The Nintendo Issue

The Nintendo Issue
The Perfect Puffball

Tim Latshaw | 19 Apr 2011 13:48
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The "angry eyes" sometimes plastered on Kirby's North American box art have become the stuff of memes, but the art for Kirby's Dream Land went so far as to strip the puff of his signature pink, leaving him a neutral white. It was a monochrome title, so who back then would have known? The TV spot for Kirby's Dream Land appears equally out of place in retrospect, showing Kirby inhaling a stereotypically buff '90s cartoon hero and spitting him out as a half-digested mass . The commercial for Kirby's Adventure on the NES describes him as a "physical powerhouse" and a "weapons expert." And for Kirby's Dream Land 2? He takes out a bar of real-life, leather-clad bikers with his badass new friends: Rick the Hamster, Coo the Owl, and Kine the Fish.

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The ads score points for creative irony, but the bottom line - and the big risk - is that the commercials didn't follow the themes present in their corresponding games. Remember that Kirby was not immediately well known, and someone buying a game to play "level by nightmarish level," as one ad said, would instead end up knee-deep in Waddle Dees and little knights named "Sir Kibble."

There could have been disappointment, followed by rejection and slumping sales, leaving Kirby a two- or three-game footnote on western shores. Yet that didn't happen.

For all the supposed hand-wringing over proving Kirby to audiences as a viable character, the audiences picked up on his potential right off the bat. Flying under the highly popular and family-friendly banner of Nintendo at the time likely helped, but perhaps, once players cracked the shell of expectations around Kirby games, they discovered the games were very, very good for what they truly are.

Games intended for "beginners" are too often marred by weak design choices in an attempt to be too simple. On the other end of the spectrum, around the time of Kirby's Dream Land, there was no shortage of platformers that tried to be too complex and ended up with clunky or confusing control schemes (hit B+A at the same time to super jump? Really?).

HAL Laboratory, however, stuck to a philosophy of simple controls and a gorgeously crafted backdrop on which to employ them, using the limited specs of the Game Boy to render a world of puffy clouds, blooming plants and shooting stars. The result was a game that, while not terribly challenging for advanced gamers, looked and felt good. That in itself placed Kirby's Dream Land in esteemed company on the portable system. The next platformer capable of matching Kirby's responsiveness and aesthetic charm would emerge later that year: Super Mario Land 2.

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