Celebrating the Ingenuity of Kirby

The best of Kirby’s outside-the-box game design!

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 08/05/2016 10:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

Kirby has been seeing quite a bit of love in recent months, with Kirby: Planet Robobot hitting 3DS in June and a trio of classic Kirby titles launching on the Wii U and New 3DS Virtual Consoles this past week. It’s oddly fitting that a character who’s famous for copying the abilities of his enemies should be so adept at meshing with such a wide variety of different game types. Kirby Mass Attack is a great example of this; not only is the adventure an entirely touchscreen-driven affair, but it also eschews Kirby’s ability mimicking altogether! Yet, despite playing so very differently from the pink puffball’s traditional 2D platformers, it remains very much a “Kirby” game, or to be clearer, it has all the familiar hallmarks in tow that make the series so fun. In recognition of the ingenuity found in so many Kirby titles, let’s take a look back at some of the most memorable gameplay moments in the characters numerous adventures!

Copy Abilities

Kirby’s Adventure (NES, 1993)

The first moment of ingenuity worth noting is also one of the earliest: the first time Kirby ever showed off his copy abilities! It’s easy to take for granted now, but back when Kirby’s Adventure game launched on NES, fans had only ever played Kirby’s Dream Land on Game Boy, which didn’t feature the character’s signature move. Sucking in an enemy and stealing their special ability was quite a shock and fun to experiment with; in fact, it still is!

Kirby x Gradius

Kirby: Planet Robobot (3DS, 2016)

This got me grinning ear to ear when I encountered it for the first time. Kirby’s mech Robobot Armor was already a thrill to pilot, but when I finally activated the Jet ability… well, I had no idea what I was in for. Suddenly, Kirby became airborne, and the game transformed into a shooter similar to titles like R-Type and Gradius. The on-rails segments were a real highlight, interjecting a sense of speed and action unlike any I’d ever experienced in a Kirby title. In a game bursting at the seams with fresh ideas, this was a huge highlight of Kirby: Planet Robobot.

Yarn Kirby

Kirby’s Epic Yarn (Wii, 2010)

Kirby's Epic Yarn: Meta Knight battle

Developer Good-Feel had a brilliant idea one day; why not transform Kirby and his friends into versions of themselves made from yarn? Kirby’s Epic Yarn explored that idea quite thoroughly, reimagining the basic Kirby formula of gameplay utilizing new mechanics made possible with this unique aesthetic. Kirby lassoed and broke apart enemies, careened through environments that used nothing but thin strands of fabric to mimic everything from fire to water, and transformed into a variety of new shapes, all in this one game. It wasn’t the hardest title to beat, but Epic Yarn was an unforgettable piece of gaming ingenuity.

Kirby the Artist

Kirby: Canvas Curse (DS, 2005)

Like Mass Attack, Kirby: Canvas Curse was a game that revolved entirely around touch controls, but at the time of its release it was an especially risky proposition. DS and its touchscreen were a veritable unknown quantity when the system first launched and Nintendo was anxious to prove its viability as a gaming system. Canvas Curse was a masterful display of how much fun it could be to tap and swipe the bottom screen to play a game. Kirby rolled his way through the adventure, guided only by the colored lines that players traced across the touch screen. Even without legs, Kirby showed he could take gaming in a wonderful new direction!

Keep on Rolling

Kirby Tilt ‘n’ Tumble (Game Boy Color, 2001)

Canvas Curse wasn’t the first time that Kirby decided to roll his way through a game; the pink-hued hero has been known to turn into a ball on more than one occasion, and Kirby Tilt ‘n’ Tumble is a great example of that. While the rolling is interesting in its own right, what sets it over the edge here is how Kirby makes his way across the Game Boy Color screen. Namely, its the use of accelerometers built into the game cartridge itself that allowed players to tilt their handhelds to guide the character through each stage. Physically manipulating a Game Boy Color was a crazy way to play a game-and also insanely fun! There were rumblings of a sequel being worked on for GameCube, but sadly the game never saw the light of day.

The Air Rider

Kirby’s Air Ride (GameCube, 2003)

It’s a divisive game among fans, with some bemoaning its controls and others praising its unique gameplay, but there’s no arguing that Kirby’s Air Ride was an innovative racing title. The game boasted some of the most streamlined inputs of any racing game of the era; each race craft moved forward of its own volition, leaving players only to guide their racer with the control stick and perform all other functions with the A button. Breaking, charging boosts, and absorbing enemies were all performed via the A button, and resulted in a pleasing series of timing challenges and pattern recognition to get through each race. The antics of Air Ride were exciting and over the top, and suited the character well.

Those are some of our favorite examples of Kirby titles playing with expectations and dabbling in gameplay outside of the norm. Are there any games we missed? Tell us in the comments!

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