Watch your step, for you’ve just entered the Graveyard. Inside, we’ll be digging up games that have long been without a pulse. You’ll see both good and bad souls unearthed every month as we search through the more… forgotten…parts of history.
When the Kirby series began in 1993 as an under-the-radar platformer for the original Game Boy, no one could have expected it to last or be as timeless as it has become. The little pink puff ball began as a white almost ghost-like creature, but his ability to suck up enemies and exhale them as ammunition to take other enemies made him stand out. The action side of the action-platformer box was a bit lean, but with that came an increase in strategy on how to best use inhaled foes to move forward. It was a fairly easy affair, but a solid first attempt that showed what HAL Laboratory could do when given their own franchise. In time, Kirby hit the NES with the highly-regarded Kirby’s Adventure, while Kirby’s Dream Land 3 landed on the SNES after that. One game that has come to define the Kirby franchise has been Kirby Super Star — a bit of a gaming salad bar with something to please just about everyone.
At the time of its release in 1996, it was the most robust offering for Kirby in that it gave you what was essentially a 16-bit remake of the first game, a variety of mini-games and action-heavy takes on the series that was more in line with modern-day Kirby adventures thanks to the power-up system. There are eight playable games of various lengths and types. Some are simple sub-games, like Samurai Kirby and Megaton Punch that test your reflexes and reaction times. Samurai Kirby is a quick draw game that gives you a handful of opponents and the first person to press a button when an exclamation point enters the screen wins. It’s a great way to test your reaction time in general and looks gorgeous with a Western-inspired look to everything. It’s a challenge and something that doesn’t offer a lot — but what’s there is done about as well as could be expected.
Megaton Punch is a Test Your Might-style mode that was popular thanks to things like Mortal Kombat and the whole rise of martial arts movies in the ’80s and early ’90s. In this, Kirby dons a Ryu Hoshi-esque red headband and battles enemies to see who can smash through stone the best. A few meters come up, with the first being a power meter, the second being your aim and the third being a pendulum that showcases how centered your blow will be.
DynaBlade is an action-centric take mix of regular platforming and Kirby’s now-normal ability to gain powers based on power-ups dropped from enemies. Things like the beam enable him to do damage from short or long range with charge shots adding an element of risk/reward to things. You can never charge up and do a bit of damage and have more angles to attack from, or charge it up and do far more damage from fewer angles. You can also choose to drop the power-up you have and get an AI partner to help out. Kirby games in general aren’t all that hard, but adding an AI ally adds something fresh to the mix and keeps the level of on-screen action high.
Each power-up allowed you to do different kinds of damage. So if you wanted to play as a Link-esque character in a side-scroller, this is an easy way to do it as you can don his green hat and sword and start slashing away. The cool thing with this being a Kirby game is you can switch back and forth between the power-up and regular Kirby, and given that Kirby games play so differently with the enemy suction gimmick, it makes every game feel different. The cutter blade is a bit like Metal Man’s blades in Mega Man 2, only with a boomerang mechanic to it so if you miss an enemy who is jumping in one direction, you’ll probably nail them on the way back.
The flame attack is the most visually stunning, allowing Kirby to adorn a large headdress of flames while he throws flames and can turn into a fireball. It’s impressive and useful in close confines. Against bosses, the sword variant of Kirby is absolutely deadly as he can deal damage quickly with the sword in mid-air and is the best form to take out bosses in this particular game. Revenge of Meta-Knight follows the same basic formula, but offers up a different storyline with Kirby trying to take out Meta-Knight and gaining a few new power-up options as well. The ice ability allows you to turn enemies into projectiles, while the yoyo gives you a bit of distance and more angles to attack. The bomb is the most powerful and useful in boss battles – plus it allows you to aim directly downward by leaving a bomb in place. This is a huge help when it comes to uncovering new areas and the action-platforming portions of the game are some of its best.
One of the most underrated is the Gourmet Race, where you battle rivals and see who can get the most food and come in first. It’s a short experience, but a great test of not only platforming skills, but also your dexterity. You will have to be more efficient with your movements and make sure to learn the courses in real-time or else you’ll fall to either block traps or get stuck trying to jump around platforms. There’s a ton of variety here and things like the arena boss rush mode allow you to test yourself in new ways and make sure that you’re on your A game.
Kirby Super Star has some of the best-looking pixel art on the SNES, with a high amount of colors on-screen and a lot of shading being used to make the cartoony world have at least a few touches of reality to it. The animation was easily the best in the franchise to this point and the facial expressions are more vivid. Musically, everything sounds great too and the super-peppy soundtracks that have littered the franchise remain intact here — with a bit less reverb than many SNES soundtracks.
Kirby Super Star is a must-own part of Kirby’s legacy and one of the finest entries in the series. A SNES copy will run you about $50 now, while the DS remake is far less pricey at about $20. The SNES version runs at a higher resolution, while the DS version has a few more mini-games added to the mix. No matter which version you choose, you’re going to have a lot of fun with it and it’s a perfect primer for someone who is new to the series since it contains not only a remake of the first game, but a slew of additional modes and gameplay types to enjoy as well.