Liam’s Game Room #3 (Kirby’s Dream Land, Game Boy)

Introduction

Kirby’s Dream Land is a platformer game released for the Nintendo Game Boy in 1992 and was developed by HAL Laboratory. HAL are well known for making The Adventures of Lolo games, Super Smash Bros games, Mother 1 and Earthbound. The game sold extremely well on the platform to the point where the series has continued to develop and the series has evolved. The series has had games both on handheld consoles such as the Game Boy/Game Boy Color and on home consoles like the NES, SNES, and Wii.

Background And Development

There is a very interesting story with the development and inception of Kirby as a character. In terms of the series, Kirby’s Dream Land was the first game in the series and there are regional differences in terms of the box art. In Japan, the box art for the game had Kirby as a pink character. However, when the game was released in the west, the colour of Kirby was changed to be white, which was an unusual change simply because from the second game in the franchise, Kirby was pink in both the Japanese and Western versions of the game. During the production phase, Shigeru Miyamoto wanted Kirby to be a yellow character, but Masahiro Sakurai who was the lead designer of the Kirby games decided to keep Kirby as a pink character.

Also, Kirby was never meant to be the intended character for the series, which has a cool story behind it. When initial development of the game started, the character sprite of Kirby was put into the game as what is known as a place-holder. A place-holder sprite is a temporary sprite to be put in place of another character whilst the designers work on a permanent character sprite. The sprite is also placed to try and test new level designs, as well as other mechanics of the game and the behaviour of the enemies. However, Sakurai decided to keep the design of Kirby because he found the character to be quite a cute looking character, so he kept the place-holder sprite.

Story and Gameplay

The story is that there was meant to be a midnight feast for all the inhabitants of Dream Land, however, the evil King Dedede has stolen the food and it is up to Kirby to fight through Dream Land to stop Dedede and get the food back. Now the game doesn’t explain the story at all during the gameplay, however the fact that it is an early Game Boy game means that the technology wasn’t there to be able to have large amount of exposition and cutscenes to explain the story. However, the game manual does explain the story in good detail, therefore the game wouldn’t need to explain the story if it is already in the manual.

The main mechanics of the game is that Kirby can float over the ground infinitely, which is the main way that you can avoid enemies easily. However, the levels are designed in such a way that you can just float over everything as there are platforms at the top of the screen. Kirby can also suck up enemies into his mouth and shoot enemies out of his mouth into other enemies. This is Kirby’s only attack and is required to defeat bosses and I really like the attack because there is a force behind the attack when it hits an enemy. There is a really good feeling knowing that you spit an enemy out of Kirby’s mouth like a cannonball and hit and defeat multiple enemies.

So the gameplay of Kirby’s Dream Land is your typical platformer where you have to fight through 4 stages and then a boss rush stage. Each stage has it’s own theme and is drastically different from one another. The variety between these worlds is a large positive because the worlds make the gameplay different enough to make it not seems boring. I will now explain each world and what I thought about each world.

Dream Land is the first stage that you visit and is a great introductory world. There are enough enemies so that the world doesn’t seem too easy, but so many that it is overwhelming. Also, the low difficulty in this world is a great introduction for younger players, which I believe was the main target for this game. The background of this stage is very well detailed and makes great use of the limited colour palette of the Game Boy. The original release of the Game Boy was in black and white and making the clouds stand out would be difficult, but the clouds have black outlines to distinguish it from the rest of the background. Also, the detail on the tree and the background of the second screen is tremendous and makes the game really easy on the eye.

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Castle Lololo is where the game’s difficulty increases quite a bit in comparison to Dream Land. There are a lot more enemies and there are screens with not as much space to move in and there are enemies which when you walk past them, then home towards you. However, they don’t home directly towards you, but in a circular motion, which can make sucking them up extremely difficult. There are also outside and inside sections to the stage where the outside sections tend to be more spacious and the inside sections tend to be more compact.

