game.
Pinball Land’s 3 stages were based around Kirby’s Adventure for the NES. The music was excellent, mostly featuring songs from previous titles, but the new tracks were a welcome addition. Classic Kirby baddies and power-ups became stylish pinball staples, with the spiky Gordos becoming bumpers, Maximum Tomatoes becoming stoppers, and so on. These features took the game outside of the realm of traditional pinball conventions, but the experience stays true to its roots with excellent physics, even assigning “tilting” its own button. While that means the game can be very intense, it also provides some serious frustration. As in real pinball, there’s nothing quite like hitting a target in just the right way to make the ball fly right between the flippers, causing you to lose a life. That aside, this is a very fun game. It captures the energy and charm the Kirby series is known for while exploring new territory for the franchise. In many ways this game’s success was a major turning point for Kirby, as it showed just how versatile the pink puff could be. Altering Kirby’s form to accommodate new game play methods became the perfect way to keep the series fresh for years to come.
Kirby’s Block Ball
Platform: Game Boy
Release: May 18, 1996
Developer: HAL Laboratory
With Kirby being transformed into a ball becoming something of a series norm, it seemed like only a matter of time before we saw him in a Breakout clone. For those uninitiated, Breakout is a game where the player controls a paddle and knocks a ball around in order to break blocks on the opposite side of the screen. Many companies have made similar games over the years, the most significant of which being Taito’s Arkanoid, which gave the player power-ups for the first time. Kirby’s Block Ball was HAL’s take on that genre. Sticking to the tradition of adding the series’ unique flavor to classic gameplay types, Block Ball set itself apart by once again using the main character as the ball. Until this point, most Breakout clones would have a character steering the paddle or occasionally using power-ups. Kirby, on the other hand, was the ball, affording some unique opportunities. Kirby can gain some of his trademark powers by smashing into baddies and use them to destroy blocks faster than usual. It may not seem like much, but it goes a long way in making the game stand out.
By design this type of game is intended to be played with a Paddle Controller. Most game systems don’t have analog controllers capable of that kind of movement and the resulting D-pad controls can be very frustrating when precision is key. This game combats that by utilizing a great control mechanic where your paddle will seem to automatically move faster when you want it to. It’s hard to understand without actually playing the game, but trust me, it really works. That being said, this is probably the most forgettable game in the franchise. It does have some interesting layers, like the use of powers, and some stages where you control 4 paddles instead of 1, but there’s still something about this game that not even the aforementioned “Kirby charm” can overcome. Unfortunately, the physics are way off, oftentimes trapping you in endless loops while you try and hit that one last block. This is a real shame because no matter how much the game does right, it never really overcomes this one tragic flaw. Unless you’re a real Kirby fanatic, I can’t recommend searching this one out. If you are really curious and can find it on the cheap, I’d say go for it. Otherwise, let this one be.
As day 4 comes to a close, you start to see how creativity keeps this series fresh. These two games are far removed from the series’ platforming roots, yet they still maintain the quality standards set by those titles. Even when they’re not very successful, it’s nice to see a developer constantly taking risks and trying something new. Come back tomorrow when we’ll take a look at two more games in this vein. Kirby lands back on consoles as he takes the Super NES for for a spin with some putting and puzzles. Do these 16-bit diversions measure up? Find out tomorrow.