Where most of Kirby’s titles center around one predetermined plot, hence giving them a stiff structural form that is similar to that of other platformers, Kirby Super Star is – much to its benefit – so absurdly loose it feels like a party
Kirby games have always been underlined by an unshakable sense of freewheeling joy. Sure, whether through the hands of King Dedede or through the wings of Meta Knight, the pink cuddly hero has been launched into numerous dangerous situations that have pitted him against deadly foes and potentially fatal landscapes. But even when dealing with traps that would certainly terrorize other Nintendo protagonists, Kirby has always gone through it all with a smile on his face and the relaxed demeanor of someone who is taking a walk in a flowery park, as if his adventures were an entertaining break between the eating and sleeping he often seems entirely dedicated to.
That vibe, which emanates from every entry the franchise has ever had, is of course purely understandable. After all, there is a considerable degree of futility, naivete, and sheer silliness to be found in plans, carefully engineered by quirky villains, that are assembled with the hope of stopping an adorable killing machine that can simply inhale all foes and steal their powers only to employ them in an unstoppable murderous spree that occurs while cheery music plays in the background of impossibly colorful scenarios.
In a chain of games that has spanned some decades, gone through many consoles, and birthed a horde of installments, no effort has captured that jubilant carefree feeling as well as Kirby Super Star, originally released for the Super Nintendo. And it is somewhat easy to see why. While most of the pink puffball’s titles center around one predetermined plot, hence giving them a serious stiff structural form that is similar to that of other platformers, Kirby Super Star is absurdly loose.
It feels like a party; a celebration of Kirby’s sheer glory, one that was planned and created as an opportunity for him to display his ridiculously overpowered strength in whatever way he sees fit. Surely, the game is not aimless: it has purpose. There are, actually, quite a few of those and players are bound to be delighted by most, if not all, of them. Yet, amidst saving Dream Land’s produce or trying to punch the ground so hard Planet Popstar – his home – almost cracks in half, the final objective of it all seems to be giving Kirby a chance to show off; and the result is quite beautiful.
Kirby Super Star boasts, right on its package, the bold declaration that it features eight games in one. It is absolutely true. However, depending on who is asked, that number may vary between six and nine. And that is because two of those feel more like brief mini-games than full-fledged challenges whereas another one, dubbed The Arena, is not accounted for, as it serves as a final secret mode. Regardless of exact numbers, though, not only does Kirby Super Star carry a satisfying amount of content – that is, nonetheless, not as gigantic as its marketing implies – but it also succeeds in bringing to the table an experience that is varied, generally engaging, and that features multiplayer support through almost its entirety.
The two minor games within Kirby Super Star are Megaton Punch and Samurai Kirby, which are nothing but timing-based challenges. In the former, a strength competition, players must execute three actions in succession in order to maximize the power of the hit they are about to land on a rock that lies on the floor; they do so by pressing any button when a gauge hits its peak, when two reticules overlap, and when a swinging pendulum aligns with a circle. In the latter, meanwhile, Kirby duels against enemies not by swallowing them whole, but by participating in a duel where the first one to draw their weapon – following a cue – emerges victorious.
Although those two mini-games boast three levels of difficulty – each with a series of rivals to be defeated – and the opportunity to play against a human competitor, which is fun, their absurd simplicity does not allow them to hold much value, as they wear out after a handful of matches. Nonetheless, it is impossible not to praise their utterly delightful presentation, which dresses up the skirmishes with funny and charming visual elements.
In the same straightforward mini-game vein, albeit with greater depth, there is Gourmet Race. In this mode, Kirby competes against King Dedede through three sidescrolling courses of varying difficulty. The goal is to not only collect food, as each item that is gathered yields one point, but also get to the finish line first, an achievement that produces a whopping thirty points. The winner of the Grand Prix is who ever amasses the largest punctuation after all races. Given that when it comes to sheer running the glutton royal is slightly faster than the pink hero, gamers are left to gain an edge in the navigation of the stages, which can be done via effective jumping and floating in addition to overcoming obstacles more quickly than he does and using Kirby’s special abilities to his advantage.
It makes up for a thrilling and challenging activity. And even though it should not take long to outperform the villain, a little extra fun can be found in tackling the Time Trials, where fruits are removed and all that matters is getting to the end as quickly as possible. It is disappointing, however, that the Super Nintendo version of Kirby Super Star does not implement a multiplayer option for this sub-game.
