Nintendo has always been successful in giving its biggest franchises distinct identities that set them apart. The company has created games for over 30 years and it has maintained a uniqueness unlike any other. Do you want a widely accessible adventure that’s creative and beloved by all ages? Any Mario game has you covered. Grand space bounty hunter epics with occasionally brutal difficulty? Metroid is the series for you. Perhaps you’re in the mood for a sprawling fantasy with distinct medieval elements and the occasional cartoony feel. The Legend of Zelda has exactly what you want. There is no company quite like Nintendo, and there is no Nintendo game quite like another. This is how the company has been able to maintain a creative relevance to become the longest lasting major developer currently in the business.
No matter what Nintendo creates though, they have always presented themselves as a very family friendly company. All of their biggest properties are marketed to a wide swath of demographics, equally covering adults who grew up with the games and children who need something simple to latch onto. It also helps that all of their different games have one main connection: their style. With the Metroid series as the only outlier, all Nintendo developed titles are presented as cartoony and fun. How extreme that is depends on the property of course. The Legend of Zelda, despite having more than a handful of silly elements, is arguably the least extreme based on its history. I mean, you can’t explore the apocalypse and call that silly. What’s the most extreme? There are a few contenders, but that claim to fame easily belongs to Kirby.
Every single thing about Kirby oozes cute, colorful, and happy fun. When Kirby’s Dream Land first came to the Game Boy in 1992, graphical limitations prevented it from adopting this style early. You can’t exactly use term like “colorful” to describe monochrome. Yet the silliness was there with the protagonist, the titular Kirby, as this malleable ball of something and the infectiously cheery music as you traveled through lands like Whispy Woods. Dream Land’s gameplay set the Kirby series apart from very beginning too. This wasn’t your typical platformer that featured jumping on enemies and trying to reach a set goal. Kirby was essentially a living bag of air, which meant a lot of the game featured floating around to reach your destination. Kirby’s main method of defeating enemies was literally inhaling them too. You could either spit out what you just consumed to kill other baddies, or swallow them. The former method is how you fought the bosses, which consisted of a tree, a floating cloud with spikes, other little puff balls, and a floating airship, all leading to King Dedede, a penguin-like creature. Creator Masahiro Sakurai intended for Dream Land to be a simple game that anyone can play, and he obviously succeeded.
Improving technology allowed Kirby to further cement its identity as Nintendo’s preeminent cartoony series. For starters, 1993’s Kirby’s Adventure revealed to international audiences that Kirby was actually pink. This meant that the protagonist was a perpetually smiling pink bag of air that mainly defeated enemies through inhalation. Kirby’s Adventure also introduced Kirby’s ability to copy what his enemies can do through eating them. It’s a feature that has followed Kirby since. Once Kirby’s Adventure became a big success, Nintendo sought to give this series an even broader appeal. This lead to several spin-off games that weren’t platformers at all. Kirby’s Pinball Land was obviously about pinball with Kirby as the ball. Kirby’s Dream Course was a golf game also with Kirby as the ball. Kirby’s Avalanche was a puzzle game that didn’t have Kirby as the ball. It’s a true credit to Nintendo that they could find so much early inspiration from a walking orb.
It’s this creativity that has defined Kirby to this day. The newest installment is Kirby and The Rainbow Curse, which came out on the 20th for the Wii U. In this game, Kirby is a ball of clay that can only be moved by the player using the Wii U’s stylus to draw rainbow lines. Only in Kirby can you find this unique level of artistry. Yet Rainbow Curse is hardly something different for longtime fans. Kirby has gone to these heights many times before. In fact, Rainbow Curse is a sequel to 2005’s Canvas Curse on the Nintendo DS. Then you have Kirby’s Air Ride for the Gamecube, which is the only Kirby racing game to date. Kirby’s Epic Yarn which, despite being a normal platformer, is different because the entire world, including Kirby itself, is made through knitted cloth and yarn. Lastly, going even farther back was Kirby’s Tilt ‘n’ Tumble, a 2001 release for the Game Boy Color that required you to physically shift the system to move Kirby. This was done through an accelerometer built-in to the cartridge.
I can’t honestly remember the last time I bought a new Kirby game. It might actually be Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, an amazing game that came out 15 years ago. I still hold that entry in very high regard with Kirby’s ability to combine enemy traits as a personal favorite. Why I haven’t participated in the later releases likely stems from having so many other things to play. Yet no matter what fills my library, Kirby’s Dream Land will always have a big place in my history because it was one of the first games I can recall actually beating. You know how kids are, playing whatever and never following through to completion. Somehow I was able to focus on Dream Land long enough to defeat Dedede, which I consider both a credit to myself and Sakurai for creating such a masterfully accessible game. The excitement I felt when those credits rolled is unforgettable, and a sense of pride washed over me when my friends were even impressed with this. Thank you Dream Land for giving me one of my earliest wins.
Kirby is by far one of Nintendo’s most recognizable properties. It took the company’s signature style and brought it to a successful extreme. This is Nintendo at its most cartoony, bright, silly, and colorful. Everything about this property fits the bill with its pink and fluffy protagonist as the perfect figurehead. Kirby can kick some major ass with a joyful smile and a cheery “Hi!”. Kirby and The Rainbow Curse is hardly a deviation from the norm when you consider the series history. Nintendo will always use Kirby to get extra creative, and you can bet we have many years ahead of us of goofy pink fun.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.