In this stage the game introduces the player to the underwater mechanics, which are actually quite interesting. Kirby doesn’t fall very quickly because he is a very light character, which makes the falling feel quite floaty and sometimes a bit too slow. When you hold the jump button however, Kirby will float up to the top of the water quite quickly, which can make moving around underwater a little bit more technical and complicated than it needs to be. It isn’t like Mario when his underwater momentum means he falls fast but rises to the surface slowly.

The backgrounds of this stage have good variety as there are outside and inside sections of the stage. The interior sections tend to be a little more dull looking simply because it consists of bricked wall background or diamond checkerboard, which I can understand represents the fact that Kirby is in a castle, but it feels a bit too plain. However, the exterior backgrounds is where the level makes up for the duller interior sections. The clouds are recycled from the first stage, but on the exterior of the castle there are shadows where the Sun has been blocked by the building, which adds a really nice touch and detail. The screen before the mid-boss is my favourite as it is what seems to be a balcony overlooking a mountain, which turns out is the mountain of the final stage, which gives the player a preview of a future area. I would say overall there is enough variety in the backgrounds, but the boring interior backgrounds do affect this stage and make it look plain at times.

Float Islands is my favourite stage out of all of them because I feel this is where the game is most fair in terms of difficulty. In comparison to Castle Lololo, I feel that this stage is somewhat easier even though are more traps. There is however one problem with this world, which can affect the gameplay. The problem is that on the first screen, there can be quite a lot of enemies, which can generate lag and cause delay in terms of button inputs. This is the first area of the game where this problem occurs sadly, but once you have defeated 1 or 2 of the enemies or flown past them, then the framerate will stabilise.

Float Islands also has my personal favourite variety of backgrounds because the level design works extremely well with the evolution of the background. For example, you can jump from the shore onto a pirate ship and the background changes, so you can see a mast and of course the ship itself. It isn’t just the fact that these backgrounds work together, it is the fact that as you scroll the screen it is almost like the elements of the stage are being moulded together, like a background of a painting.

The final main stage, Bubbly Clouds is my least favourite stage in terms of gameplay because you are in the sky, there are quite a lot of pits that you can fall down. There is also yet another increase in the amount of enemies and a decrease in the amount of space, it makes for a stage which requires precision jumping and mastery of all the skills from previous stages. My main quarrel with this stage is the fact that enemies can appear out of nowhere, hit you and then you fall back into a pit, which is instant death. There are also enemies which behave similarly to enemies in Castle Lololo where they circle around Kirby, making them both difficult to hit and annoying to suck up as well. This stage is also the longest in length, which can make the stage feel more like an obstacle course rather than a platformer. I don’t mind the world but it is just the fact that it feels like these enemies are just there to torment you and annoy you which makes the world frustrating.

Speaking of frustrating, after Bubbly Clouds is the boss rush or properly known as Mt. Dedede. Here you have the revisit all 4 levels with 1 screen of the level before facing the boss from that level again. If you run out of lives here and game over after beating a least 1 boss, yo have to beat that amount of bosses again. It is definitely a good way to extend the length of the game instead of just the Dedede fight because it would have felt almost anticlimactic. Now, the bosses here are exactly the same as the bosses that you have already faced with literally no variation, which I think was a missed opportunity because a slightly more difficult version of the boss would have made these refights interesting to do. But it feels like a copy and paste situation to make the game’s length not as short as it is.

Music and Sound Design

The music and sound design of this game are really good considering the fact that this is an early Game Boy game. Each world has it’s own theme, which has a completely different feel from one another. So for example, Dream Land’s music is positive and upbeat, giving the feeling that the player is at the start of a journey, to the high tempo, almost panic inducing music of Mt. Dedede. The music and sound design was done by Jun Ishikawa, who has composed music for over 30 of the Kirby games and is a mainstay in the series. I will now analyse each stage’s theme and then give an overall feeling of the music.

