Birthday bust (a not very professional review)
Here’s where you cross your fingers and hope that your good friend doesn’t read your internet reviews. There is no greater way to devalue the birthday present that you’re fixing to give someone than for them to learn that you’ve slagged their present-to-be. And really, what kind of person buries the very gift they’re about to wrap and hand over?
I don’t know. I don’t know. As long as I don’t get smashed at the party and accidentally let out that I 3-starred their “all time favorite game” then I should be fixing for a binging good time.
As for this game, Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards was released near the start of the new millennium, after all fears of Y2K were eased and new fears of our precious Napster being shut down by the diabolical Metallica surfaced. It was one of the last noteworthy Nintendo 64 games released, and us poor suckers whom only owned that console had no choice but to buy it and love it because new N64 games were few and far between. At this point, we had long since been bored to poisonous levels of nausea by replaying the Saving Private Ryan parody levels in Conker’s Bad Fur Day so extensively that we had almost forgot the name of the Spielberg movie in question. And some people say Wii owners have it rough with its often-barren new release calendar. At least the Wii’s got the Virtual Console where you go online and buy Kirby 64 and other games between the 6 months where Nintendo feels gracious and releases a new actual video game. Let alone a remake of an old game.
The storyline for Kirby 64 is pretty much the same for every other Kirby game. A mysterious and generic “evil force” that loves black smoke is poisoning the lands and Kirby is none too thrilled about it. There are fairies, old Kirby characters like Dedede prance around in obligatory cameos, and mercifully not single piece of high-pitched and vomit-inducing dialogue is spoken. In that regard, this game is better than Super Mario Sunshine. Cutscenes aren’t really entertaining on any level but they’re short and thus harmless, and I’ll take harmless cutscenes over lengthy and dreadful cutscenes on any given day, thank you Kingdom Hearts Three Hundred Fifty Eight Over Two Days.
I feel like most every complaint I can leverage against Kirby 64 will be deflected by the claim that this game was made for children. That was the remark I would read about all the time when Kirby 64 was mentioned in a publication. “This game is designed for a younger audience.” Back then, my thoughts were along the lines of “well, where the hell are the games designed for us?” followed by profanity, angst and Korn lyrics. Again, being an N64-only owner, I had no choice but to divulge in games like Kirby and Yoshi’s Story because I just didn’t have any other options for entertainment aside from outdoor sports and indoor self-pleasuring. Nowadays, I have enough of a semblance of maturity to accept that the world, let alone the games industry, doesn’t have to revolve around me (a fact some vocal message board forumites will need to learn quickly) and there is a place for the Kirbys and Cooking Mamas of the world; and that place is “keeping my future kids away from bugging daddy during daddy’s sports time.”
This is a 2 and a half D platformer, well before “2 and a half D platformers” were cool. So in a way, Kirby 64 is a tragic trailblazer for the likes of Shadow Complex and Trine. Though in this case, all “2 and a half D” means is that the game is rendered in ugly polygons, with one or two enemies occasionally taking swipes from the background. Kirby jumps, floats a bit, and his main offense is to suck up his enemies and either spit them out like gum at other enemies or swallow them like…gum I guess. As per the course of a Kirby game, cannibalizing some enemies will result in Kirby obtaining a new power, such as transforming into a fireball projectile or a mass of spikes, or throwing bombs or other acts of terrorism.
Kirby 64’s big hook is that players are capable of combining pairs of powers to form newer and wackier superpowers. Kirby can huck up his current power into the form of a star (or what I guess is the soul of his last devoured enemy) and throw it at another enemy, forming some kind of super combined soul entity thingy for Kirby to consume like the vampire he is. These combo powers are sometimes useful, usually not, but almost always zany. For example, combining the blade and electricity power will yield a Darth Maul dual lightsaber attack. Or combining bombs with more bombs turns Kirby into a pinkish marshmallow rocket launcher of Americanized death. Even though many of the powers have the tactical advantage of throwing rocks at the beaches of , there’s still a comic giddiness in discovering new combinations. So I can’t help but feel that little kids will have fun toying with lethal power combinations. I mean crap, I had fun toying with the power combinations and I’m about two decades removed from my pre-school days.
As a platformer, Kirby 64 is sometimes solid but rather inconsistent and strange. The difficulty curve leans slightly but properly (my pretentious way of saying “this game gets harder and harder”) and some of the later levels are actually kind of tough. Not blisteringly Castlevanian tough but more challenging than most games aimed at a “younger audience.” And that’s fine by me; I mean look at the ball-breaking games that us kids had to grow up on during the NES days. But at the same time, some of the stages are rather inconsistent in length. Some levels just seem to scroll on and on and on with little action of note, while the final series of stages wrap up faster than you can say “boy, Kirby’s Air Ride was a dumb idea.” And the game seems to scroll at a slower pace. Certain powers, like the basic cutter ability, make the Kirbman’s agility take a hit, and the more elaborate powers will transform Kirby into a completely immovable object, period. I don’t know whether to chalk this to the N64’s graphical weakness or the “younger audience” slant but most stages feature long stretches of land with but a single enemy onscreen at once, begging to be Kirb-stomped. If the game has a flaw, it’s the inconsistent-but-consistently-slow pacing.
Oh, and most bosses have health bars that may as well be Mars bars with how fast Kirby will eat through them with certain attacks. “Force field” powers like electricity or spikes can be jammed into certain bosses, which will subsequently vanish off the planet with embarrassed defeat.
Kirby 64 takes about 3-4 hours to finish. Longer if you elect to search for all of those “crystal shards” that the title alludes to. Actually, you’ll need to if you wish to fight the game’s “true boss”, a bigger, more evil, more generic entity of…ummm…evilness.
As a game, Kirby 64 is just okay, if underwhelming. It can be enjoyable in small doses but other, older, Virtual Console-accessible games are more enjoyable. Titles like Kirby’s Adventure, Kirby’s Dreamland 3 and any number of Marios, Sonics and Donkey Kong Country games offer much entertainment value at a lower price, and ironically on older hardware. Kirby 64 does serve as a reminder of how visually nasty the early polygon era games can be, though I find “ugly but fantasy-oriented” to be less appalling than say, Uncharted or Fallout 3’s jaunts through the Uncanny Valley.
I can’t speak for children, though, and that “younger audience” is bound to have more amusement with this game than I did. Though in 2009, with bigger consoles offering shinier graphics to please the young ones, that could be a big question mark in of itself.After all, the contrast in visuals and slow pacing could make kids who start on Kirby 64 more eager to make the jump to Halo or something flashier. So who should play Kirby 64? I guess 18 year old girl buddies looking to get wasted on their big day.