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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ranking The Kirby Games

I love Kirby. I know this makes me somewhat of an anomaly among hardcore gamers. When everyone else is talking about their Gears of War and Shooty McShootyface 2, I'm over here talking about a little pink bulimic of indeterminate gender.

I've always felt that the Kirby games got a bad rap. They were unfairly shunted into a "kid's game" category early on when they really deserved better than that. Now they're almost firmly in the kid's game category, which isn't really fair. Sure, they're not the most difficult games in the world, but the gameplay is rock-solid and deserves a wider audience.

In honor of Kirby's continued eating disorders, I've decided to rank his games from the worst to the best.  In ranking these games, I only ranked the games that were in the main series of Kirby games, and not any of his side projects like Kirby Block Ball or Kirby Air Ride.

9. Kirby's Dream Land (Game Boy)

It's shocking that this game actually sold as well as it did. They sold it for $30 back in the day and it only had about an hour of gameplay, unless you tried to beat the impossibly hard extra mode which only unlocked a sound test for all your effort. You couldn't copy powers either, further lessening the replay value.  The basic principles of Kirby were there, and that brief hour was pretty fun. Still, it's the worst Kirby game by far.

8. Kirby & The Amazing Mirror (Game Boy Advance)

In this game, the developers strayed from the linear path that Kirby games usually follow, being more of a Metroidvania type of game. It was a noble idea, but wasn't very good in practice. It meant a lot of circling and confused wandering was in store until you finally found the door that led to another part of the world.  This was where Flagship Studios (Kirby's developer for the last couple of games) learned that Kirby was not Metroid and shouldn't be treated as such.

7. Kirby's Dream Land 3 (Super Nintendo)

After the success of Yoshi's Island, Nintendo decided it would go back to the well for more squiggly-lined games, and thus was born Kirby's Dream Land 3. The graphics look great, but the levels are way too long and boring, and the new animal friends aren't as exciting as new powers. If they would have shortened the levels or cut out at least one of the animal friends to make way for more powers, this could have been a really good game. As it is, it's merely passable.

6. Kirby: Squeak Squad (Nintendo DS)

Now we start getting to the really good games. While Kirby's motivation for going after the main villains is dumb (They stole a piece of cake from him? The indignity!), the gameplay itself is great. There are a ton of powers, a ton of secrets, and a ton of cool levels. It's a very easy game to finish, and it's almost criminally easy to get 100%, but it still leaves you smiling in the end.

5. Kirby: Canvas Curse (Nintendo DS)

Some people love this game. I was ambivalent about it. I'm putting it up this high because it achieved something very important: It showed developers how to use the DS controls and helped put the system on the map. Until Canvas Curse came out, the DS was a joke, with games like Yoshi Touch 'N Go being the only game to utilize the touch screen. Canvas Curse set forth the path other devs could follow, and it had one of the best final boss battles I've ever seen to boot.

4. Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards (Nintendo 64)

This has, thus far, been Kirby's only adventure in 3D. While it's more like 2.5D, the results are great. Kirby can combine powers and make new ones, like combining the sword power and the lightning power to create a double-sided lightsaber. You also get to play as other characters besides Kirby, and there's lots of hidden secrets. One of the lost gems of the N64 era.

3. Kirby's Dream Land 2 (Game Boy)

If the first Kirby game on the Game Boy was disappointing, the second one more than made up for it.  They pushed the Game Boy to do things that weren't thought possible before. The levels were detailed, the powers were awesome, and the levels had really cool planning in them. The music was some of the best on the system as well. If you haven't played it, go play it. I'll wait.

2. Kirby Super Star/Kirby Super Star Ultra (Super Nintendo/Nintendo DS)

At first glance, Kirby Super Star appears like a collection of minigames. It even says on the cover, "6 Games in One!" which is a sure kiss of death for most gamers. However, those who've played it can attest to the depth inside. There's one game that you can play through normally, but you don't truly finish it until you find all the treasure chests hidden throughout it. There's another game that turns into a side-scrolling shooter during the final level. It had co-op play as well, with you being able to call a friend into the action at any time.  The DS remake is even better, including new Arena modes and a game where you play as Meta Knight.

1. Kirby's Adventure (NES)

Kirby games always are cursed to show up late in a console's usable life. Kirby 64 showed up after everyone had moved over to the PS2. Kirby Super Star showed up in 1996, a week before Super Mario 64 launched. Kirby's Dream Land 2 showed up in 1994, when the Game Boy was moving toward the Game Boy Color. No game suffered more indignity than Kirby's Adventure, a sprawling epic of a game that showed up in 1991, after everyone had already set aside their NES consoles in favor of the 16-bit generation.

Kirby's Adventure stands alongside Super Mario 3 as one of the best games of the NES generation. Huge bosses, inventive levels, tons of powers (including the UFO power, the best Kirby power ever), bunches of secrets, and genuine challenge. It's a great game, and it's the main reason that Kirby has earned a lifetime pass from me.