Kirby's Dream Land (1992, HAL/Nintendo)
Greetings, RetroFans! I sincerely hope you had a nice Thanksgiving holiday, whether you pigged out with the family, watched pigskin with your posse, or did something else that suited your fancy. Me? I thought long and hard about the subject of my next article. I thought, “You’ve never written up a Game Boy game. The Game Boy was kind of a big deal. You should crank out a few words on one of those titles.” Well, I think I chose a pretty good one. It’s certainly one of my favorites.
Released in April of 1992 for the Japanese market, Kirby’s Dream Land hit American and European shores that August and was a huge hit. Originally, the game was called “Twinkle Popopo,” and Kirby’s name was Popopo. There was even a debate as to whether he should be pink or yellow, but eventually pink was settled upon. Kirby is now considered one of the Nintendo family’s core members, and he’s a staple in the Smash Bros. series of games that continue to dominate group console sessions today.
Kirby’s Dream Land was designed as a game for both novice and skilled gamers, and was chock full of unlockable features and other rewards that wouldn’t become common in games until the era of the Xbox and the PlayStation. Kirby’s Dream Land was a gentle and easy-to-learn game on the surface, but it featured a “hard mode” players could unlock to challenge themselves as they grew in skill and confidence. Once you beat hard mode, you could even tinker with things like Kirby's hit points and lives, and listen to sounds and music in a separate menu.
Our story: King Dedede is a jerk. Less of a true villain and more just a selfish asshole, he’s made off with all the food in Dream Land. Now, most of the regular folks in Dream Land are gentle souls, so they took this lying down. Not Kirby. Kirby likes to get his eat on as much as anyone. Maybe more (definitely more). In fact, it helps him face down King Dedede’s goons on his way to face the big penguin down himself.
I really do love Kirby. He’s a creature after my own heart. He’s an adorable little pink dude with a cute smile and little flappy arms… and he devours his enemies whole while they’re still alive.
Kirby will eat anything to get this done, from jugglers to hippos to ghosts and more. They become big cartoon stars in his belly, which he can then spit out to harm foes in his path. He can also swallow them, which just gets them out of the way so they don’t weigh him down anymore. In later games, Kirby can copy the abilities of certain foes he swallows, but in this first installment of the series, he hasn’t learned how to play with his food that way yet.
The levels are arranged in a way that’s not always linear, but usually makes enough sense that you know where to go. Sometimes you’ll get stuck in a room where you have to accomplish something specific to move on. One example is the rooms where a set of enemies runs out to throw stuff at you and you have to sort them out before you can continue. Each little realm you cross on your way to King Dedede has one of his cronies guarding it as a boss. These thugs range from big goofy trees to spiked storm clouds with eyes. The threats come in a staggering variety, but every boss unwittingly gives you a way to defeat it. Use your head, and more importantly, use your gullet. Eventually you reach Dedede himself, whose innovative and thoughtful way of attacking you involves swinging a hammer around like Thor on a bender. He’s still a handful, so don’t get cocky.
Kirby’s graphics were very good compared to, say, Super Mario Land (the Game Boy entry into Nintendo’s flagship series). Of course, there’s not a ton to be said about monochrome, but this game does a lot with what it has. It has a cartoony and cute visual style, and Kirby himself is very expressive and animated. The composer of the game’s music, Jun Ishikawa, created a fittingly whimsical and light-hearted soundtrack for the game. He has since worked frequently on later games in the series, and set the tone for the franchise music-wise.
The little pink glutton is more than just eye candy, ladies. He’s an icon.