My brothers and I shared several games on the Nintendo Gameboy when we were all young. One that I often played was Kirby’s Dream Land. After all, it should come as no surprise that Kirby games are overall pretty easy. Even toddler Neppy could finish and enjoy that game. For many years this was the only Kirby game I had played. The franchise never interested me too much I suppose. In the past few years that changed fortunately, and I’ve managed to play many more. Today I’m taking another look at Kirby’s Dream Land to relive my memories of when I was younger.
Kirby’s Dream Land is the first game released in the franchise in 1992 by Hal Laboratory, a second-party development studio of Nintendo. At the time they were mostly known for the Eggerland puzzle games, or more commonly known in the west as Adventures of Lolo. Of course nowadays almost everyone is familiar with Hal Laboratory, being the developer of the Kirby franchise and the first two Super Smash Bros. titles. Nintendo was looking for a new IP that could be enjoyed by practically anyone, and it so happened to be that a new employee at Hal Laboratory we all know and love came up with a proposal. That man was none other than Masahiro Sakurai. For most of the project, the ideas were much different than what we ended up with. Kirby’s design was only a placeholder, but was kept eventually due to it’s simplistic design that anyone could draw, reinforcing yet again the IP Nintendo was looking for. The character also wasn’t named Kirby but instead ‘’Twinkle Popo’’. They eventually went with Kirby to have a name that appeals more to American kids, named after the former legal counsel of Nintendo of America, John Kirby.
The plot for Kirby’s Dream Land can be described in a few sentences. The inhabitants of Dream Land are happy and have lots of food, meanie penguin steals food, Kirby needs to get food back. The game takes place on a tiny star far away from Earth called Dream land, with its inhabitants named the Dream Landers. They use Sparkling Stars to work and play amongst the heavens, and without it they are unable to produce food. Introducing the gluttonous King Dedede who was hungry and decided to rob the Dream Landers of not only their food, but their Sparkling Stars as well. Kirby sets out to defeat Dedede and his evil minions and bring happiness back to Dream Land.
Dream Land is a small but charming world. Themes range from your usual forest level to a sky temple with occasional space segments. Where Kirby differentiates itself from other platformers at the time is that—even though it is still point A to B—levels aren’t just horizontal, and have secrets in them. Because of Kirby’s unique abilities, vertical platforming is an occasional occurrence. Secrets in this game mostly lead to 1-ups and health items. Every stage ends with a boss battle and almost all of the time has a mid-boss.
The plot and design are simple but work. What else makes Kirby accessible to practically anyone? At the time it was very common for platformers to be rather difficult to extend gameplay time. Especially if they were ports from arcade games to suck all of your pennies. Bottomless pits and knockback were the main offenders, so to counteract that Kirby has been given some unique abilities. Bottomless pits are still a thing, but Kirby has been given the ability to inhale air and float like a balloon. So if you do find yourself in a situation where a bottomless pit is getting near well, just fly away. You can fly endlessly as long as you avoid obstacles that would bring harm to Kirby and yes, that means you can basically pass most obstacles with ease. If you want to stop flying you can let out the air, which also damages the enemy in front of you with the exception of bosses.
Aside from the flying Kirby controls like you would expect him to. He can walk, run and jump like any other platforming hero. He can however not jump on enemies to damage them—instead, it will only damage Kirby. Here’s where Kirby’s second unique ability comes in: sucking. Kirby can suck anything, from moving obstacles to enemies themselves to anything you can think of ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°). In later games, Kirby would transform the enemy into a power-up for himself, but that wasn’t part of the original game yet. Still, he can use the enemy as a projectile to defeat other enemies or hazards in front of him. There are also a few power-ups for Kirby to suck, like the Microphone which annihilates all enemies on screen due to horrendous singing, or the Bomb which blows up everything in the direction the bomb is shot.
Mid-bosses are implemented well, as in two cases they are weaker versions of the actual bosses to give you an idea of what to expect and how to defeat them. For example, you first fight the mid-boss called Lololo alone where he shows his pattern, and later on fight him together with his girlfriend Lalala in a more complicated situation; instead of coming from 1 side, they both come at the same time from 2 sides. All bosses have a pattern to attack but execute them at different times to not make them too easy. Let’s not beat around the bush, Kirby’s Dream Land is easy, but it at least had good bosses. Kirby starts at the beginning of a stage whenever he runs out of lives, so the penalty for failure is fair.
So from reading the review and probably having experience with Kirby yourself, you might have come to the conclusion that Kirby’s Dream Land is a short and easy game. And yes, I won’t deny it. However, because of Kirby’s unique abilities there is more replayability to be had in the form of limiting yourself by not flying ever for example. But aside from limiting yourself, there is actually a neat bonus for beating the game. Whenever you beat the game, a screen shows with a button input which you can insert for Hard Mode. Note that this code can be activated even if you have not beaten the game, meaning that you don’t have to beat the game every time to gain access to this mode. This is a huge deal since early Nintendo Gameboy games only seldom have battery backup, meaning that the game can’t be saved. Hard mode is.. well, actually legit challenging. New variations of enemies show up, they deal more damage and bosses got new patterns. You still start at the beginning of a stage whenever you lose all your lives, but this is a mode I can admire and extends the gameplay well enough. Beat this mode and you get another button input for Configuration mode, another nice addition where you can listen to the music and set the amount of lives and vitality Kirby starts the game with.
Presentation-wise, Kirby’s Dream Land follows the request of ‘’being accessible to anyone’’ very well. Simple graphics that look good, and the music is very memorable. You can easily listen to the music from the first stage Green Greens, and hum along knowing that this is one of the tracks that defines Kirby. It set the groundworks for many more Kirby games to come, and a lot of assets from this game are re-used in later games.
Kirby’s Dream Land is a short, charming game that is accessible to anyone and paved the way for an entire franchise that is still going strong today. It has a low difficulty and is very short, but the added Hard Mode changes the difficulty and length significantly. Good and unique gameplay and a great start to one of Nintendo’s biggest franchises. And with that, here is my final verdict for Kirby’s Dream Land:
There are three ways to play Kirby’s Dream Land. The first is on the Gameboy, and relatively cheap for a physical copy. The second is on the Nintendo 3ds virtual console, which costs you 4 bucks. Finally there’s the Kirby’s Dream Collection on the Nintendo Wii which also has 5 other games, but expect to empty your wallet for that one. Overall there is no best way to play the game.