Kirby’s Adventure – NES
Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Developers: Hal Laboratories
Release Date: March 23, 1993
Nerd Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Reviewed by Bortch
As far as design goes for video game characters like Kirby, it doesn’t get much simpler than a circle with arms and legs. So what can a video game company do to make this character more interesting? How about give him a black hole for a stomach? If you question the logic behind Kirby’s design, then you’re missing the whole point behind Kirby. He’s the psychotic eating machine that won’t rest until every hostile inhabitant of his planet is rested in his belly. To say he’s a level above Dexter would be an understatement, at least Dexter doesn’t eat his victims.
While Kirby’s first game on the Game Boy, Kirby’s Dream Land, may have been a great start for the character, you can only accomplish so much by inhaling, spitting, and swallowing (heh) enemies in a video game. Something had to be done to improve and expand on the qualities of this pink puffball; the only question is what was that quality, the niche to keep people interested in their living vacuum?
Clearly somebody struck gold with one of their ideas at the office; I could imagine how that board meeting went. “So Kirby eats enemies right? What if, when he ate an enemy, he gained their abilities and powers as a result?” The office burst into joy, confetti rained from the ceiling, and that man got laid a million times. That’s right, I am willing to bet that a good majority of the internet doesn’t know that in Kirby’s first game, he didn’t have the ability to copy enemies abilities which is a shame because that’s really what makes a Kirby game a true Kirby game, and the start of Kirby’s true adventure is also one of his greatest.
Most of the story to Kirby’s Adventure is located in the manual which may seem odd, but a lot of games did this back in the day. The only drawback to such a storytelling device is that they didn’t involve any elements of the story in the game. While this may not seem like a big issue normally, it is in Kirby’s Adventure mostly for one important reason. At the end of the game there is a plot twist. Yeah, an actual plot twist that my child mind didn’t see coming. The twist isn’t even fully explained until after you have defeated the final boss. While I was able to go, “ohhhhhhhh, I get it,” and understand the whole situation back then, most people who pick up the game nowadays probably won’t have the manual, and will play a game with an explanation at the end that doesn’t hold any weight. Not like it matters that much anyways; who has ever played a Nintendo game that wasn’t the Legend of Zelda for the story? It’s really all about the gameplay. Good thing Hal Laboratories knew that too.
I don’t exactly know what Hal (we’re shortening the name) was thinking when they made a game with a character that can fly for an unprecedented amount of time, but designing platforming levels that caters to his flying ability must have been a real challenge. If you jump high enough and get hit by an enemy mid-jump, sure you may be heading towards a bottomless pit, but if Kirby recovers from the hit fast enough, he can fly to safety without even having to worry about his near death experience. If you accidentally miss a platform, you can recover by flying away, no problem. If you don’t want to jump on platforms any more, just fly over them; it’s not like you have to touch every inch of the level in order to proceed to the next. So where’s the challenge, right? Well it turns out that what the game lacks in platforming presence, it makes up for in clever level design and enemies.
Just because Kirby can fly, that doesn’t mean it’s always his best option. It’s much faster to travel on foot than it is to fly through the air; pair this with the fact that most airborne enemies have a tendency to ram into Kirby at high speeds, and sometimes you feel like running is the better solution. So now that you’re spending a good amount of time on the ground running, you shouldn’t have any problems right? Too bad the ground enemies can shoot projectiles, explode, ram, electrocute, freeze, or crush you. While most platformers tend to go easy on the enemies and hard on the levels, Kirby does the opposite. Because most of a levels’ pitfalls can be avoided easily, Hal had to up difficulty of the the enemies, making the use of a health bar a better alternative to the “two hit death” like in Mario. However, the addition of a health bar doesn’t make the game any easier; some levels have enemies relentlessly gunning you down and only a handful of useful items, like health recovering tomatoes, are located down narrow hallways guarded by fire breathing pigs. If you’re on your last hit before death, it can feel like your playing roulette with your life, but you have a knife and the enemy has a gun.
