Kirby wasn’t meant to be Kirby. Initially a dummy character in the development of the first game, Kirby’s Dream Land, the little blob proved to be so adorable that the developers decided to keep him in. Even then, it took a debate between director Masahiro Sakurai and Nintendo legend Shigeru Miyamoto to decide what color he would be, with Sakurai’s pink eventually winning out.
But once those finer details were worked out, a game of surprising complexity emerged. Kirby Super Star, released in North America in 1996, expanded on the Dream Land series by offering a wide range of playstyles that showcase Kirby’s full capabilities.
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The simplicity and cuteness of Kirby’s design belies the surprisingly complex style of play in Super Star. The game is broken into eight modes of play, including a remastered version of Dream Land, a Metroidvania in The Great Cave Offensive, time-limited levels in Revenge of Meta Knight, scrolling shooter levels in Milky Way Wishes, even a racing game in Gourmet Race.
While some of these games have steeper learning curves than others, Super Star offers helpful explainers at the beginning of each one. Taking the form of a theatrical show with Kirbys in attendance cheering, the game explains each play mechanic for each game. While at one point it admits that the explanations start to seem complex, once each one starts they are mostly quick learning experiences.
The two mechanics that feature most prominently in Super Star are Kirby’s swallowing abilities and his ability to float up into the air. As Kirby’s mouth opens, the enemies near him get sucked in. This short-range attack allows for the villains in Super Star to be more aggressive than they would in, say, a Mario game. Finding the power’s strengths and weaknesses is one of its joys.
And then, of course, come the transformations. The dynamic that allows Kirby to inherit the powers of an enemy he has devoured, and to then turn that enemy into a helper, defines the game. It gives a sense of visual anarchy—here is Ice Kirby, here is Kirby wearing a backwards hat and turning into a wheel, here is Stone Kirby, here is Fighter Kirby tossing enemies like he’s in Mortal Kombat (or a game that Sakurai would later develop, Super Smash Bros.), here is Sleepy Kirby who is as troublesome for players as he is adorable.
Beyond the visuals, these new Kirbys change the game. When the wall is closing in on Kirby and the player accidentally swallows a Sleepy Kirby, the game is over. The joy of swallowing a Parasol Waddle Dee and getting to whack everyone with an umbrella is unmatched.
Beyond facing off with King Deedee, Kirby Super Star is like a sampler, offering tastes of the best the Super Nintendo has to offer. The levels balance between playful and challenging, the gameplay never gets tiresome, and the visuals are sugar-coated while consistently original.