The remaining five parts that constitute this festive package of Kirby goodness are far closer to the standard gameplay upon which the franchise built most of its classic entries. That is, the character traverses 2-D stages that rather than being built on tight platforming challenges and including many bottomless pits – a useless trap given Kirby can just flutter over it all – focus on carefully placed enemies and mini-bosses. Through them, Kirby walks, jumps, floats, swims, and – most importantly – sucks foes up to either launch them out as deadly projectiles or steal their powers and use them to unleash amusing chaos while also wearing a pretty neat hat that represents the ability he currently holds.
It is simple, it is fun, and it is constantly done with style; the controls work wonderfully, and Kirby Super Star is bursting with smooth animations, beautiful colorful scenarios that employ the Mode 7 functionality of the Super Nintendo’s chip to give the game a great sense of depth, and a soundtrack that debuted tunes that would go on to become often revisited classics.
Kirby Super Star offers a pleasant number of twenty-four special abilities, which include everything from allowing Kirby to use a hammer, a sword, a plasma beam, a parasol, a jet engine, and a yoyo to giving him wings, an infinite amount of bombs, a microphone into which he can scream loudly in various hilarious ways, and more. What is truly amazing about each one of them, besides of course the variety they add to the gameplay and the distinct ways in which they allow one to get rid of baddies, is how flexible they are.
Pretty much all abilities have, at least, a handful of moves that are triggered according to the button combination that is used. The Ice skill, for instance, has under its movelist an icy breath, a blizzard, a sprinkle, a kick, a suction, and an ejection; while Suplex has so many wrestling actions, executed by a humorously serious Kirby, that the character could easily be featured in a fighting game. It is so much to explore and play around with that it is almost impossible to see it all, and it displays an extraordinary amount of dedication.
Furthermore, and in a feature that was exclusive to Kirby Super Star until Kirby Star Allies came around, once an ability is acquired it can be spent to generate a helper: an enemy that follows the hero and aids in his quest by damaging enemies and serving as a bait for their attacks. Awesomely, helpers open up the gate for cooperative gameplay, as a second player can seamlessly jump into the action at any time; an option that boosts the fun of the adventure and also has the positive side-effect of making the helper smarter. Nevertheless, even when controlled by the CPU, helpers are very useful; sure, rooms with lots of traps may be almost invariably deadly to them, but they are quite clever when it comes to battling regular bad guys. Additionally, it is possible to have Kirby interact with them, as he can jump on their heads for extra impulsion and, in the case of the helper of the Wheelie ability, become a rider.
Within that more traditional gameplay format, Spring Breeze and Dyna Blade are the games that fall the closest to standard Kirby quests. In the first, King Dedede has stolen food from the inhabitants of Dream Land; in the second, the titular bird must be stopped since it is messing with the place’s crops. Despite the differing plots, though, in both Kirby goes through a handful of varied levels (three in Spring Breeze and four in Dyna Blade) so that he can reach the final boss, with the main difference being how while Dyna Blade has a map that works as an overworld, Spring Breeze just throws Kirby from stage to stage, making it feel like a continuous run to Dedede’s castle.
Like nearly all games of Kirby Super Star, these two modes can be cleared quite quickly and without much trouble, as they do not carry a lot of length on their own. Nonetheless, they are fun and unpretentious. And inside a multi-faceted package such as this one they are necessary, for they play an interesting role in presenting an outlook on the Kirby gameplay that is by the book, given its final three pieces offer that experience but with curious unique twists.
The first big alluring curveball of Kirby Super Star comes in the form of The Great Cave Offensive, which is – quite simply – its best, longest, and most challenging game; a quest that is so flooring in its greatness that it is utterly dumbfounding Nintendo has never approached that gameplay style again. In it, Kirby – figuratively – puts on his Indiana Jones explorer hat and dives into the depths of a cave that is packed with sixty treasures, and the finding of all of them is bound to demand more than four hours even out of experienced players.
Although individually the portions of such cave do not stray considerably away from what one expects from a Kirby stage, what makes The Great Cave Offensive totally unique is its structure. It is one uninterrupted chain of rooms where the goal is not to simply get to the end (although it does have a finish line and a big bad boss), but to track down the treasure chests by finding secret passages, solving puzzles, activating switches, and – in a couple of unexpected instances – forcing players to, Metroid-style, go back to inhale specific enemies and use their abilities to move forward.
