Rise of Kirby.
As of this article Kirby has passed Mario as favorite Nintendo character in Japan. So let’s learn a little bit more about that original pink puff’s adventure.
To start off as I so often do I like to take a moment to reflect on the times. The year was 1992. A shipping container filled with 28,000 rubber duckies was lost at sea, The cost of a gallon of gas in the US was about 1.05 while in the UK 2.13. It was the year Cartoon Network was established and the First McDonalds opened in Beijing China. Women wore crop tops, babydoll dresses, and jackets with shoulder pads. For men it was the time of denim overalls, colored jeans, and letterman jackets. Mortal Kombat became the first game to get a mature rating and the video game industry as a whole was sliding towards more mature content.
However on the other side of the spectrum there was pink puff who made his debut challenging the new norm. Thats right Kirby’s Dreamland arrived on American store shelves August 1st 1992. The mighty pink puff has taken the industry by storm going on to spawn several games, a cartoon, and even held the lead role in Smash Bros. Ultimate story mode.
The Winding Road of Development.
However the Kirby we know today was not how it all started. The game was initially to be called “Twinkle Po Po” and the protagonist name of Po Po Po. As the game was developed there wasn’t even a design for the main character. 19 year old Masahiro Sakura the games director just drew a doodled a circular blob as a place holder for during design. However the simplistic style caught on and was kept. It was thought that people would fall in love with a character they could easily draw when bored.
The name also changed. Nintendo of America, offering a set of names that they felt would appeal to a broader market. Eventually it was settled that Kirby would be the little puff’s name. It is said that the name was a homage to John Kirby a lawyer who represented Nintendo in a case against Universal for the Big N. Apparently Universal thought Donkey Kong was a rip off of King Kong, and sued the smaller game making company. John Kirby’s legal prowess is credited for the win secured by Nintendo.
Kirby is pink. Or is he yellow or white? It turns out during the design process nobody knew what color Kirby was. Miyamoto himself wanted a yellow Kirby (now nicknamed Keeby), while Sakuri the creator wanted pink. The original game Dreamland was a Game Boy release. With that being said color was monochrome the box art designers weren’t sure of the color either. So they designed Kirby as white to match in game color. Officially the puff ball is pink making him stand out from the likes of Pac Man.
It’s a Short Dream.
Kirby’s Dream Land is notable for lacking one of the franchises signature moves. Kirby often known for his ability to copy enemy powers is unable to so in this first installment. Instead the game uses traditional power ups. Food like spicy curry for fire breath and mint leaves (sweet potato in Japan) for fire puffs in flight. Those with hawkish eyes will notice the spicy curry trophy has made its way into Smash Bros Ultimate.
The games premise is simple: King Dedede steals all the food in Dream Land as well as the sparkling stars. The community tries to decide how to act while a young Kirby volunteers to retrieve the food. The game presents as an action plat-former that plays through pretty fast. Less than 30 minutes to complete. The game doesn’t have a save feature (though who really needs one). IE once the game was switched off you would have to start from the beginning. Lucky for the young gamer Dream Land was relatively accessible both due to length and game mechanics. The game has 5 stages in total: Green Greens, Castle Lololo, Float Islands, Bubbly Clouds, and Mt. Dedede. The final stage is more of a boss battle with King Dedede at the end.
With memory space of only 512 kilobits the designers had to finesse graphics usage. Easy to see examples of this would be Kirby’s dancing. The dance routine is simply a mash up of his regular moves LoLo and Lala are the same sprite with different faces and even. All of this is pretty amazing that the game was designed on a twin Famicon with disk drive and track ball.
The Vacuum Effect
The one criticism of the game was that it was too easy, with Kirby able to fly over much of the earlier stages players found they could circumvent enemies with ease. The idea to fly was what spurred the development of Kirbys vacuum abilities. When Sakuri wanted Kirby to fly to avoid falling needlessly in pits it was suggested he suck air like a balloon. The idea held and developers found themselves wondering what else that ability could yield. From that moment the vacuum and spit mechanic was born. Once completing the game you will learn how to unlock a more difficult version of the game. Beat that and you will learn how to unlock the ability to make minor in game adjustments like Kirby’s health.
Despite the games quick beat time and lack of a challenge a star had been born. Kirby’s Dreamland was a simple game accessible for all ages with a protagonist that was unique and eye catching. The game has sold over 5.13 million copies to date, and is still featured on the Nintendo eshop for the 3ds for 3.99. Yes the world’s favorite pink puff is still going strong over 27 years after the games first release even holding a world bubble gum record for a short time. With Kirby’s latest installment Star Allies released on the Switch it looks like Nintendo fans will be enjoying the franchise for years to come.