Sunday, August 7, 2011

Kirby's Dream Land

Kirby is a character that almost never happened. A simple pink blob (despite the fact that the box art for Kirby's Dream Land depicts him as white), Kirby pioneered the puffy ball of cuteness in a time when one's response to "Jigglypuff" was typically "God bless you." But did you know that Kirby's design was just a stand-in while the developers tried to come up with a real character for their game? They just found the little rascal so cute they decided to keep him on. Then they named him after a vacuum cleaner, stuck him in a Game Boy cartridge, and called it Dream Land.

Me big.The basic plot of Kirby's Dream Land is that the self-proclaimed ruler of Dream Land, King Dedede, has gone around stealing food from everyone because he's hongry. Kirby, a resident of Dream Land who is honestly equally famished, decides to go retrieve the food. That's basically it. Two gluttons fighting over a banquet. Also, as though it's somehow important, the feast is supposed to be eaten at midnight. I don't know if there's some sort of Cinderella vibe going on here, but the game itself never alludes to this - in fact, it's never even dark, which would seem to put the whole thing to rest. Unless...

Maybe Dream Land has multiple suns! You know, it's not Earth or anything. We're talking about a world where little pink things go around swallowing everything that moves. Why should we assume that they have the same sort of solar cycle as we do? Or you know what? Maybe they don't even have a sun at all! Yeah, maybe the world is lit up by something magical. the ground is covered in glittery gumdrops! They're too small to see on the Game Boy, of course, but they project enough light to make it like an eternal day. But see, they're spread out so uniformly that you don't notice they're the world's light source at all, unless you really get down and examine them scientifically. But nobody does science in Dream Land! That's got to be it!

Haha.Aaaaaanyway, Dream Land really is a happy place. They even name their major landmarks things that invent memes. I mean, who was really using the internet back in 1992? And if you were, you certainly weren't hunting down memes. You didn't even know what they were. But here comes Kirby's Dream Land, dropping the lulz all over you. Now, I admit it's possible that this is pronounced "low low low," but doesn't that just make it the predecessor for this instead? You cannot avoid the truth here: Kirby's Dream Land changed the entire course of mankind. There, I said it.

Kirby's main weapon is a little on the lame side. It's air. See, Kirby can inhale, exhale, and that's basically it. But he can inhale a lot of air, to the point where he can even float around. Now, this doesn't make any sense, because inhaling the air doesn't make him lighter than air, but you have to remember that this is a Game Boy game, and stop expecting so much. He can also expel this air with such force as to kill small lifeforms, something which will occur with some frequency in this game. In addition, of course, you can just directly inhale the enemies themselves, and spit them out as stars. Don't ask.

Balloon Fight.Now, Kirby's air-sucking abilities allow him something rather unique in platformers; he can essentially fly anywhere at any time. It's this dynamic that sets Kirby apart, more than any other single thing. They even have you fight a boss in this way, though they give you a power-up just prior that allows you to spit air puffs indefinitely. The other bosses are largely forgettable, except for the first. That's Whispy Woods, a tree that tries to Newton you to death, dropping apples from its branches in hopes that one of them will strike you. This would turn into Kirby's sort of trademark boss-that's-not-really-very-important-to-the-story, which a few other games utilize as well.

The basic enemies in this game are actually mostly "normal," considering everything else going on. You've got Waddle Dees, which appropriately do nothing but waddle. You've got Waddle Doos, which are like the Dees, except cycloptic and they shoot crap out of their eyes. Perhaps most treacherous are the Gordos, which are, and I ask that you brace yourself, sentient, mobile spikes. Say WHAAA? Remember in Sonic how dastardly those things were? Or heck, go back even further to Mega Man! Or even Mega Man 2! Jiminy Crickets man, even Mega Man 3! Spikes are deadly abominations of sin. You see a Gordo, you RUN. You hear me? RUN!

Killer rabbit.And then there's these little spawns of Satan. I know. You think I'm some sort of cold-hearted maniac. How could anyone not adore those happy little bunnies floating there disembodied staring blankly into space? You're in for a rude awakening. These guys are no less vicious than the rabbit that attacked King Arthur and his knights at the caves of Caerbannog (check your history textbooks; it's there). You make one wrong move, and they will charge you and explode. All over your face. That glee on their face isn't because they think Dream Land's a pretty spiffy place to raise a family - it's because they can't wait to blow you into little pink bits the color of which your game system can't even recognize.

With all of this, it's nice that the game gives you a health bar instead of the Mario style "stub a toe on a goomba and die" method of meting out punishment. And the health can be healed by - what else? - eating. Specifically, there are giant tomatoes emblazoned with the letter M that will restore your life completely. Or, if you're only feeling a tad thirsty, you'll find bottled water lying around, ready for the ingesting. You eat the plastic too, but to no apparent ill effect. And look at it this way: when you have to poop, you're recycling!

Flying V.So...King Dedede. Did you know he's a duck? A big ol' duck with a hammer. Wearing a wooly cap and a bathrobe. All right, I'll roll with it. I've come this far. Defeating him is a tad troublesome at first because, like the other bosses in the game, he is immune to your bursts of air. But, unlike the previous bosses, he doesn't generate any objects for you to inhale and spit back at him. Eventually you've got to just say "This is crazy, but..." and swallow the biggest thing you can see in the foreground other than King Dedede himself - the animation of his hammer hitting the ground. Yes, the cute little star that poofs out to show impact is itself your weapon. It's ridiculous, it's absurd, it's genius.

Beating Dedede causes his castle to start spontaneously ejecting all the food he'd collected. So I guess if you ever had a strong desire to watch a castle vomiting various fruits and fish, you can always hit up Kirby. I have to admit though that it's really an unsatisfying finish. Frankly, the game is too easy. From start to finish, nothing here is a challenge. They even have you replay all the earlier bosses before fighting Dedede in the Mega Man style, but the bosses were easy the first time, and now you already know how to beat them. It's a rather short game too; you can finish it in 30 minutes or less without any real problem the first time through.

Bub.All this is mostly rectified, however, by the inclusion of an "extra game." After emerging from Dedede's castle victorious and sitting through the game's credits, you'll be presented with a code to enter at the title screen for this extra game. It's the same thing, only with harder enemies (same dealio as Super Mario Bros.). It won't take long before you notice the increased difficulty here. There are more enemies, and all of them are more difficult than their previous incarnations. You'll even see little walking cupcakes that launch their icing at you. Nothing really ever shot at you the first time through. Whispy Woods starts dropping Gordos from his tree as well as apples, and he drops them faster. The list goes on, but the point is that the extra game is basically the challenge that Kirby arguably should have been in the first place.

Kirby is a refreshing departure from the usual offering of platform gaming, daring to be creative in what was already threatening to be a stagnant genre. You've got to respect it for that. While its concept was original and entertaining, its execution left a bit to be desired. It was too easy, too short, and relatively unfocused. Still, they gave us an option in the game to correct the first flaw on that list, so all in all, you've got to say it was a good start for Kirby and the gang.

Bottom Line: 13/20