Retro(spective) 10-Kirby’s Dream Land

Kirby came to be because videogames were just becoming too challenging. Nintendo wanted to craft a game that would cater to new players, with an easier level of difficulty and a focus on fun. Enter HAL Laboratory and designer Masahiro Sakurai, the fine people responsible for the Kirby we know and love today. Though Kirby might have started life on the Game Boy, he’s become a massively influential Nintendo character and continues to blaze trails with original, unique gamesKirby‘s Dream Land might be a little different from Kirby’s later adventures, but it’s still a solid title that helped define the character and established the basics of the series’ gameplay.

Kirby began life as the blissful character Popopo in the concept for a game called Twinkle Popo. While not terribly different in looks from what would become KDL, Nintendo decided to modify the name and elements of its gameplay to better suit their vision for the title. Kirby’s simplicity is well-known, but he is also apparently quite drawn to music. The developers included Kirby’s dancing at the end of each stage as a way of demonstrating this. In fact, Sakurai was so adamant about showing this aspect of Kirby’s personality that they fought system memory limits to make it happen!

One of the legends that surrounds KDL is the origin of Kirby’s signature pink hue. There are a couple of rumors floating around as to why Kirby is colored the way he is, but there doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer. One version of the story is that when the game was being localized for the US, marketers at Nintendo of America didn’t know what color Kirby was supposed to be. They’d apparently only seen black and white game footage and determined that white must be the character’s color; thus the white Kirby on the game’s box! The other version of the story is that white was a compromise because Shigeru Miyamoto and Sakurai couldn’t agree on what color the character should be. Miyomoto wanted Kirby yellow, while Sakurai wanted pink. Perhaps the yellow Kirby in Kirby and the Amazing Mirror was Sakurai’s way of smoothing things over with Miyamoto when pink won out?

KDL is a 2D platformer and is littered with enemies who prefer meandering as opposed to actively trying to assault Kirby. The docile nature of the game’s foes keeps the pressure off by letting players take their time learning Kirby’s abilities. Not that there were too many moves to learn, as Kirby was limited to inhaling/exhaling bad guys and flying in his debut. Not having copy abilities might seem detrimental, but KDL is surprisingly engaging despite this omission. The simplified combat let’s the player focus on breezing through levels and taking in the game’s charming cast of characters.

What a cast it is, as KDL introduced quite a few mainstays that are still causing trouble today. The iconic Whispy Woods is the first stage’s boss, and the adorable Waddle Dees and Doos came bumbling into the spotlight, too. Most important of all, though, has to be uber-series villain King Dedede. The final fight with Dedede is probably one of the most iconic boss battles on the Game Boy, with he and Kirby duking it out on a boxing ring. It was the perfect introduction to their rivalry and a heck of a way to end a fun game.

KDL has the best music of any game in the series. The tunes are catchy, vibrant, and perfectly accentuate each stage. There’s a whimsical quality to the music in Kirby’s games these days, but nothing comes close to this first game’s soundtrack. I really wish Nintendo would go back to the sort of sound that KDL has, as it’s pleasant but not overly “kiddy”. I’d recommend the game purely for people to hear the music, frankly!

KDL is a wonderful game that has effortlessly withstood the passing of time. New players will enjoy being able to tackle a platformer without blistering difficulty while seasoned players will have fun scouring for secrets and blasting through stages. The game’s monochrome graphics are charming, the soundtrack is catchy, and the whole experience will help you understand just why Kirby was so quickly embraced by fans everywhere. KDL is thankfully widely available these days. If you can find a copy to play on an old Game Boy… more power to you. Go check out Kirby’s origins; it’s perfect to play sitting under a tree as summer fades!

Released 1992. Developed by HAL Laboratory, published by Nintendo.

Kirby’s Dream Land is available on the Game Boy. It is also available via download from the 3DS eShop and is included as part of Kirby’s 20th Anniversary Dream Collection on the Wii.

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