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Retro Review: Kirby’s Adventure (NES)

Well, for Retro Reviews, I gotta be honest. Much like reading, I see no reason in not experiencing the classics. There are simply too many great games to waste my time with sub-par, or even just good, games when I am talking about Retro Reviews. So, we are going right for the top shelf: my Forever Games. The games which have honest-to-goodness changed me.

Alright. Game one: Kirby’s Adventure.

It was the NES’s swan song, nailing the coffin closed on what would be the first breakout success of gaming. When it was released in 1993, the SNES was already a year and half old and people had moved on. And yet, there I was, cemented in the 8-bit generation, my parents not having the spare cash to buy me a Super Nintendo. I played my NES every day and I loved it; it was my best friend for a long while.

Likewise, when I think of that old Nintendo, grey and red, I think of Kirby’s Adventure. It is a game that, above all else, captures the 8-bit generation for me. In it you are the titular Kirby and you are on the titular Adventure. The dreams of Dreamland’s inhabitants have been corrupted by Nightmare and, to stop him from becoming all-powerful, King Dedede breaks the magical Star Wand and scatters its pieces. You must reassemble the Star Wand and fight Nightmare.

Like that–a pink, adorable blob–you are set free into Dreamland. Like most games of the era, the story is not the strong suit here. Rather, the illusion (and reality) of great exploration takes center stage. Firstly, the art direction in this game is flawless. Still. It holds up immensely well, with the original Nintendo’s processors barely able to contain all that parallax. There is the tangible, definite quality of passion and love cutely pinned onto every asset in the game. The third world, Butter Building (yuck), has you literally scaling a tower into the very cosmos, while the sixth, Orange Ocean, is beachy at sunset. After all, if it was to give a console’s closing remarks, it had to come dressed up. And Kirby’s Adventure puts on the ritz, baby.

As you move along, the explorative elements open up.  Each world, with its own distinct look, is self-contained yet open-ended.  Play a level, open another, perfect it and open a secondary attraction like a museum or battle arena. There is a balance of thrust and pull, one goading you forward while the other wanting you to return to those unperfected levels. Similarly, those attractions, whether they’re a quick draw contest (with guns, not pencils) or a crane prize game, have multiple levels of difficulty to master. As you gather the Star Wand’s pieces, you will never be at a loss of things to do.

Somehow, I’ve gotten this far without mentioning the gameplay’s hook. I guess I assumed everyone knows what Kirby does. Maybe not?

Kirby is not a typical hero. He’s fat, soft, pink and omg2cute (the intro instructs you how to doodle him by saying “First, you draw a circle…”).  In addition to being able to fly away from any danger, Kirby can eat anything. By doing this, he takes on enemy powers.  This is where the secondary layer of exploration enters. Some instances require you to mix and match, swap back and forth, or come prepared with specific abilities. Discovering that hammers hammer posts, or that fire ignites fuses, or that wheels allow you to speed over gaps were all jaw-dropping for me when I was younger. Gaming facilitated imagination.

I have also yet to honestly touch on the multi-faceted approach to the game itself. You can play these numerous mini-games, unlock additional modes and extras, make boss runs and more.  It is a big game, squeezing every last byte out of the 6 megabit storage. The gameplay, as incredibly rock-solid as it is, will always take a back seat. But, heck, who cares? Do you remember mechanics or moments?

Kirby’s Adventure is a game that I will play forever. I own it in every single iteration it has ever been released in, from original barely-functioning NES cartridges with worn stickers to the new 3D rerelease on the 3DS. I can beat it without effort and I know it intimately. Still, I find myself surprised at how well it works to this day. It’s a game that helped me dream, so, in that way, I guess Kirby’s adventure was truly successful.

Making games as good as this is, simply put, a lost art. While we run around trying to make a perfectly sellable product, Kirby’s Adventure nails what is singularly most important: it makes me feel good. It makes me feel young and it makes me feel brave, possibilities brimming overfull in a brew of whimsy and mystery. It’s a perfect game; it is my favorite game. It is why I game.  Thank you, Kirby, and your wonderful adventure.


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