Oh, fighting games. You’re the original mini-game genre, except you only have one mini-game and zero replay value. Before I forget, though, let me take the time to make a well-rounded joke about Kirby.
So here’s a recurring idea in fighting games: the doppelganger. Shang Tsung of Mortal Kombat fame is the original, though his predecessor Shinnok comes to mind too, as do, to a lesser extent, Charade and Olcadan of Soulcalibur fame. And even Ditto, if you wanted to play that game. Unlike these characters, though, Kirby is his own character within the Smash universe.
Bad Kirby! Bad, bad, bad!
What makes Kirby unique in Nintendo’s sick and twisted fighting world is that he really doesn’t focus on mimicry. Instead, his design is like that of any other character: he has his own attacks, combos and specials; it just happens that one of his specials involves expanding his mouth to the size of his body, infinitely inhaling with enough force to capture even a character of Bowser’s size, and then eating their heart and gaining their courage. And by courage, I mean fighting prowess. I may have played the super secret un-censored copy, though (and let me tell you, Samus’ smash is Glorious. Capital G, G).
Now, this decision by Nintendo– to not mimic Shang Tsung’s design, forcing all of Kirby’s moves to depend on his opponents– is genius. Think about it. There are 37 characters other than Kirby, and with the way Kirby is designed, playing his character wouldn’t be fun. Consistency wouldn’t exist. As it is, Kirby relies too heavily upon who he is fighting at the moment, and that detracts from his usefulness a lot. Not every character has a good ability to steal, and even though Kirby only loses one attack to gain access to 37 (if you’re including all of the very similar abilities, anyway; there are a lot of bow/gun attacks, after all), that lack of consistency hurts him in the end. You can never plan for his B move until the round has started, effectively costing him an attack, and since there are only three special attacks per character, losing even one is a massive amount.
Kirby Peach shall crush the last ounce of life from you, worthless Toad!
But then, that inconsistency can serve as a great boon; it’s hard to expect or plan for anything from coming from Kirby, as he can change moves on the fly. Granted, his stolen abilities aren’t enough to swing an entire fight, but they’re enough to change specific segments of a fight. For example, have you ever done an all-Kirby fight? It’s pretty awful and hilarious, all at the same time.
One question that came up when I started this article, and is also something I have yet to fully resolve, is whether or not Kirby’s mimicry is something beyond theft. What I mean is that there are some abilities which he steals and uses better than the original owner, due to his unique build and skill set. For example, since Kirby is so small and has little range, he does make better use of Ike’s signature bow than Ike himself; it augments Kirby’s play style in just the right way. This idea alone makes Kirby an interesting doppelganger and character in general. He stands out among the characters within his own universe, as well as those in all fighting genres. Sure, he’s a thief, but sometimes he has the ability to take a skill and use it better than the original owner, and that counts for a lot.
Badass Kirby. Badass, badass, badass…