Wednesday, January 28

Kirby Super Star: You Are What You Eat

Kirby's Dreamland 2 is one of the first games I ever owned.  I don't remember it that much anymore, but it was the kind of game I'd play for hours and hours.  I must have drained well over a hundred AA Batteries into my Game Boy playing it.  It was pleasant and refreshing to go back to that feeling with Kirby Super Star.
The game has more to it than I expected.  There are three story modes, a gigantic exploration mode, a samurai duel minigame, and more.  But the main thrust of the Kirby games has always been the enemies.  Not because their AI is revolutionary, but because it doesn't have to be.  Kirby obtains different powers and control schemes by swallowing his enemies, but can only have one power set at a time.  So the game is designed around small puzzles that involve having specific enemy powers, and varies the placement of those power granting enemies to create challenge. isn't to say the design is perfect, or even the best it could be.  Enemies have a habit of already have attacks fully charged when you enter a room, so you get blindsided by massive damage, and forced scrolling sections speed and slow unpredictably, meaning you will be crushed by the side of the screen at least once.
But this idea appeals a lot to me.  It seems like a really impressive game could be made around it.  And Kirby Super Star is impressive.  But like Yakuza 3, it may have too much.  There are 25 different powers and over 50 different enemies.  That's a lot to try to program uniquely in the 16 bit era.  Remembering the Game Boy and Dreamland 2 (and looking it up on the Kirby Wiki, there's a wiki for everything), there are only 7 powers.  In Kirby 64 The Crystal Shards, each power can be combined with each other for a second tier effect.  You can't design around those kind of numbers.  Not equally.  Somethings are going to be useless garbage and a scant few become cream of the crop.  It's like if Magic: The Gathering endeavoured to make even a single format where every card was at least playable.  Never happening.
Again, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it means that a lot of time and energy that could have been spent on refining base elements was put into elements of the game you don't like.  Having more time to understand, play, and master would have been greatly appreciated.  Kirby has a steep difficulty curve around the midpoint.  Where the first 3 modes are all easily doable, The Great Cave Offensive is bananas, and the kind of bananas that doesn't draw me in.  I can't deal with the constant barrage of attacks and enemies as well as I can in a Souls game or even in a modern shooter.  Yes, design principles have developed a lot from where Kirby started and even owe something to the little pink puffball, but the real power of the game, the fun of wacky powers and mastering all their moves, gets a touch hazy when I'm trying to keep lava and spikes out of my face.

Next time on 100 Games 2015: To The Moon, available on Steam.

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