Kirby finally made me stop wearing my mother’s clothes

kirby super star

Kirby Super Star (1997)

When I was doing gaming videos with my pal in a desperate attempt to find YouTube popularity, I made the observation that I’d rather be caught wearing my mother’s clothes than have someone walk in on me playing a Kirby game. I can gleefully tell all you Kirby lovers out there that my partner did not immediately frown and slap me for making such a cretinous comment. Quite the opposite actually – he laughed, I laughed, we patted each other on the back and our anti-Kirby circlejerk continued.

Come on, let’s be honest here. You know a console is absolutely finished when the Kirby games start coming out, as late in the console’s life cycle as possible. You take the release dates of some of the earlier Kirby games, like Kirby’s Adventure for NES – December 1993 over here, after Starwing and Super Mario All Stars.

Or how about Kirby’s Dream Land 3? Obscure as all hell that one, and it ought to be, seeing as how it arrived in the USA as late as November 1997. Better than that, it hit Japan in March ’98, well after Super Mario 64’s release, and it was so damn late for Europe that they didn’t even bother releasing it here. And of course, Kirby 64 – that’d be a release date of June 2001 in Europe, when seeing N64 games in shops was as rare as rocking horse turds.

And if you were unfortunate enough to own a Kirby game when you were growing up, you probably saw it for what it was, even at your tender age. Kirby’s always been a decent but unspectacular platformer, easy as pie and infused with enough saccharine to send the diabetics running. But ultimately, a bit too slow, a bit too samey. When you’re releasing a game to cap off a console, wouldn’t you want it to have more oomph? A bit more pizazz?

Maybe this would be the case with Kirby Super Star? Or Kirby’s Fun Pak as it was mysteriously retitled here, coming out in January 1997 when Final Fantasy VII had already came out in Japan. Or even worse, when Bill Clinton started his second term of office. I’m amazed it even came out here in the first place. Was there much of a hankering for Kirby in the UK? There was certainly some of it in Italy, since the game got a full release there.

In any case, this game promised to deliver a little bit more than just the same old perfunctory platformer where you’d literally have to try to lose. Kirby Super Star featured eight games, with a bit of co-op multiplayer into the bargain, and shock horror, it also had a bit of variety. Even I could find something to love within this package, surely.

The game was later brought to DS with a lot more added stuff, but you won’t be playing that on your SNES Classic, which is great for me since I can now just pretend that version doesn’t exist. This means there’s a total of only 8 mini-games for me look at, so we may as well look through them in turn and I can dismiss them quickly, without any kind of fairness or rationality.

You’ve got Spring Breeze, a short and sweet take on the original Kirby’s Dream Land that’ll be over before you know it. Even a Kirby casual like me has probably beaten that infernal tree boss, Whispy Woods, about fifty times. It never gets any more difficult to do it, either.

Dyna Blade is a bit more original, and boasts a highly rudimentary world map. You remember how great the Super Mario World overworld map was? Well, get that one out of your mind. The gameplay doesn’t change in this mode; it’s still platforming based, pedestrian, and the only unique selling point is that the final boss of this game, a game which lasts about six levels, is a large bird called Dyna Blade. Doing battle with him is a pretty luck-based affair, but at least you get to rescue the chickies at the end. All worth it, right?

Gourmet Race is a bit more of a laugh, but once again just too short. You’re racing against that odd penguin creature King Dedede. A little fact for you here – my best pal had wanted a few Amiibos as a Christmas surprise from his girlfriend, who subsequently bought him King Dedede. He could never tell her, of course, but my boy was slightly gutted. We’re certain it’s the only Dedede Amiibo in Ireland. In any case, the Gourmet Race is a race to the finish over three small platforming levels, but you can also score points by eating as much food as possible along the way. Again, a decent bit of fun, but only three courses? That’s threadbare stuff.

The Great Cave Offensive is the best of the lot but still a tad overrated. Think of it as a Metroidvania styled Kirby game, where you have to find 60 items of treasure in a vast area of four zones. Some critical, outside-the-box thinking is definitely required for this one, in addition to the usual Kirby rigmarole of copying all of the various different abilities, beating bosses and keeping your health up.

It’s also the best mini-game to play co-operatively – and if you’re Billy No Mates like me, then you can spawn yourself an AI helper at any time. The helper that you get depends on the ability Kirby has at that particular time, so it’s a wide range of characters that can join the fray to help you out. It’s a terrific feature, and a staple in the Kirby games now. Just be aware that if you’re P2, you may have to choke down the ignominy of playing as a rubber tyre.

The unlockable Revenge of Meta Knight isn’t bad – with its frantic music, a time limit, and live dialogue from the increasingly panicky villains, it’s a lot more exciting than a walk in the Spring Breeze. The graphics, aided by some sort of SA-1 computer chip doohickey on the cartridge, are at their best in this game. The faceoff with Meta Knight is a bit more like it as well, a proper climactic clash that might even see you lose a life or two. Fancy that.

Milky Way Wishes is the last game to be unlocked, and one of the longest along with the Great Cave Offensive. It’s got more of those Metroidvania traits, as any ability you find is permanently yours to choose from, making you a sort of pink, squishy version of Samus’s Power Suit. Towards the end, it’s got a little horizontal shoot ’em up  section as well, which is cute.

Beat the Milky Way Wishes and you unlock the Arena, a boss rush of all the weird and wild boss characters in the game where you’ve got limited healing items to get you through. That’s definitely a tough final challenge, but once you’ve overcome that, you’re proper finished the game. Good fun may have been had, but it’ll only have whiled away about seven hours.

Strangely, it’s the two minigames (microgames really), Samurai Kirby and Megaton Punch, that offer some of the most fun in the collection, especially for two players. Samurai Kirby is a reflex game: wait for the signal, then whack the button. Nice and simple, and good fun with a buddy, but that blasted Dedede is all but unbeatable in the 1P mode.

Megaton Punch is probably my favourite – it’s just a timing game of chopping through blocks, where three well-timed button presses gives you victory. Nailing the frame-perfect window in this game is a lot more satisfying than sucking up star blocks and spitting them at Waddle Doos a million times, believe me on that.

Well, Kirby does have one thing going for him and his series – he very much appeals to girls. How couldn’t he, given he’s a smiley little pink blob that eats everything? And yet, when I try to emulate Kirby’s lifestyle, I’m left on the shelf. That’s the matriarchy for you. In any case, I set the missus up on Kirby Super Star and gave her the lowdown on it, thinking it’d be the perfect example of a retro delight to get her up and running on her new SNES Classic.

In the end, she laughed her head off at how much of a disaster she was, as she fell into bottomless pit after bottomless pit. Then I laughed. Then she laughed more. Then I cried. And yet she’s able to breeze through the much more intense Uncharted games and Call of Duty single player modes. What’s that all about?

I probably should have just sent her towards Super Mario World, because if we’re honest Kirby Super Star never looked likely to threaten the top platformers of the 90s. And if we’re double honest, there’s never been a great Kirby game and there likely never will be. The platforming in Super Star doesn’t flow as it should, but the game couldn’t be accused of false advertising over here in Europe – it certainly is a Fun Pak.

As far as the Kirby series goes, this is the best the jocular little pink puffball gets. Give it a bash, but don’t feel bad if you find yourself not sticking with it long enough to unlock all of the games. I’ll say this for Super Star: at no point does it make me want to bust open my mother’s wardrobe. Is that praise enough?

18 February 2020

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