The evolution of the platformer, back in the halcyon days of the NES, was a curious process to behold for a youngster. Thanks to my year of birth (1986), it often felt as if the march of progress in innovation and technology of the video game world was tracking tightly with my own growth from child, to teenager, to young adult, and so forth. Early in that process came a particularly relevant title, and one that’s still a marvelously fun play, even today. I speak of the venerable Kirby’s Adventure.
I was but a lad of six when this game debuted, and coming up fast on seven. It wasn’t my first experience with the eponymous, marauding inhaler, having played the series’ progenitor, Kirby’s Dream Land, on my Game Boy a year prior. As I alluded to, the deepening of the Kirby experience from that game to the next felt like the comfortable, natural evolution that I, as a demanding child moving from five, to six, to seven, felt entitled to.
For the uninitiated, Kirby is a round, smooth, somewhat marshmellowy looking fellow who serves as the primary force for good and justice in his native Dream Land. His ostensible arch-nemesis in this task is King Dedede, an overweight, imperious penguin adorned with the utmost finery. Both Kirby and the King share a special power, the ability to inhale into their stomachs those who might oppose or deter their progress (within a certain distorted physical reason – Dedede can inhale the smaller Kirby, but not vice-versa).
In the hero’s first starring role, his ability to inhale enemies also functioned as his sole mode of attack. By spitting out the hapless foes (or inanimate blocks, which he could also consume), Kirby could launch a spinning star from his mouth, a devastating attack against his enemies. In Kirby’s Adventure, however, a new feature is added that would become the primary hook of Kirby’s legacy – he can, rather than spit out his enemies, swallow them whole and steal their signature abilities. Swallow a blade-brandishing knight, for example, and Kirby is endowed with that same sword, as well as the know-how to use it, whipping the edge through the air in most menacing fashion.
The variety of enemies, and therefore of abilities Kirby can exploit for his own means, is truly surprising and wonderful relative to the age of the game. My personal favorite will always be “Rock,” which is true to its name.
The color palette in Kirby’s Adventure facilitates a versatile, impressive range of environments, worthy of the “Dream Land” moniker. Not unlike Super Mario Bros. 2, which I’ve previously reviewed, the game does an exemplary job representing an at times off-kilter and charmingly diverse dreamscape, and the enemies and challenges that lurk therein.
Perhaps the most representative instance of this is the boss battle against Mr. Shine and Mr. Bright, the sun and moon themselves. Standing in a valley flanked by hills in the background, Kirby must battle the celestial bodies, taking on one while the other assumes its place in the sky, causing the look of the level to switch between day and night.
The game features eight worlds, each one consisting of a hub world with several different doors to access the levels. There are also a few grandly enjoyable minigames, and additional bonus rooms – in one repeated interlude, you engage in quick draw combat against increasingly sharp opponents, and in another you must strategically open and close your mouth, so to guzzle a downpour of eggs without accidentally swallowing any bombs in the process.
The level design is artistically pleasing, inventive, and the full data package the game boasts is an ambitious one for its age. The cartridge for Kirby’s Adventure contains 6 megabits, which is quite a lot (Wikipedia claims it’s one of the largest games ever for the NES, though I can’t pretend to have any such technical knowledge).
At the climax of the game, it’s revealed that the noble-minded Kirby was, in fact, under a grave misapprehension in pegging King Dedede as the utmost threat to peace and security in Dream Land. In fact, it was Dedede himself who had sought to protect the realm, and thus Kirby’s Adventure must end with another struggle, above and beyond what he had believed. He must face off against Nightmare, a physical manifestation of dark and evil dreams.
In this regard, rudimentary as its mode of storytelling is, Kirby’s Adventure joins a pantheon of later, plot heavy games in which a hero’s zeal to protect his or her world would ultimately backfire (the initial installment of Metal Gear Solid for the Playstation is a prime example of this, taken considerably more seriously). While it might be an exaggeration to suggest that this twist would be instructive to any young person, it was certainly not lost on me. The lesson is that unintended consequences abound, and that the motivations of those you might consider your enemy may be more opaque to you than you believe.
There are a few popular criticisms of Kirby’s Adventure, to be sure – it’s not a phenomenally difficult game, though as a child the final face-off with Nightmare did vex me for a little over an hour before I completed it. It can, as some critics have suggested, be beaten over the course of an industrious evening, in maybe three or four hours if you’re a newcomer who yet knows what you’re doing. I say that it’ll be a grandly enjoyable few hours, and you’ll be happy to wallow in it, however long or short it takes.