Kirby has always been an interesting franchise for Nintendo to wrap its head around. On one hand, Kirby has always represented a child-friendly franchise, in part due to Kirby’s easy to grasp but enjoyable mechanics. On the other side, Kirby has always been a franchise that isn’t afraid of experimentation. Titles like Kirby Canvas Curse or Kirby Dream Course both show times that taking risks with the Kirby franchise and placing him (it?) in a non-traditional environment have yielded great results. As Kirby has aged, however, it seems those ideas have been relegated to smaller projects or simply mini-games, which is truly a disappointment.
New Kirby games are somewhat of an oddity when you take a moment to see what is actually new in them. Kirby Triple Deluxe, for example, applies new levels with new mechanics but uses many of the same bosses from previous titles. The same can be said about most Kirby games, they all take the existing Kirby formula and change it a little here and a little there, but many parts remain consistent through different titles. This isn’t an inherently bad idea, part of what makes Kirby such a delight to play is that you can expect certain things from it. The content is never truly challenging, but what makes it enjoyable is the new ways you can accomplish your goals and the fun derived from that.
Titles like Kirby Canvas Curse or Kirby Dream Course take Kirby as a franchise outside of the norm and show that Kirby can do more than just its standard affair. In the case of Kirby Canvas Curse, players could no longer control Kirby by traditional means, rather, players needed to draw a path that Kirby would follow to progress through the level. This kept much of the charm and overall goals of Kirby the same but made momentum its main mechanic. In Kirby Dream Course, Kirby essentially became a game of pool accompanied by many of Kirby’s main set of powers. Players needed to collect stars on each course and eventually find the pocket to sink Kirby—whoever had the most stars, won.
Of course, Kirby has never been one to shy away from different styles of play, they just have been stuck within its traditional games. In fact, Kirby as a franchise doesn’t even call these games mini-games but goes so far to call them sub-games.
Not Far Enough
In recent, when Kirby as a franchise wants to try something new, it’s in a sub-game. Popular sub-games like Dedede’s Drum Dash and Kirby 3D Rumble are both inventive sub-games that take Kirby outside of its element and tries something new. The problem is, they are never built past being a sub-game, and when they are, they never deliver.
Dedede’s Drum Dash is a rhythmic game that has the player bouncing King Dedede along drums to the beat of the music while collecting coins and avoiding enemies. The sub-game is quite enjoyable and a fun break from playing traditional Kirby. It was in fact so well received, Hal Laboratory opted to create a stand-alone deluxe version on the Nintendo eShop. While it was just as enjoyable as the previous version packed in with Kirby Triple Deluxe, it simply wasn’t enough. No care was taken to expand the concept or grow it into something meaningful, it was just more of the same. More bouncing, more levels, and that was essentially it. There was no increase in the depth or scope of the game’s mechanics to turn it into something that could be a meaningful departure from traditional Kirby; it was hardly the first and last time.
Kirby 3D Rumble comes with a similar scenario. Originally introduced in Kirby: Planet Robobot, 3D Rumble places Kirby into a 3D plane where the goal is to destroy all the enemies in the most efficient way possible. Eventually, 3D Rumble received an enhanced version titled Kirby’s Blowout Blast, expanding the number of stages and content available compared to the sub-game. In the same way that Dedede’s Drum Dash left innovation on the table, so does Blowout Blast. Again, the concept of the game wasn’t expanded with any notable innovation, but rather was given some more levels and shipped out.
This is the crux of my issue with many of these sub-games. None are taken to any meaningful level that looks to set them apart of traditional Kirby. Dedede’s Drum Dash could have easily turned into a full-fledged game, only needs to look at titles like Final Fantasy Theatrhythm to see an example of this in motion. Taking a fun sub-game and turning it into a legitimate Kirby rhythm game.
When a Kirby sub-game is actually given the chance to become a full-fledged game, it’s extremely indicative of what Kirby already is. Look no further than Kirby Battle Royale, the recently announced title during Nintendo’s latest Nintendo Direct. Players are tasked to fight each other or bosses on a 3D plane using Kirby’s already well-known powers. Taking what is essentially Kirby Fighters and expanding upon it both in scope and offering. Does it offer anything truly innovating for the Kirby franchise? No, not at all, but it is the lucky one chosen to become a full-fledged title. Instead of taking some of the more inventive sub-games that exist and turning them into something worthwhile, we get this.
I truly hope that in the future Hal Laboratory takes a good look at the many unique experiences they have crafted for Kirby in the past; be it some of the earlier spin-off titles or the later sub-games to see that there are plenty of unique ideas that are just ripe to be turned into full-fledged titles and not just the concepts that are already par for the course of what Kirby already is.