Monday, September 9, 2013

Kirby’s Dream Land (HAL Laboratory/Nintendo, 1992)

Unlike music, movies, or sports, the video game industry doesn't really have any recognizable celebrities. Sure, there are some well known designers who's names hard core gaming fans will recognize, but nobody that would really get stopped for an autograph walking down an average street. What games have instead are mascots, characters that are so recognizable they provide all the fame the industry needs. Mascots such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Duke Nukem, and Lara Croft have faces that you can immediately recognize on a t-shirt or poster. However, the undisputed king of video game mascots has to be Nintendo. Most of their biggest mascots such as Mario, Link, and Samus rose to fame in the 80s, but they still managed to squeeze out a now familiar face or two in the 90s. One of those child-of-the-90s faces belongs to a strange little inflatable blob named Kirby.

Over the past couple of decades, the Kirby franchise has spawned almost two dozen releases on almost every console and handheld Nintendo has created. Most gamers today assume this all started on the NES, or even the SNES, but the first appearance of the iconic face was actually with Kirby's Dream Land on the humble original black and white Game Boy.

Kirby's Dream Land is a simple platforming game about trying to recover stolen food. The casual plot nicely reflects the casual gameplay. Don't expect your typical early platformer hair-ripping-out level of difficulty with this one. This game is a nice short relaxed light-hearted adventure that's aimed at younger audiences, or players new to (or just plain not good at) the platformer genre. The most obvious reason is that in addition to jumping between platforms, you can simply start flying whenever you feel like it. As with Unmechanical, this brings into question whether it should really be considered a platformer at all, but the overall design of the game and its levels make it clear enough what they were aiming at, and getting too picky beyond that just seems a bit silly.

There are different methods of dealing with enemies in Kirby's Dream Land. I mentioned earlier that you can fly in this game, this is accomplished by inhaling and inflating yourself. Once inflated, you can spit out a gust of air to knock back enemies, but this will stop you from flying as well. Another method is to inhale the enemies themselves, and then spit them as projectiles at other enemies. This mechanic might seem familiar to anyone who's played Super Mario World, as it was used while riding on Yoshi as well.

As with many classic games, there is no save option or password. Kirby's Dream Land is always started from the very beginning, and played in a single session. Because of this, and the young audience targeted, the game is kept fairly short. If you're playing it on a modern emulator with save states, or even on the 3DS Virtual Console with the ability to put it away and come back to it later, the game might feel too short, but if you're left with an appetite whetted yet not satiated, there are always plenty more Kirby games to dive into after this one.

The sound, music, and overall pacing of Kirby's Dream Land give the entire experience a very happy and bouncy feel. This is one of those games that you just feel good playing. It's not the greatest game ever, or even the greatest platformer for the Game Boy, but it's a nice relaxing game to play if you're ever in a classic platformer mood, but don't want to put too much effort into it.

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