So Dream Land’s music is one of the most memorable themes on the Game Boy in general. The music is extremely upbeat and gives the feeling that you are on a fascinating journey full of adventure. The theme itself is only 30 seconds long, but trust me by the end of the level you will be humming the tune for hours after finishing the game. Considering how primitive the Game Boy was in terms of hardware, the theme itself is actually quite complex.

There is a quiet drum beat, which maintains the tempo all the way through the composition and the beat is quite simple and doesn’t overpower or overshadow the other instruments. The bassline alongside the drum beat builds a really strong foundation, but also allows the interchanging higher pitched melodies to breathe and not feel cluttered. The higher pitched melodies sound like it would have been written for a wind instrument like a flute or an oboe. The most important thing about the melody is that the pitch isn’t so high that it puts strain on the basic Game Boy speaker or doesn’t pierce the eardrum.

Castle Lololo’s music feels somewhat darker in comparison to Dream Land. The build up in the intro and the chord progression throughout this piece also aids in creating the tenser feeling of the stage quite well. The upbeat tempo is still there from the previous level, but there is sharp chords in the composition. This I feel may represent the threat and maybe the difficulty spike that occurs in this stage. There is one thing that really stood out in a very positive way about the way the drum beat was composed. The drum beat evolves from the start of the composition, but it isn’t a typical kick and snare sounds the beat has an almost consistent hi-hat sound throughout, which is a really nice touch and uses the primitive sound chip very well. The only problem with the composition is that the memorable nature of Dream Land’s melody sadly overshadows this composition’s attempt to go for a darker sound.

Float Islands’ music is a return to the positive upbeat feeling that Dream Land had, but there is one major underlying problem with the composition, which sadly makes it my least favourite on the soundtrack. This problem is that the high notes are way too high up the scale and it has the almost unbearable piercing sound that the high notes had at the time. Apart from this, the rest of the composition is actually really pleasant and has a really nice sound. The composition almost has a caribbean beach vibe with the selection of instrumentation, which makes the track stand out quite a bit from the rest of the soundtrack. There is some call and response elements between the drum beat and the bassline, which adds some variety to the composition. This alongside 2 melodies alongside each other, 1 very high and 1 medium pitch would make the composition a winner, if only for the high pitched piercing sound, which sadly ruins the composition.

Bubbly Clouds is personally my favourite composition in the whole soundtrack and I like it more than Dream Land, which is saying quite a lot. This composition is much slower in tempo and has almost a swaying from side to side feeling to the piece. Compared to much higher paced pieces in the previous levels, this is a much welcomed change of pace, but I feel that a faster tempo wouldn’t represent that the player in the clouds for this stage. The drum beat in this piece sounds fantastic, as it sounds like the drums are being hit with a brush, which really creates the peaceful sound perfectly. The melodic line is at the perfect pitch because it isn’t too low pitched to not have the desired effect but not so high it feels like it is piercing the eardrums.

Mt. Dedede is perhaps the most intense and highest tempo piece of the whole soundtrack. The drum beat is very apparent with the drum beat being kick and snare, but with a lot of hi-hat, which instigates a sense of panic and also the feeling of how difficult the final boss will be. There are a total of 3 different melodies that play throughout the entire piece, with at least 2 melodies playing at any one time. Underneath these melodies, there is a moving synth song, which sounds like it is being played with a tremolo effect. This alongside the intense drum beat really encapsulates how far the player has come, but also how far they still have to go and the bassline underneath as well really aids in depicting this feeling. This theme also reminds me of something that would be heard in the final stage of a game like Ninja Gaiden simply because of the clarity of the piece.

Conclusion

So to conclude this review, the game has stood the test of time quite well and the graphics still look good. The music is really good except from a couple of reasons where the high pitch notes feel like that they are piercing, which can make it difficult to listen to certain tracks. The gameplay is still as fun as they ever were and have aged the best out of the whole game. As a complete package, if you haven’t played this game, it is definitely worth checking out if you can get past the fact that the game’s limitations that I have mentioned in this review.

8/10

Liam Piper

Copyright ©2016 Liam Piper. All Images Used Under Fair Use

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