Think Pink! Day 6: Kirby’s Oddities
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!
For Day 6 of our weeklong pink-stravaganza, we’ll be taking a look at the Kirby games that don’t quite fit any mold. These are the games that truly round out the franchise by being weird, creative, and very interesting. While not all are necessarily good games, they do push the boundaries of what the Kirby brand is capable of.
Kirby: Air Ride
Platform: Nintendo GameCube
Release: October 13, 2003
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Kirby’s Air Ride started life as a Nintendo 64 game. While videos and screen shots were unclear as to exactly what type of genre it was, the game certainly seemed like an intriguing concept. However, word quickly vanished on the title, and it was presumed to have become vaporware. A few years later, the game resurfaced as a GameCube title, dropping the possessive to become Kirby: Air Ride. The new game still featured Kirby characters riding around on Warp Stars, but it was now clearly defined as a racing game. It’s always nice to see a promising concept find its way out of development hell, but unfortunately the results here didn’t leave such a good impression.
The process of oversimplification was this game’s biggest downfall, as the controls were boiled down to a single button, leaving the title’s potential depth buried under a design tailored for a younger audience. By pursuing this path, HAL not only alienated more experienced gamers, but they also failed to please the younger crowd as the game was just plain boring. Reviews were average at best as critics cited the problems listed here, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom. There were still some good points to the outing, namely the presentation. The graphics and sound were simple, but polished, and the track design could be quite creative at times. It’s this fact that makes this game such a missed opportunity. Despite some decent sales, GameCube owners quickly forgot about the game, opting to play more traditional Nintendo racers like Mario Kart: Double Dash!! and F-Zero GX.
Kirby: Tilt ‘n Tumble
Platform: Game Boy Color
Release: April 11, 2001
Developer: Nintendo R&D 2
At this point in gaming history, Nintendo was in a very comfortable position. While no longer the market leader on the home console front, their popular Game Boy brand was still a gold mine. One of the great things about Nintendo is their constant pursuit of innovation, and with the combined efforts of HAL Laboratory and Nintendo’s R&D 2 team, Kirby: Tilt ‘n Tumble was born.
While transforming Kirby into a ball and rolling him around was considered old-hat by this point, what sets this game apart is its ability to allow the player to literally do so, in real time. Nintendo R&D 2 had come up with the idea of placing an accelerometer inside a Game Boy cartridge, using it to control an object on screen. Teaming up with HAL Laboratory, they developed it into a Kirby title that was equal parts fun and frustrating. For the most part, the accelerometer worked just as intended, but the actual game hardware became the player’s biggest obstacle. The Game Boy Color’s screen wasn’t backlit and needed to be held at a certain angle in order to see the action. This game required that the player tilt the entire system to roll around, and while it was fun at first, the later parts of the game that required precision became downright unplayable. To further cement the game’s fate, when Nintendo finally did release a handheld with a backlight, the cartridge slot was moved to the opposite side of the system, effectively reversing the game’s controls. Tilt ‘n Tumble did make some waves with its innovative controls and fun gameplay elements, and a sequel was even planned for the GameCube and Game Boy Advance, but never materialized outside of tech demos.
Kirby’s Star Stacker
Platform: Game Boy
Release: July 7, 1997
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Coming off the success of Kirby’s Avalanche, HAL decided to try their hand at developing a new Kirby puzzler all by themselves. The result was Kirby’s Star Stacker. Bringing back Kirby’s animal friends from Dream Land 2, the object of the game was to make stars disappear. Combining elements from games like Othello, Connect Four, and Tetris, lining up stars with 2 of the same animal friend on either side would make them vanish. Each stage featured a determined number of stars to destroy and once that goal was reached, the player moved on to the next round.
