Retro Scope: Kirby’s Pinball Land

Kirby’s got the balls for an underappreciated pinball classic!

By Jake Shapiro. Posted 05/08/2014 09:00 2 Comments     ShareThis

Kirby is truly the king of spin-offs. While Mario takes the spotlight for his karting, golfing, and party outings, Kirby hasn’t been afraid to try new things since the early days in his career. With over a dozen core platformers in the Kirby series since his Kirby’s Dream Land debut in 1992, there have been nearly as many wildly different spin-offs, from Kirby’s Avalanche to Kirby Tilt ‘n’ Tumble, none of which have had their own direct sequels. Even among the core platformers, Kirby’s gone through all sorts of different play styles, from a collection of minigames in Kirby Super Star to a stylus-controlled ball in Kirby: Canvas Curse to a woolly adventure in Kirby’s Epic Yarn. Trying new things is part of Kirby’s DNA.

Perhaps Kirby’s most under-appreciated adventure of all is his very first spin-off: Kirby’s Pinball Land, released in 1993 on Game Boy… only a year after his debut in Dream Land. Kirby is a ball, after all, so it makes perfect sense to hit him with flippers for bonus multipliers. While many pinball spin-offs are outsourced to studios that specialize in pinball games, Kirby’s Pinball Land was helmed by Kirby creators HAL Laboratory, with the legendary Masahiro Sakurai in the director’s chair. Hardcore pinball fans often complain that video game pinball doesn’t come anywhere close to replicating real pinball; HAL clearly realized this, and instead of trying to add drab realism to Kirby’s Pinball Land, it created a sprawling, whimsical game that could never be accomplished in real life. And it works, in a quirky Kirby sort of way.

Kirby’s Pinball Land features some of that charming early Kirby box art, before Nintendo had nailed down what Kirby’s “look” would be (and before it decided Western audiences need Kirby to be angry on all the box art). The game opens with a short cutscene: the Kirbster’s just minding his own business, when suddenly the nefarious King Dedede plops out of the sky and lands right on our hero. Dedede conjures massive pinball bumpers out of thin air and escapes. Naturally, Kirby retracts his limbs into his body like a turtle and becomes a perfect pinball to give chase. And that’s it. That’s all the gripping story Kirby’s Pinball Land needs as an excuse to exist.

What ensues is a vague retelling of Kirby’s Dream Land across three pinball boards, each controlled by one of Kirby’s iconic foes: Whipsy Woods, Kracko, and Poppy Bros. Sr. Each board consists of three sections and a boss stage. Each section presents a goofy challenge to get Kirby up to the next one, like saving hatching chicks from kidnappers or scoring soccer goals against a squid goalie, and there are bonus levels for Kirbs to gulp down extra points. All the stages feature Kirby’s trademark cute (and very creepy) foes from the main Kirby series. In true Kirby fashion, the game is warm and welcoming to newbies, but some of the boss levels can be infuriatingly difficult.

Pinball is the perfect game for a handheld platform like Game Boy– you can pick it up and play it for five minutes, but it’s so addicting you’ll find yourself playing for an hour. It’s a meaty package to fit inside one tiny Game Boy Game Pak; as Nintendo’s first pinball spin-off of a major franchise, Kirby’s Pinball Land would lay the blueprint for later classics like Pokémon Pinball on Game Boy Color (which uses the same game engine) and perhaps the most under-appreciated of all, Metroid Prime Pinball on DS. You can pick up Kirby’s Pinball Land for $3.99 on the 3DS eShop, or this month you can get it for free through Club Nintendo for a scant 150 points. You know you want to.

2 Responses to “Retro Scope: Kirby’s Pinball Land

  • 702 points
    Matthew Tidman says...

    I remember spending hours playing this game. It was definitely a fun, though not realistic, pinball game. It’s definitely worth picking up.

  • 819 points
    Toadlord says...

    I was very young when I had this game, and also not a very skilled gamer. I always appreciated that the game gave you a second chance after you fell through to the bottom if you timed your bounce right. It saved me a lot of frustration.

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