A joyous, colorful, and both visually and musically delightful adventure
Kirby’s Adventure, the one and only game starred by the pink puffball on the NES, is not the inception of Nintendo’s most kid-friendly franchise; as one year earlier the titular character – albeit colored in white instead of his now traditional pink – had debuted on the Game Boy’s Kirby’s Dream Land. Yet, despite its status as a sophomore effort, Kirby’s Adventure feels like the start of everything. After all, while in that early portable release the hero could only swallow his foes, it was in Kirby’s Adventure that he first showed his now signature ability of borrowing the skills from his enemies and using those varied abilities as his greatest weapon.
Given it is responsible for such a remarkable introduction, it is easy to think of Kirby’s Adventure as a title that is dearly remembered for what it contributed to the franchise, and consequently to the gaming world itself, rather than a game that still stands up on its own as an incredible piece of software. Such assumptions, however, would be dead wrong, for the game has much more going for it than representing the first step down a path that would yield numerous satisfying results.
To those who are familiar with the franchise, the title’s most surprising and impressive feature is – shockingly – not one that jumps out of the screen at first sight: its release date. Kirby’s Adventure hit the market in 1993, nearly two years after the Super Nintendo had come to American shores and had, consequently, turned the humble NES into a relic of the past. As if knowing that it had to do something remarkable in order to avoid flying under the radar or being regarded as an outdated effort that came out too late, when far more powerful technology and flashier games were being made, Kirby’s Adventure tries its best to be noticed, and it does succeed.
Following an afternoon nap during which he did not have any dreams, an undoubtedly pressing issue in a place called Dream Land, Kirby decides to head out towards the Fountain of Dreams to investigate what exactly is going on. He soon finds out that King Dedede, the self-proclaimed king of Dream Land, has stolen the Star Rod, which works as the fountain’s source of dreams, and broken it into seven pieces that are now scattered around the world and being protected by his powerful underlings. Naturally, Kirby sets out to recover all of those missing fragments to bring dreams back to the inhabitants of this fantastic kingdom that resides on a star-shaped planet.
The key consequence caused by the late release date of Kirby’s Adventure is pretty blatant: its impressive graphics; the absolute peak of the console’s powers. Its scenarios are vivid and colorful, from the standard green pastures of Vegetable Valley to the outer space weirdness of Rainbow Resort, and both Kirby – even within the restrictions of his straightforward design – and enemies move nicely.
By 1993, developers had so much knowledge of what the NES’ hardware could do, and how to squeeze every ounce of power out of it, that not only did they use it to produce environments that are packed with impressive levels of detail and dozens of unique visual elements, but they also flaunted it by rendering tridimensional effects and presenting background layers that move at different speeds, therefore creating the now commonplace impression that distinct pieces of the scenario lie at different distances from the character. Everything amounts to a very impressive technological feast.
With those gorgeous visuals as a backdrop, Kirby will traverse a series of seven worlds – each with six stages and one final boss whose design is invariably creative – in order to save his friends from a dull life devoid of dreams. All levels have a simple platforming setup that, due to Kirby’s ability to fly endlessly by inflating like a balloon, focuses on defeating enemies rather than performing tricky jumps. It is a smart move, one that gives an action focus to the whole quest, which has been propagated throughout the franchise; however, the inherent simplicity caused by the NES’ limitations and the generally easy level of difficulty may leave some players cold.
Although neither its gameplay focus nor its challenge change too much during the course of the six to eight hours one should spend to finish the game, Kirby’s Adventure tries to avoid repetitiveness via two main features. Firstly, there is how the variety of its settings is far greater than that of most NES titles. Instead of opting for tricky palette changes or the reutilization of graphical assets, the game is truly able to transport Kirby to a forest, a beach, a mountain, the sky, a glacier, and more, through the construction of new settings from scratch, giving each of the seven worlds their unique feeling, a goal that is also achieved thanks to a soundtrack that is catchy and diverse.
The most important antidote for any kind of boredom, though, comes from the stunning assortment of moves Kirby can steal from his enemies. Given Kirby’s Adventure is positively combat-based, acquiring and testing the twenty-six skills that are available is thrilling and intriguing, and so is discovering which one of them is more effective against the game’s mini-bosses, bosses, or even particularly annoying types of regular foes.
By swallowing baddies whole, Kirby can unleash elemental powers such as Fire, FireBall, Tornado, Spark, and Freeze; perform melee moves like Hi-Jump, Backdrop and Throw; handle weapons through the abilities Sword, Hammer, Laser, Cutter, and Beam; or even tackle some more miscellaneous moves that have surprising effects like singing through a microphone on the Mike skill, sleeping, becoming a wheel, piloting a flying saucer, defending himself by covering his body with deadly needles, wielding a parasol, turning into stone and falling on top of enemies, or crashing all over the screen.
Each stage, then, winds up being a visual and musical delight, and also a welcoming scenario where abilities can be performed wildly so that Kirby – a true powerhouse of a videogame hero – can beat his enemies mercilessly. That fun quest through over thirty levels, which is concise but not too short – especially when the era’s standards for length are taken into consideration, is complemented by some pleasant extras, such as the three mini-games of varying levels of quality that can be played in-between stages in order for the character to acquire extra lives or bonus points, and a boss rush mode that is unlocked when the game is beaten.
More than the NES’ technological pinnacle, Kirby’s Adventure – despite not being the first title to come out for the franchise – ends up being the entry responsible for setting many of the pink puffball’s hallmarks to stone. Most importantly, though, is the fact that even after all these years Kirby’s Adventure still stands solidly, shunning the status of a museum piece and offering a pleasant gameplay experience that is right within the ranges of fun and relaxation the character tends to explore. It is a joyous, colorful, and both visually and musically delightful adventure that is sure to find a soft spot in the hearts of gamers that appreciate not only old-school gaming, but games that are well-designed and free spirited.