Kirby's Dream Land

Developer: HAL
U.S. Publisher: Nintendo
U.S. Release: April 1992
Genre: Action
Format: Cartridge

Based on: Stripping the word "sucks" of its long-standing pejorative meaning.

Games | Game Boy | Kirby's Dream Land

By Cole Jones | July 6, 2009

For its time, Kirby’s Dream Land was a bit of an anomaly. While most Game Boy games were capable of rendering graphics equivalent to the crown jewels of Nintendo's early years -- the Metroids and Super Mario Bros. 2s -- Kirby came out of left field with the prowess of a late-era NES title shrunken down, yet uncompromised. Certainly, other titles looked good, but Kirby’s Dream Land was a game that demanded attention. This wasn’t just another stock adventure getting by on the Game Boy’s meager hardware; series overlords Masahiro Sakurai and HAL Laboratories obviously intended for Kirby’s Dream Land to be the beginning of something special, even from the very start.

Kirby’s Dream Land was a brisk blend of a lot of things: an adorable character who already carried himself with the subtle swagger worthy of a fledgling system seller, a charming soundtrack, and gameplay so enjoyable it became instantly “replayable” in the most literal sense of the word. You didn’t have to worry about pesky minigames, copy abilities, or maze-like secret levels this time around—Kirby’s Dream Land was a surprisingly straightforward, bite-sized precursor that established exactly what the core of the series has always been about. That is to say, pure adorable fun.

And if Kirby’s Dream Land seems in any way archaic by comparison to its sequels, that’s because of its vintage. Back in April ’92, handheld gaming was just beginning to branch away from its simple roots. You had a few sprawling Final Fantasies, but on the whole it was smaller games like Kirby that dominated the Game Boy until the larger epics began to trickle onto the scene in the coming years. With no room for save data, Kirby’s Dream Land was meant to be devoured in one delicious bite, leaving the best of players with an unlockable hard mode to enjoy once the credits finished rolling.

Looking back at this little cart that birthed a franchise, it's easy to see how things have changed over the years. Nowadays, blustery PR writers compulsively build up their games with all kinds of anecdotal evidence about the care going into their latest predictable genre product; yet go back and look at classics like Kirby and you just can’t help but feel the love. Not the sexy or romantic kind of “love,” mind you, but “love” in the sense of “an unspoken dedication to a craft” that makes masterpieces like Mega Man 2 (crafted in its creators' spare time) stand out as hallmarks of the medium more than two decades later. Kirby’s Dream Land might not be the outstandingly colorful, multi-tiered epic that its offspring would be, but it still a game that exudes personality and seems remarkably well put-together for a game of its vintage and platform. With an adorable design aestetic, engrossing environments, and an absolutely irresistible hero that couldn’t possibly have gotten his start on any other system, Kirby’s Dream Land is a game that leaves you warm and fuzzy afterwards.

Remember: before debates on violence, before discussions of “gameplay as narrative,” before we wondered if games were Art, games were simply... fun. Kirby’s Dream Land is precisely that: an enjoyable jaunt through a parallel universe filled with malicious trees, evil penguins, and a crème puff made entirely of lungs that could easily suck a golf ball through a garden hose. Even if Sakurai did admit that Kirby started out as just a placeholder for another character, it’s easy to see how the little ‘puff that could won the hearts of its creators well over 15 years ago.

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