GameSpite Journal 10 | Kirby's Dream Land 3

Kirby’s Dream Land 3 | Dev.: HAL | Pub: Nintendo | Genre: Platformer | Release: Nov. 1997

Kirby’s Dream Land 3 probably ought to have been called Kirby’s Adventure 2. Oh, it’s definitely a sequel to Kirby’s Dream Land 2 in terms of mechanics, but its life cycle was almost exactly identical to that of Kirby’s Adventure. Where that game had been released on the NES well after the system had been made obsolete by the Super NES, so was Dream Land 3 launched a good year after the debut of the N64, at which point Nintendo had all but abandoned its 16-bit hardware.

And, like Kirby’s Adventure, Dream Land 3 felt like a direct response to its host system’s Mario library. Specifically, both games feel like they were designed to appeal to people who felt intimidated by the fact that Mario games seem so friendly and cute but ultimately are about nuts-and-bolts, white-knuckle platforming and aren’t afraid to test your skill. Kirby is softer, cuter, less challenging. The hero has an expansive life meter and a ridiculous array of powers at his disposal. Bosses have simple patterns and obvious weaknesses. In short, it’s Mario defanged.

Kirby may be toothless, but by god is his world cute. If Kirby’s Adventure was Super Mario Bros. 3 for your younger siblings, Dream Land 3 could be seen as My First Yoshi’s Island. Not that it necessarily plays like Yoshi’s Island, but the visual style -- all shimmering crayon marks and pastel colors—seem directly derived from Nintendo’s final 16-bit masterpiece. It lacks the technical ambition of the earlier work, and there are no Super FX 2-powered effects to make your eyes pop out and spin in delight.

What Dream Land 3 possesses in spades is pure, unrelenting charm. As in Dream Land 2, the hero’s standard arsenal (a dozen or so skills acquired by swallowing enemies and temporarily absorbing their powers) is supplemented by a host of animal pals who can team up with Kirby and serve as modifiers to those skills. Grab a skill and the results of that power-up mutate considerably depending on which companion you’re traveling with. The needle power makes Kirby change into a bundle of spikes on his own, but with the pink blob companion he blasts out a ring of spikes; with the sparrow he fires a huge spike downward; with the little green bird he darts forward automatically destroying all in his path.

These cuddly pals don’t simply provide most of Dream Land 3’s personality -- pick one companion and the others nearby affect tearful or stunned expressions at being jilted by Kirby -- but also a great deal of its replayability. The skill modification concept enabled by Kirby’s allies would be explored more explicitly in Kirby 64, but this is by far the better game, as it’s easier to swap between skills and different combinations completely change how you approach each stage. Kirby and pal can also team up with some kind of weird AI-controlled shadow blob that Kirby can disgorge and reabsorb, although that thing is weird and tends to undermine the game’s secondary objectives.

Those secondary objectives are another element that helps make Dream Land 3 one of the most replayable Kirby titles ever. At the end of each stage is an NPC who will give Kirby a special award for performing a specific task -- though the nature of those tasks is never stated explicitly, meaning it’s up to the player to deduce and fulfill their unvoiced demands. This ranges from finding hidden items to not trampling certain flowers, and makes for a far more creative approach to completist challenges than the mundane widget-collecting that was in vogue at the time.

But you never hear people praising Dream Land 3 for its creativity and ingenuity, do you? Kirby’s lot in life, it seems, is to be Nintendo’s prophet, without honor in his time. Such a pity.

By Jeremy Parish? | May 15, 2012 | Previous: Harvest Moon | Next: Rockman & Forte