The Great Cave Offensive works wondrously, and not just because its segments are expertly designed and its environments shift drastically as Kirby advances. Firstly, many are the rooms that offer branching paths, therefore giving gamers plenty of chances to explore as they see fit. However, all these subdivisions are never overwhelming, as all forks usually have multiple doors that lead to individual self-enclosed rooms and one that paves the way to a new full-fledged area; as such, despite the fact The Great Cave Offensive lacks a map, one is never missed, because moving around the cave’s entrails is simple even in face of the place’s relative complexity. Secondly, treasures are stored in Kirby’s pouch in a predetermined order: the one in which they show up in the cave. Due to that, it is easy to know when a chest has been missed, as an open space will indicate its absence. Finally, The Great Cave Offensive has well-placed save points that allow players to take a break, or use all their lives, without losing their current position in the maze.
The second curveball of Kirby Super Star is Revenge of Meta Knight. As it happens in The Great Cave Offensive, what it offers in terms of stage design does not strongly deviate from the Kirby formula. The twist here, though, and what makes the game quite unique, is that – in it – the hero storms the Halberd, Meta Knight’s battleship. And, as he tries to bring it down by destroying each one of its vital components (from its wings to its reactor) the killing he performs, the platforming he executes, and the bosses he deals with are always accompanied by whimsical dialogue starring Meta Knight himself and, especially, his minions, who comically despair over how Kirby is obliterating their massive lines of defense while they try to come up with solutions to stop him, leading the character towards all sorts of traps.
In terms of gameplay, there is a strong action fast-paced tone to Revenge of Meta Knight, because all of its seven chapters are timed, and even though the timer is usually generous, it puts pressure on players to make decisions quickly and augments the level of difficulty, creating a pleasantly tense and urgent version of the commonly leisurely paced Kirby progression.
At last, and as the third delightfully odd perspective on the Kirby universe that is offered by Kirby Super Star, there is Milky Way Wishes. As the Sun and Moon are, for some reason, fighting in the skies above planet Popstar, the hero is sent on a journey across the galaxy to visit the comet Nova, who can stop the battle. To enlist his help, though, Kirby needs to first visit the wishing wells of the other seven planets (which are differently themed levels) of the system.
The quirk here is that Milky Way Wishes does not allow Kirby to steal an enemy’s ability when swallowing it; instead, on each planet, he will find trophies – usually well-hidden – that will add a specific skill to his arsenal, and after doing so players can simply, whenever they want, use the X button or enter the pause menu to activate any of the abilities they have acquired. Although the finding of all trophies is not required for one to clear the game, a few places are locked behind obstacles that require specific abilities. Due to that, Milky Way Wishes is as much about locating them as it is about beating seven stages and defeating the final boss, adding not just the component of thorough exploration to the Kirby gameplay, but also giving him full control over the order in which he will visit the planets.
When all of those different and satisfying modes are cleared – except for Megaton Punch and Samurai Kirby, which do not possess an actual ending – The Arena is unlocked, and it works as both a final challenge to those who make it that far and as a celebration of Kirby Super Star’s mountain of content, as it compiles all of its nineteen boss battles. In it, Kirby must choose from one of the game’s abilities and then go through all those combats without losing a single life.
To make the task feasible for normal humans, it is possible to, in-between battles, make use of a total of five healing items as well as select between two abilities – which are randomly picked from the available pool – in case players want to adapt their strategy for the upcoming boss, which is show on the screen. Having a human helper instead of a CPU-controlled one makes the task of beating The Arena easier, but regardless of whether players tackle it alone or with a friend, the mode amounts to a pretty solid test of skill, patience, and practice, coming off as a worthy conclusion to Kirby Super Star.
In the end, it is true that some of the pieces that constitute the package could have been slightly more developed so they could yield more value on their own, especially Spring Breeze and Dyna Blade, which are ultimately too short and simple. Still, the sum of its individual parts makes Kirby Super Star carry roughly the same amount of content found in regular Kirby games.
And its completely unique structure creates not just room for some pretty spectacular experiments with the franchise’s formula, which always come through in providing gamers with a very enjoyable experience, but also makes this particular installment exude a playful loose spirit that plays right into the hands of the carefree aura that has always been so present in Kirby’s adventures, taking it to unforeseen levels. As a result, Kirby Super Star is an utter delight that cannot be missed, and its wide palette of gameplay styles forges joyous moments with the same effectiveness that Kirby displays when he steamrolls helpless enemies that dare confront his might.