As seen in: Kirby's Dream Land (Game Boy)
Also in: Kirby Canvas Curse (DS)
Distinguishing feature: First you draw a circle; then you dot the eyes....
Strengths: A shape-shifting, all-consuming force of nature; rendered invincible by lollipops.
Weaknesses: Binge eating a poor substitute for real love, companionship.
Profile by Nicola Nomali | January 27, 2011
Lolo and Lala gave HAL their first identifiable mascots, but the couple's bug-eyed expression was always a bit too blank to inspire much enthusiasm in fans -- which is virtually all a mascot is supposed to do. Their skill set wasn't exactly compelling, either; heroes who could only shuffle blocks around rung less of reservation than impotence. If they couldn't at least find it in themselves to bop something on the head, why should we have cared whether they built that rainbow bridge or not?
However, Lolo's replacement wouldn't be a grandstander on the cutting edge of technology, like Sonic to Alex Kidd. Indeed, Kirby's appeal was understated from the moment of creation, where he was a placeholder graphic for a presumably more marketable character. His expression was just as unassuming as Lolo's -- while he had a mouth, he rarely even smiled in his first appearance -- although his vertical lines for eyes were more subtly incredulous than Lolo's two-thousand-yard stare. And while Lolo could have been swapped out for a bulldozer with no one the wiser, Kirby's simple, blob-shaped body was directly tied to his ability to inflate himself and float about his world like a balloon. He still couldn't bop anything on the head, but inhaling enemies and firing them as spinning stars was surprisingly empowering for its apparent indirectness (to say nothing of how his flight practically negated bottomless pits—an untold luxury in a platform game). HAL must have been reminded of Lolo when they promoted their placeholder to protagonist, and his associated terminology -- originally named Popopo, saving Pupupu Land from King Dedede, with guest appearances by Lololo and Lalala -- embodied a sense of increased richness, of "Lolo, but more so."
With Nintendo's backing, Kirby became a hit, featuring in advertisements that juxtaposed his sheepish omnipotence versus the typical macho archetype. He became a poster child for the Game Boy, whose developer support waned into the '90s, although he had no difficulty branching onto consoles. His first sequel, being an NES game in 1993, championed the cause of artistic improvisation within technological limits; and not only was the game itself lush and immense, but Kirby's abilities expanded tremendously from his debut. In Kirby's Dream Land, he could convert curry into flaming breath, or swallow a sweet potato and assault enemies with the ensuing eructations; in short, he derived powers from the foods he ate. Kirby's Adventure maintained the same concept but applied it to the fact that, more than anything else, his enemies were his food. Thus, his malleable body now assimilated the powers of just about any terrified foe he could devour. He swung hammers, breathed frost, grew needles, pounded suplexes, bounced around like a pinball, shot himself like a fireball, tore up the landscape as a speeding wheel, and much more—and immediately went from being one of gaming's most simplistic heroes to one of its most versatile.
Kirby's return to the Game Boy pared down his range of powers but introduced animal pals who could augment any ability, each combination bearing unique results. This made for some much cuter moves, but the copy ability itself remained our puff ball's defining trait. Later escapades have featured a range of extrapolations, from mixing multiple enemy skills to converting them into helper characters who emerge fully-formed from Kirby's body, like something out of a very pink creation myth. He's even amassed a collection of cranial accessories to denote his current power. However, his core design remains ever grounded in the inherent elegance of eight bits. When HAL and Nintendo premiered the first trailer for Super Smash Bros. Brawl in 2006, the main players from the previous game ran onscreen and one by one received graphical upgrades emphasizing the new title's more detailed visuals. All, that is, except for Kirby, who came out looking identical -- not to mention fairly confused about the whole matter.
And that's Kirby. His eyes might take up more and more of his body as the years pass, and in the West, we didn't know he was pink at first; yet from looks to function, he's never fundamentally departed from his roots -- nor has his stardom suffered for it. One might overlook it for his modesty, but in all, he's one of the most enduring symbols of the spirit and charm of the 8-bit era.