Kirby’s Dreamland represented just about the perfect Game Boy game: simple but solid gameplay, large, easy-to-see characters on the low-resolution portable screen, and a brief playtime ideal for replay whenever one had the time. So it made a lot of sense for Nintendo to continue the little puffball’s story. It wasn’t uncommon for hit NES games to make the leap to Game Boy via downscaled sequels or even direct-as-possible ports. Less common, however, was original Game Boy content showing up on more advanced consoles, which made it somewhat of a surprise when Nintendo released 8-bit Kirby’s Adventure nearly two years into the Super Nintendo’s lifespan. More than a simple enhanced port, a smorgasborg of new gameplay features allowed Kirby’s second outing to soar with 16-bit giants.
The most obvious addition was, of course, color. The world (re: Nintendo’s package designers) now had to accept that Kirby was a big pink bundle-of-tough rather than the cloud-like white orb we’d all assumed he was in monochrome. Equally obvious, though, was the addition of enemy powers that Kirby could adapt for personal use (many of which would carry on through his subsequent adventures).
In the original, Kirby could swallow his foes and then spit them back out, not unlike a certain green dinosaur. However, in giving Kirby a full-scale adventure, Nintendo expanded on this idea and allowed the little guy to assume the traits and abilities of ingested foes. Given that this was an NES game, most would assume only a handful of enemies granted abilities. In a pleasant twist, however, one could count enemies that didn’t on one hand and still have fingers for change.
Kirby’s moveset wasn’t the only aspect of the game that expanded, either. Kirby’s Dreamland only lasted four stages. In contrast, Adventure had eight whole worlds, each with more than a handful of stages, themselves full of variety and often as long as the original’s. Kirby navigated between stages in a brand new world map, which also offered opportunities to play minigames such as quick-draw or visit museums for specific enemy abilities. Kirby’s Adventure was so much larger than Dreamland that the developers even fit an homage to the entirety of the Game Boy title in a single stage of World 8. It would have been easy for HAL’s designers to find a simple dial-a-level template and create a zillion repetitive levels to add length, but fortunately this wasn’t the case.
To go along with Kirby’s varied moves, the stage design rose in complexity to account for the myriad options he might bring to a level. Diagonal platforms simultaneously became ramps for Wheel, methods to aim Laser, and inclines to launch Stone attacks. Noticing the various ways a stage element could affect Kirby, attentive players could plan their powers accordingly and unlock hidden areas... which in turn unlocked new areas of that world’s map. As a result, players could enjoy blowing through levels freely with whatever powers they pleased, then return to explore every square inch by truly exploiting the game’s system.
Kirby began his life as a placeholder sprite who was then given loads of personality. But when that charm made him a star, Nintendo didn’t simply sign him up for a return engagement—they rethought every aspect of “Kirby” and delivered a console debut that fleshed out and expanded every bit of Dreamland. This set a precedent, making Kirby arguably the most versatile character in Nintendo’s pantheon. The pink thing can adapt to any gameplay style or quirky idea, and not just hold his own, but excel with imagination and charm. Time and again, when Mario and Link show up to make gamers feel comfortable, Kirby proves he’s ready for anything.