From the Archive: The Kirby Enigma

The Kirby series almost always churns out good games, but why do so many people dislike them?

By Mel Turnquist. Posted 10/14/2015 09:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

This article was originally published on June 25, 2012.

When it comes to many things in life, I’m usually either undecided or I change my mind every five minutes. It’s just the way I’ve always been. I hate giving definitive answers for anything– at least anything except for my favorite video game series. That answer always remains the same. It may come as a bit of a surprise to some folks who are disciples from the Church of Hardcore Gaming, but my favorite video game series is, without a doubt, the Kirby series.

I can’t quite describe why I love Kirby games. Maybe it’s the nostalgia I feel when 8-year-old me first played Kirby’s Adventure. Maybe it’s the fact that it was the only video game my mom didn’t mind me playing since it was “girly enough” (this was before she shrugged off my tomboyish nature as not a big deal). Or maybe it’s the fact that the games are always well done and always fun to play. There are many reasons, but I’ve never sat down once to think about why I love the Kirby series and what exactly makes it so great.

Until now.

So what does make the Kirby series so good? Well, let’s first look at the problems that most people seem to have with the series. There are a few flaws, but most of them are opinion-based rather than legitimate problems. Well, except for one, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

The first problem that seems to plague the series is that it’s too cutesy— it doesn’t have enough grittiness to go with it. Some folks like their video games more realistic and more along the lines of actual issues being dealt with rather than “some mice stole Kirby’s cake!” Which is fine. I basically say to this that there are far stupider plots in video game history than the silly things Kirby seems to be doing.

Kirby's Epic Yarn Artwork
Epic Yarn was a cute overload.

Another problem has to do with age. Kirby games are associated with the stigma of being “for babies” rather than anyone else. Yes, I’ll grant you that it can feel childish sometimes. Hell, even I cringe at the overly cutesy things in fear that someone will see I’m playing it and think I’m insane sometimes. I actually had my sister look over my DS games collections and scoff at me, asking why I like Kirby so much. It’s kind of unfortunate that it’s that way, but that’s how it is.

However, what’s probably the biggest problem of the series has to do more with its difficulty level. Let’s face it– most Kirby games are pretty damn easy. You could usually knock out a speed run of any Kirby game within a few hours. That can be frustrating for some gamers who really want to get their hands on something challenging. I would argue that some of the bosses in Kirby are deceptively hard, but that’s just opinion shining through here. In general, the games are pretty easy.

So despite having these problems, what exactly makes the Kirby series so good? What makes the fans of the game come back for more? What makes HAL Laboratories keep cranking them out? It’s because good games don’t just measure on difficulty (though it’s a pretty big factor sometimes), realism, or age demographic. The series is just very, very good. And there’s many reasons why it’s so good… However, I’ll focus on three that I think are very big but somewhat overlooked.

First off, the Kirby series has always been one of the most visually stunning game franchises. Even if the game is too easy, the graphics and the setting are always very fitting. Sure, they’re not realistic but they’re bright, colorful, and just fun to play through. Part of the reason for this is because a majority of the games tend to come out late in a console’s run. Back in 1993, I doubt many people would’ve believed that the graphics from Kirby’s Adventure were even possible to utilize on an 8-bit system like the NES. Then you have Kirby Super Star which looks pretty damn good for a Super NES game. And even though it wasn’t really late in its run, the graphics of Kirby’s Epic Yarn are easily some of the best graphics I’ve ever seen in a video game system. The entire series’ settings are like pure eye candy caked in sugar to look at. It’s just that good. And weirdly enough, there were some scenes that really felt like it was someone filming a real quilt or a real piece of cloth and animating a little yarn Kirby alongside it.

Another thing about the Kirby series is that it’s always been one of the more experimental Nintendo franchises. With Kirby Canvas Curse, for example, it was one of the first games to utilize the technology of DS, using the touch screen to move around this little ball version of Kirby all over the place. At times, it could get frustrating, but you can’t blame the series for at least trying something else. Kirby Mass Attack did pretty much the same thing, but used ten little Kirby fellows working together. Kirby’s also the one series that experiments with genre too. Sometimes, you can find yourself on a Metroidvania type game, while other times it could be just your standard platformer. Then there are the sports games disguised as Kirby games that come out of nowhere, and then there are the times when it’s everything all in one. It seems that Kirby’s never been afraid to step outside of its boundary lines, at least with respect to official genres.

This final reason is something I actually touched up on when I was writing a sample article as a sort of audition for Nintendojo. In that article, I did a sample review for Kirby’s Epic Yarn and expounded upon why it was okay that it was so easy– the concept of de-stress gaming. Kirby is one of those few series where the games just never fails to calm me down after a long day. A tiring day at work where I want to punch anybody who looks at me funny? Pop in some Kirby, I’m completely calmed down. Just got into an argument with a sibling? A little Kirby goes a long way into keeping me from exploding at everybody within plain sight. I mean, honestly, how can you stay so mad at the world after immersing yourself in the world of Pop Star or Yarn World?! Even if it may be an impossibly hard task, you find it hard to even stay mad about it.

If only Nintendo licensed Kirby stress balls as well…

The Kirby series has bestowed upon us some fantastic games over the span of the past 20 years. It’s defied modern gaming stereotypes as being a fun and cutesy game but not quite insulting the audience. The Kirby series is a lot like the way we all function as human beings, contradictory yet consistent. It’s always changing yet still stays the same; it’s familiar yet new. It never ceases to amaze me how the little pink fluff ball can still star in games without having to sacrifice any of his cuteness or adapt to a more modern era (let’s forget about the anime for the moment); and for the past 19 years or so (I missed out on the first year– cut me some slack! I was 7!) I’ve been an unabashed fan.

Maybe I haven’t quite figured out the enigma and why it’s so enjoyable yet confounding, but that’s all right. Kirby games aren’t supposed to make you think about life’s deepest questions, and that’s fine by me. So here’s to Kirby and may he keep sucking and eating for years to come!

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