Kirby’s Adventure (NES) Review

Click here to visit the Kirby’s Adventure (NES) description page for screenshots, save files, and more information.

Review by tankMage (February 2019)

Score: A- (9.4/10)

Another Gem from the Final Years of the NES

   Few systems had the final hoorah that the Nintendo Entertainment System saw in the early 1990s. I could (and probably will) write a list of the great games that the console was graced with as it road off into the sunset and Kirby’s Adventure would surely have a place on said list. Kirby’s Adventure is the sequel to the Gameboy title, Kirby’s Dreamland, which had been released in 1992. Both games are platformers with an emphasis on cutesy graphics and accessible gameplay, making them good choices for novice gamers or parents who want to share their pastime with children. In fact, my five year old daughter’s interest in Kirby prompted me to play it through and write this review.

   Sequels are often hit or miss; fortunately this one hits the mark and improves on the original in almost every way imaginable. Much of the gameplay from the first game has been conserved and built upon in Kirby’s Adventure. Kirby, the eponymous hero, is a fluffy pink creature that can inhale enemies and launch them out of his mouth as projectiles. He also has the power to fill his body up with air and fly, though his movements are more limited in this mode. Additionally, Kirby can swallow foes whole, which may bestow him with powers that range from spewing fire to rolling around the screen like a wheel. All of these powers allow Kirby to complete his objective: navigate each stage in the usual platformer manner and fight the boss at the end to retrieve a part of the stolen Star Rod.

   Kirby’s ability to copy the powers of monsters is probably the one of most entertaining aspects of this game along with the creative bosses. There are also minigames and secrets to be found in many stages, but these features weren’t executed with as much flair outside of a few interesting situations. To be fair, the level design in Kirby’s Adventure is a massive improvement over that of its predecessor whose stages could often be flown through without much trouble. Visually, this game lacks the animated backgrounds of some of the better NES titles, but vivid colors, diverse environments, and unique enemies make up for it. If Kirby could be said to have a major flaw, it would be its controls, which are were designed to make Kirby feel more realistic. I found his habit of skidding and bouncing a bit overdone, so much so that Kirby handles like a bag of wet towels, which became more irritating as the game progressed.

Story

   King Dedede, the first game’s antagonist, has stolen the Star Rod that powers the Dream Spring, source of all Dreamland’s…er.. dreams? Well, that’s what the brief cutscene that plays after the title screen says. Kirby, being the heroic pink marshmallow he is, sets out to reclaim the rod and save Dreamland. There’s not much else say about the plot without spoiling it. As a platformer Kirby is light in the narrative department, but players can expect a few surprises here and there.

Graphics

   Kirby’s Adventure has aged very gracefully in many ways and is still easy on the eyes, though you have to be the type that enjoys 8-Bit graphics to appreciate this game. Bright colors adorn nearly every area and creature, giving them the cartoon style that would set the tone for the franchise to this day. In fact, this may very well be the most colorful NES title in existence and whoever worked on this aspect of the graphics did a masterful job of squeezing everything they could out of the aging console. Having been limited to just two colors in the Gameboy debut of the series, it’s easy to see why HAL pulled out all the stops to make this title look like something an Easter basket vomited out.

   As for the “monsters” (I use quotations, because these things are almost too cute to be considered monsters) and Kirby himself, they are great looking, original, and nicely animated. Kirby will have to fight fluffy chicks, frost breathing penguins, hammer toting gorillas, and even UFOs, all of which are stylized to fit into the game’s almost Disney-esque theme. Many of these creatures have complex (by 8-bit standards) animated movesets that further add to their quality. Kirby himself has all sorts of movement animations, emotes, and attack animations, making him perhaps the most thoroughly animated character on the NES.

The 80’s never ended for Kirby.

   As great as Kirby’s Adventure may look, it isn’t without its problems, which are mainly associated with its stages. The level design for this game is often overly ornate and it makes the world look sloppy. For the most part this had more to do with how the stages were assembled than the actual visual design, but the winding corridors, strangely organized platforms, and doors that are scattered everywhere can get to be an eyesore. That’s not to say that there are not some very nice looking areas. It’s just that there’s also very ugly screens that made me think the game was glitching out at points, so much so that I reset it a few times and even looked at screenshots when I got to Orange Ocean, whose first stage looked like something dust on the NES connector pins would cause.

User Interface

   Maybe I’m in the minority here (I have yet to read other reviews for this game) but I’m not a big fan of the way Kirby handles. The controls are responsive and work just fine, Kirby himself is the problem. If Kirby looks like a ball of fluff, then he certainly moves like one. When Kirby jumps, he almost floats and his descents are slow as well. He also tends to face plant if he jumps too high, which can make for difficult situations. Then there’s the fact that Kirby accelerates into a run rather slowly and changes direction like Mario in SMB1. One of these movement mechanics by itself isn’t a problem, but put them together and you have a character that can be difficult to control at times.

