You need to play the darkest Kirby game of all time on Switch ASAP
Kirby has always been one of Nintendo's weirdest franchises, but the first time it went dark was very dark.
In 1996, Nintendo entered the world of three dimensions with the launch of the Nintendo 64. While still a dominant player, Nintendo now found itself in a vicious console war with Sony, whose Playstation was making a convincing argument to youth across the globe. But Nintendo had one valuable weapon: history. Nintendo’s stacked catalog of characters was hugely popular — so popular, in fact, that they kept making the old games even after the new console came out.
A few SNES games would come out after the launch of the N64, with one of the most notable being Kirby’s Dream Land 3, which in 1997 had the distinction of being the last first-party game for the SNES that Nintendo would release in America. The game is if you’re a paid Nintendo Switch online subscriber, it can be played right now by downloading the Super Nintendo Entertainment System app.
The mechanics of Dream Land 3 are similar to other Kirby games: Kirby, the cutest pink blob there ever was, can puff up and fly, run around on his little stubby feet, and most importantly devour his enemies and gain their powers. He’s fighting to take back his home, Planet Popstar, from Dark Matter, a powerful force from space that has taken control of Kirby’s longtime enemy, King Dedede. It’s a fairly dark premise for such a cute game, made even cuter by Kirby’s many new friends.
Mechanically, however, these friends are a decidedly mixed bag. The most prominent of these is Gooey, a blue blob with Kirby-like powers who uses his tongue to swallow enemies as opposed to sucking them in. Gooey is a friendly piece of the Dark Matter that threatens Popstar, but he can also be somewhat annoying in his own right.
Gooey is actually a fine addition for a Dream Land 3 game with two players, given that he can change like Kirby. But in a single-player campaign, I found Gooey running around all over the place. He was effective at devouring enemies, but at times a little too much so: I wanted them for myself!
Some SNES games can be picked up and played without any real introduction. Dream Land 3 is mostly easy, but having access to a manual can really make a difference. How else would a player realize that the only way to make Gooey jump off-screen is to press A rapidly, over and over again? I wouldn't have.
This isn’t an impossible problem, as the manual can be found online. But as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, it’s a shame that Nintendo doesn’t give these games the best chance to succeed with new players by uploading some version of a manual along with each game it brings onto Switch Online.
Older games often were made with the expectation that a manual would guide a player, and Dream Land 3 is no exception. Beyond Gooey, there are a number of animal friends who will help Kirby in his quest. These include a cute mouse named Rick, a fish named Kine, a bird named Coo, a Pusheen-style cat named Nago, a female Kirby blob named Chuchu, and another bird named Pitch.
In these animal friends, the joy of a Kirby game is found anew: getting powers and seeing what happens. Electric sparks are a classic Kirby power that is available here. But when going for a ride with Coo, who picks you up from their talons, those electric sparks turn into lightning bolts that drop like they’re sent from a vengeful Zeus.
Similarly, when playing Chuchu, who blobs herself on top of your head, the defensive spikes which typically are stationary shoot out, giving a small ranged attack. And when Rick gets the spikes, the fur on his back stands up.
These are the moments that make any Kirby game worth playing. At its best, Kirby Dream Land 3 allows players to reshape and remix their Kirby experiences, giving a variety of twists on new powers to delightful effect.
At times, and this is a common knock on SNES Kirby, these powers can make the game a little too easy. With a flying power, it can be easy to navigate through a forest level with only the occasional spider knocking Kirby off course. Although at other times I felt overwhelmed, happy to call in Gooey to suddenly lick up any excess opponents. And, at the end of the game, there is one of the goriest boss fights in the typically PG world of retro Nintendo.
Kirby’s Adventure is probably a better starting point for anyone who wants to experience 2-D Kirby for the first time. But if you’re already familiar, Kirby’s Dream Land 3 offers some clever innovations. It’s a worthy send-off for a console that changed gaming forever.