The game’s levels can also still be a challenge to the “all-terrain” Kirby. In order to obtain extra lives, or unlock hidden levels and mini-games on the overworld, you have to find secret paths that lead to a giant button. Sometimes the path is right out in the open, and the only way to access it is with a special ability. As an example, Kirby needs the fire ability in order to light a fuse connected to a cannon that launches him into the sky where one of the buttons resides. Another hidden button can be found by entering the distant moon (in the background I might add) in one of the levels. I managed to discover that by accident; good luck having your friends find that out on their own. Even with Kirby’s flying ability, not everything will always go as planned. There will be times when Kirby get’s hit, rolls off an edge, and falls to his death. There will also be times when the stag beetle mini-boss has repeatedly mashed your face into the ground so many times that the imprint left in the dirt that can be viewed from space. Then there’s the fight with King Dedede; I know Hal is supposed to challenge the player by testing the best of their ability, but I feel like Dedede was put in this game to step up the mocking laughter of the Duck Hunt dog. Step your game up, dog, when was the last time you inhaled up a video game mascot and hit them repeatedly over the head with your giant hammer? Despite all the deaths you will probably experience when you play this game, it is also very possible to get more one ups than you lose, if you’re patient.
Kirby’s Adventure can be sped through, but it takes some time to get used to the controls; they feel a little delayed, and there have been many-a-deaths on my part by the lack of response I got out of Kirby. Super Mario Bros, a game that came out before Kirby, handles significantly better, making me wonder what Hal did differently in their programming or if this delay was put in intentionally. You have no idea how many times I have tried to turn around to inhale an enemy only to find out that I didn’t turn around yet nor did I start inhaling. However, the controls aren’t too big an issue, they still respond in a timely fashion, but if you’re used to twitch based games and platformers like I am, then Kirby will take a little bit of getting used to, especially if it’s been a while since the your last play session.
Graphically, Kirby’s Adventure may be one of the more advanced games on the NES. It’s so advanced that you will definitely experience slow down while playing the game… A LOT. This may actually be what attributes to the delayed controls, and if that was the case, I would’ve recommended that they had less occurring on the screen at a time; the only problem, it all look so cool. As much as I hate water levels in some games, I do have to appreciate when the NES can still run a game with flowing water animations, Kirby swimming, weird fish-frog thingies flailing about, and Gordos (spike balls with eyes) moving back and forth across the screen. It may not sound like much now, but there’s a reason it caused the NES to slow down at the time.
Of course we can’t finish up a game review like this without talking about the music… don’t you know me by now. There’s also a reason you still hear music from this game remixed in newer Kirby games – because it’s all really good. So good that if chiptune bands were around in the 80s and early 90s they would have been bashing their heads on the nearest wall once they heard the Kirby soundtrack, regretting that they didn’t think of such tunes earlier. The tunes are really catchy, and one of the world’s themes still sticks in my head to this day. That being said, the sound effects aren’t anything special. Getting hit makes a deep grunt sound, very un-Kirby like, and killing enemies makes a weak, almost “clink” sound. Even the one-hit-kill move’s “crash” sounds pretty lame, almost like an 80s space arcade machine.
Bottom line, this game is a must own in the NES collection; it’s seriously in my top 20 games of all time, I’m not even kidding. I know that when most people recommend a game for a system they tend not to mention the first party titles because those should be a last priority, but seriously, everyone should own this game as soon as they own an NES. If you like platformers but want something different, buy it! If you like platformers and want challenge, buy it! If you like watching pink puffballs get steamrolled by some sort of beetle thing, buy it! I don’t really have to keep telling you why this is good, right? The only real complaint is the control lag, but it’s not too big a deal. It didn’t stop this game from getting high ratings from everyone else in the review industry, BUY IT!
8.5 out of 10
As games start to transform and blur the lines between fiction and reality, sometimes we just need something simple to flex our creative muscle.
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