Let’s get this out of the way right now: this game is not fun. Suffering from the same design flaws as Tetris did when it tried to expand its brand with titles like Hatris and Wordtris, Star Stacker concentrates all of its effort on creating a clever way to make blocks disappear and completely neglects what made games like Tetris and Kirby’s Avalanche so great in the first place: entertainment. The game does very little to explain itself, with chain reactions causing crazy effects that result in the player finishing the level with no idea how. The hallmark of any good puzzle game is a feeling of accomplishment when you win, a feature that is sorely missed here. Also, the Kirby guise is paper thin and feels more tacked on than integrated into the gameplay. This wasn’t a problem with Avalanche as that game had a solid enough foundation to support itself, granting the Kirby license the ability to enhance the experience. Sadly this is not the case with Star Stacker. For reasons beyond my comprehension, a sequel was made for the Super Famicom in Japan later that same year, but was never localized. I can’t imagine we missed much.
Untitled Kirby Project
Platform: GameCube, Wii
Developer: HAL Laboratory
First announced at E3 2005, the untitled Kirby project seemed to have a lot going for it. Screenshots and trailers showed a game with a sharp, if a bit generic, visual style and a pretty interesting gameplay gimmick. Kirby would be able to stack himself with other enemies to create what were essentially destructive totem poles. With series regulars and level designs looking sharp, thanks to the power of the GameCube, everything seemed set for Kirby’s return to home consoles. However, news soon trickled to a halt, and unlike Kirby’s Air Ride before it, the game was never heard from again.
Some retailers and websites assumed production had moved on to the Wii. This would make sense as several other projects like Donkey Kong: Barrel Blast had jumped ship towards the end of the GameCube’s life cycle. Release calendars helped reinforce this theory, with a listing for a game called “Kirby Wii.” However, it’s likely that this was referring to what would eventually become Kirby’s Epic Yarn. While it’s not unheard of to see titles like this find their way to retail shelves eventually, it seems unlikely that this game will see the light of day anytime soon.
Before we call Day 6 to a close, I thought it would be fun to point out some of Kirby’s many cameos. As a bonafide Nintendo star, Kirby frequently found himself in some incredibly strange places. One such place was Koholint Island from The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. Appearing as a standard enemy in one of the game’s dungeons, the Anti-Kirby would hop around and use his trademark inhaling powers to try and eat Link. In Pokemon Staduim 2 for Nintendo 64 it’s possible to obtain an NES to decorate your character’s room. When this is shown, Kirby’s Adventure can be seen on the TV screen. Kirby could also be seen on billboards in Stunt Race FX for Super NES, as a puzzle in Mario’s Picross for Game Boy, and his TV show theme could be heard in Donkey Konga for GameCube. Kirby’s most famous cameos though, would have to be in the Super Smash Bros. series.
In what can only be described as the ultimate in fan service, Nintendo released Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 64 on April 26, 1999. Determined not to be just another fighting game, Nintendo commissioned HAL Laboratory to create a 4-player game where Nintendo mascots gathered together and beat one another senseless for no reason at all. In addition to Kirby, players could choose from Nintendo staples like Mario, Link, and Samus to battle it out. The sequel, Super Smash Bros. Melee, appeared on the GameCube, expanding the roster, adding more stages, and refining the game play. The biggest upgrade for Kirby fans didn’t come until the franchise’s third installment, Super Smash Bros. Brawl for the Wii, where Metaknight and King DeDeDe were added to the roster of regular playable characters. Also, for the first time, 3rd party characters were thrown in the mix. So for those who always wanted to see how Kirby would stack up against the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog and Solid Snake, their opportunity had arrived. The Smash Bros. series is one of the best multiplayer experiences out there, providing hours of multiplayer matches for anyone willing to pick up a controller. The game mechanics are simple on the surface, but stunningly deep if you take the time to learn. Plus, there’s always this.
That’s all for Day 6. With just one more day in our weeklong Kirby tribute, tomorrow we will be looking at the pinnacle of creativity for the franchise. Kirby has taken many shapes through his long career, but these final two games are truly something special. See you then!