The Kirby game that started it all.
[dropcap size=small]T[/dropcap]here’s a lot to be said about a game that gives birth to a much-loved franchise, and Kirby’s Dream Land did just that. Originally released back in 1992 on the Game Boy, Dream Land was Kirby’s debut into the gaming world, and what a start it was for the beloved little pink mascot he would soon become.
Kirby’s introduction from Japanese developers HAL Laboratory comes in the shape of a 2D plat-former with unique game-play and endless charm. The main villain of the game is King Dedede, the penguin-like, hammer-wielding fellow you should know if you’ve ever played any Kirby game in the series, or Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Dedede is quite the party animal and takes it upon himself to steal all the food in Dream Land for a big feast. So, not wanting to go hungry, our hero Kirby sets out to stop the fiend and get some grub for himself.
Much of the Kirby we know today started here, but there are two minor differences I’ll start off noting. Since Kirby’s first appearance was on the original black and white Game Boy and not the Colour, he isn’t the little blob of pink we know him as now, but this doesn’t make much difference since he still looks like the cute puffball we’re so used to. Kirby’s signature Copy ability – where he imitates whatever he vacuums up in appearance and takes their powers – isn’t featured in his debut, and doesn’t come into Kirby’s skill set until the sequel, Kirby’s Adventure.
Before I get into the finer details it’s worth mentioning that Dream Land is perhaps the shortest Kirby game out there, being comprised of just four stages and a few bonus levels, so don’t expect to be in this for the long haul. You’ll find you could beat it in one afternoon if you set your mind to it, but despite its brief length, many aspects of the game more than make up for it.
The gameplay is simplistic in style compared to some of the other games in the franchise, but there’s still something so fun and challenging about it. Kirby shows off his vacuuming abilities for the first time, as you suck up enemies who then become star-shaped projectiles Kirby can fire at other foes in his path. Our little puffball can also inhale air to fly and float above ground for a brief period, which is useful when dodging enemies or attacks.
Essentially that’s all Kirby can do, but the level design really pushes you to be precise about your movements, and this is where the challenge comes in. Kirby having the ability to fly means there are an array of enemies with varying movements all over the screen, so you really need to be careful as you move on through. Be it the toad stools squiggling on the pathway, birds flying in the air, or apples falling from the sky, you’ll have a lot to contend with as you make your way through each level.
One of my favourite aspects of this game is the clever mini-boss fights you encounter through each stage. Every single one of them is entirely different, which makes the game all the more engaging. One perfect example is the first encounter in stage one, which is a jumping fellow who throws bombs your way. You have to quickly deduce that sucking up the bombs and throwing them back at him is the way forward. These fights are designed to push you to use both of Kirby’s abilities in clever ways, and in doing so, successfully keeps the game feeling fresh and fun throughout.
The music composed by Jun Ishikawa is its own kind of magic. It’ll have you smiling constantly, and I defy anyone not to feel happy when they listen to it. Whenever I hear it now it drowns me in nostalgia (especially the Green Greens music), but even without that childhood feeling, it would still have me grinning like a goofball.
In terms of replay-ability this game stands the test of time very well. Sure, it might not be as sophisticated as other Kirby games – or be as colourful – but it’s got so much charm and whimsy, and the retro 2D style only serves to add more. If you’re a big Kirby fan then chances are you’ve already checked this out, but if not, this is me wholeheartedly recommending you do.
I’ll just end this by saying that Kirby’s Dream Land was a magical little game I discovered as a kid, but nothing can compare to how magical it is to play it later in life. It really is no wonder Kirby went on to lead a franchise of his own. Now let’s all admire Kirby’s well-earned victory dance moves.
If you want to check out Kirby’s Dream Land, it’s available to buy on 3DS’s Virtual Console.