I’m often at my most cognitively productive when I’m trying to sleep. My eyes open, my brow furrows, and I debate grabbing my phone and jotting down notes in a Google Doc or something—so my Totally Awesome Ideas don’t disappear upon waking, like Koholint Island. The gears in my head started turning, I posed a question to Twitter…everything pointed towards my next contribution here being concerned with Final Boss music. But then…
I think a handful of you recognize Zero Two from Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards. If you recognize its appearance, I think the music that plays during the fight is easily recalled as well. If you skipped Kirby 64, you may have heard Koji Hayama’s arrangement in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. I originally wanted to focus on this melody all by itself; how it stands in a pretty stark contrast with the rest of the game’s music. I wanted to expand upon this idea of the sort of melancholy finale to an otherwise whimsical platformer. Kirby’s not the first series to do it, after all.
And that’s what brought me here. While I sat down to try and talk about something tangentially related to gaming’s most versatile “marshmallow”, he’s kind of Warp Starred his way to the top of my mind. I know there are a handful of great “History of Kirby” articles out there. But I’m going to spin a different thread, and try to discuss my history with Kirby. Why has a character whose simplicity is epitomized right before the title screen of his NES debut…influenced my creative output and positive outlook in the ways that he has?
I’ve always been enamored with what video games were capable of doing—the stories they could tell, the worlds they could create. A lot of the things that pulled me towards games writing are found in RPGs like Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest. But platformers have often been what mixed my creative juices as a kid.
My first ever encounter with Kirby’s Dream Land started out as a fun pastime, sure. I wasn’t very good. I’d typically Game Over around the fight with Kracko back in the early nineties, when I first got my Game Boy. But we’re talking about a younger Jonathan that, for the longest time, didn’t even know you could push enemies with a shield in Link’s Awakening.
Before long, I started drawing pictures of Kracko and other enemies from Kirby’s ventures, hoping that drawing them would somehow give me the upper hand in battle. There was always a point, when I put pencil to paper. I recognized how simple the designs were to draw, and wondered if the people who made Kirby knew how smart they were when they brought these designs to life on that dragon-green Game Boy screen. That was as far as I got with my thoughts about Kirby’s Dream Land, as a kid: a reverence towards creators whose identities I didn’t know. Wondering if I could follow in their footsteps when I grew up. I freaking adored the music, too!
It wasn’t until Kirby’s Dream Land 2 that I knew I’d probably still be playing these games twenty years later. If I could put on my moderately old man hat, briefly: growing up in the modern era is different from what my life was like as a kid. I didn’t have a strategy guide, YouTube, or GameFAQs to help me find the game’s Rainbow Drops. Heck, I didn’t even know that Rainbow Drops were what those things were called! I just knew there was a musical cue that indicated these were important, and that it often took a Copy Ability plus some dang trickery to get to them. The amount of smarts and guesswork that it took for a seven-year-old to find all of those things on his own… left me with an immense sense of pride and accomplishment when it was all over. I didn’t know what to expect when it was all over.
I had to wait a bit to find out, because my batteries died right as I beat the final stage with the Rainbow Drop in hand. I was excited as heck, and politely asked if I could be driven to the store to spend some of my allowance on batteries. Mom chastised me for having strong feelings about a Kirby game. (I think a lot of the Internet shares her mentality.) But all that grief and waiting was so worth it because the Dark Matter theme is phenomenal, and….Kirby goes into space and has a freaking GIGANTIC SWORD! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
Two strong sentiments are what drew me to Dream Land 2. The triumph I just described…and the fact that I was super attached to Kirby’s animal buddies. Rick the hamster was definitely my favorite of the three. And I always felt Kine was the underdog. I’ve immortalized them both, in childhood works of art. The former was fun to draw…and I thought the latter would be easy enough to make a ceramic version of, in my elementary school art class. My artistic brilliance is truly peerless.
I skipped the Super Nintendo. So I didn’t end up playing Kirby’s Dream Land 3, Kirby’s Dream Course, or Kirby Super Star until this past console generation, via the Wii Virtual Console and a DS remake or two. I’d also missed out on the existence of Kirby’s Adventure entirely… not really sure how or why. And that brings us to where I started, writing this. See: Kirby 64 was fun all by itself. There was a freaking fire-sword, and you could run around with a double-sided lightsaber like it was Star Wars. The game is consistently happy and positive. There was this moment, that hinted at something sinister underneath all of it. But the fight against Zero Two is really the first time where it dawned on younger me…that Kirby games definitely could have a creepy side to them. Dream Land 3 is honestly way more unsettling than most people give it credit for, now that I’ve played it a few times. The whole Dark Matter Trilogy that started with Dream Land 2 has some… ambiguous notes, just like the man behind them.
Kirby hasn’t aged like Sonic, one of my other childhood “heroes”. Even if I’m not necessarily a fan of some choices HAL Laboratory has made in the past, I can confidently say I’ve never played a bad Kirby game. Starting a brand new adventure, or replaying ones I’ve mastered in the past, is like taking a Warp Star back to childhood. The reason I have such strong feelings about Dream Land and the critters all around it is because its simplicity reminds me both of how things used to be, and how far I’ve come. The ease of access that Kirby games have allowed my fiancée to play through them, and see the things that made my childhood that much brighter with her own eyes. There are so many small, subtle ways that a silly pink circle with feet…can make unique impressions on you, if you’re not careful.
I won’t lie. I cried when Satoru Iwata died. Over time, I’d come to develop a deeper knowledge of the folks who helped create Kirby games as I knew them, along with my omnipresent reverence. That man had a hand in every game—and, indirectly, every moment—I’ve just spent so long writing about. As a way to properly honor him, and cope with the loss I felt… I played every Kirby game I could get my hands on last year, over the month of July. As an adult, and for once not looking through the nostalgic lens I usually do, I was able to pinpoint how and where the series and character of Kirby have evolved. I made note of its paradigm shifts as I played, and came away from my endeavor with quite possibly the greatest amount of respect I’ve ever had for the series.
That brings me to Kirby: Planet Robobot. It’s the most recent game in the series, and the last one Mr. Iwata will ever oversee. You can read my import review from back in April, if you want a few thousand words about how great that game is. But in summation, and as the proper way to cap off my thoughts about Kirby as a whole: Robobot is triumphant. I cannot think of a better example in my long history with video games where, by the end, I thought…
“You know? If this is the last Kirby game that’s ever made…and the franchise that’s dang near as old as I am decides to fold, after this? I’d be kind of sad, yeah. But I’d honestly be so happy it ended on the highest possible note.” Some of you may feel differently—but gosh. I feel like Robobot is Kirby’s finest hour. Its over-the-top nature seemed to honor Iwata and series fans at almost every conceivable turn.
I hope I still get to play and be inspired by these games for a very long time to come. Maybe I’ll revisit this writing when the next traditional game comes out and proves that HAL still has even more room to grow, after something that captivated me as much as Robobot did. More than anything, I just wanted to put these thoughts out into the universe…as an attempt to answer anyone who’s ever wondered why I care so much about Kirby, and about what the people who make his games do next.