   I actually appreciate the decision to make Kirby a bit clumsy in many ways, because it adds a much needed layer of difficulty to the game. At the same time, HAL went just a bit too far in making their trademark cream puff move realistically and dealing with his eccentricities can get annoying at times. On a more positive note, Kirby really does have an excellent range of movement that becomes more enjoyable once it’s mastered. Kirby can fill himself with air and fly, swim, spit a jet of water while submerged, walk, run, vacuum up enemies, and unleash a variety of powers stolen from creatures he has swallowed.

Music and Sound

   Kirby’s Adventure sounds great across the board. While the music is almost dementedly happy, it grew on me and I can’t imagine a game like this having anything short of an absurdly buoyant soundtrack. If anything negative can be said about the music, it’s that each set of levels has a theme that plays continuously, which is fine if you really like the song for the current area, but it can be grating if you don’t. The sound effects are also very cool and actually distinctive, which is a nice change of pace on a system where devs seemed to struggle to come up with compelling sound effects.

Gameplay

   The ability to gain roughly twenty different powers from enemies and awesome boss fights are this game’s greatest strengths. Most of the other aspects of Kirby’s Adventure are at least above average, even its flawed level design. The difficulty curve is also gentle, making it a good choice for beginners and younger players. Things get more challenging as the player progresses, but even players at a more intermediate skill level can beat this game in a single sitting if they wish to do so. It was the developer’s intention to make the Kirby games more accessible and he managed to do so without making the game boring or insulting, which is much to HAL’s credit.

   Being a traditional platformer, the goal is to lead Kirby through a series of enemy and obstacle filled stages. Stages are organised into worlds in a fashion similar to Super Mario Bros. 3, with a boss waiting at the end of each world. While this is not a very long game, even by NES standards, there’s quite a bit to see and do. Many stages have secrets to unlock and multiple paths, though this is oddly where we see some minor flaws. Kirby’s level design seems like something a hyperactive teenager would come up with. It’s full of great ideas, but lacks focus and often gets in its own way. Some stages are strewn with doors, and while it’s fun looking inside them for goodies, it can get boring. Eventually I just began ignoring side paths in favor of finding the stage exit. Kirby’s creator, Masahiro Sakurai, apparently received criticism for the simplistic level design of the first game and set out to rectify the problem in Kirby’s Adventure. Masahiro certainly succeeded in making the stages more elaborate, though with mixed results.

Not one of the game’s better stages, that’s for sure.

   As far as I’m concerned, the boss and mini-boss fights are what make this game truly fun. While veteran gamers won’t get a lot of challenge out of these battles, they’re still creative enough to remain entertaining and less experienced players will find them challenging, yet manageable. Some of the original bosses make comebacks, so fans will recognize the tree boss and King Dedede himself, plus there are plenty of newcomers. Players will fight a pair of creatures that resemble the sun and moon, the famous Meta Knight, and a rollerskating painter that spawns enemies to attack Kirby by drawing them. There’s also a number of mini-bosses that include a walrus that kicks blocks of ice at the player, a hammer wielding gorilla, and a stag beetle that can body slam Kirby. All of these enemies are really creative and having slightly tougher foes to battle spiced the stages up a little.

   Finally, there’s the famed “copy ability” which is one of the best ideas I’ve seen in an NES game. Kirby can inhale enemies (even defeated mini-bosses) just like in the original game, though he can swallow them in addition to spitting them out at other targets. Swallowing a creature will often grant Kirby a special power (some enemies will not give you anything) that is often very effective in combat. Kirby can do anything from shooting lasers to turning himself into a miniature tornado that can plow through opponents. I counted roughly twenty different powers, which is an impressive lineup even by today’s standards. What’s better, Kirby can use some of these powers to activate things like cannons that will send him to secret areas or zoom through stages designed around a particular ability.

   There’s something that I often forget to mention when reviewing NES games: Slowdown. Video lag (along with sprite flicker) was a common issue throughout the console’s life span. For the most part I’ve learned to ignore it, just like antialiasing or clipping issues with newer titles, which are things that just come with the territory. Kirby’s Adventure really lags at times, so much so that even I had to take notice of the problem. It’s not something I’m going to hold against the game, but it’s also a potential issue players should be prepared for.

Final Thoughts

  I really wanted to give this game an A and it did come just shy of making the grade. Even so, Kirby’s Adventure is a lot of fun and it was nice to play something a bit more casual. It’s easy to see why this game is so widely loved among NES enthusiasts and I’m especially fond of titles released late in the life span of the console. There’s a certain feeling to late era NES games that is hard to quantify, but if you’re looking for an example of what I’m talking about, have a look at Kirby’s Adventure, which captures the spirit of the era almost perfectly.

Recommendations

   I imagine most of my readers are grizzled gaming veterans that have spent a good portion of their lives with a controller in hand. As such, I can’t recommend this game based on its challenge. However, Kirby’s Adventure is the perfect choice if you are looking for a more casual NES game or something to play with a younger family member.

Leave a Comment