Kirby’s Dream Land may be the first game in the Kirby series, but Kirby’s Adventure is where it truly found its identity. The small pink puffball still retains his ability to suck in enemies and spit them out to hurt other bad guys, but this time around, if he swallows them, they don’t just disappear. Instead, certain enemies can give Kirby special abilities, with the developers taking to this new design direction with incredible energy. Kirby can copy over 20 powers from his opponents, with things like Fire, Ice, Laser, Wheel, Tornado, Sword, Stone… wherever you go in Kirby’s Adventure, you can expect plenty of options for what form you want Kirby to take on.
The powers are numerous and the enemies who carry them abundant, but it does seem like the game’s creators got a little too carried away in creating them. A few powers are a little redundant, with powers like Spark, Needle, and Freeze being essentially the same attack of Kirby crouching and having a short range attack activate that has different properties based on which of those three you ended up with. Perhaps a bit weirder though are powers that are cut from the same cloth but split apart, like there being both a Fire and Fireball power as well as an Ice and Freeze power being separate. Things could have been trimmed down and combined quite easily since you can only hold one power at a time, but at least very few powers are useless. Sleep is actually a deliberately useless power meant to caution the player about just eating every thing you come across, leaving Kirby vulnerable as he snoozes so that you bother to learn which enemies give which powers in the future. Light and Ball are weirder examples, where Ball has such strange movement that it’s not really worth the damage output that bouncing around as a ball affords, and Light just illuminates dark rooms that are already visible enough despite being shrouded in darkness. Most of your power options are simple and fun though, swinging a Parasol, Sword, or Hammer repeatedly at enemies makes Kirby feel strong, freezing them into ice cubes and kicking them away is a delight, and the rare UFO power that mixes together the long range fun of Laser and Beam with flight to boot is a treat that you’ll miss when you find out it’s the only power that won’t leave the stage with you. Powers like Mike and Crash can clear most screens of enemies or deal heavy damage to bosses but are exhausted on use, and while a power like Hi-Jump isn’t quite as exciting as the other options, especially since Kirby can already press up after a jump to inflate and fly, the game puts in moments where most powers have a purpose but aren’t required if you’d rather stick with a favorite.
The powers blow open the doors on what Kirby’s platforming adventure can be like this time around, and while he is more capable than he was in his easy first game, Kirby’s Adventure actually manages to be more difficult than its predecessor while still staying accessible for younger fans. Funnily enough, the powers actually encourage the kind of play that makes enemies and bosses more dangerous. In Kirby’s Dream Land, Kirby could stand at a bit of a distance and suck in foes or objects to spit back at his attackers, his approach almost passive in that it was smarter to keep your distance and wait until you have the chance to suck in something useful. In Kirby’s Adventure, you can still go for that approach, but if you’ve got a power absorbed at the moment, your approach changes. Very few of the powers allow you to attack from too far away, meaning to damage something you need to get in close and activate them. You have to imperil yourself a bit to hit with this faster and more fun attack method, meaning you’re more likely to take damage.
There is one way Kirby’s Adventure is a touch too mean to the player though, that being a single bit of damage will cause your power to pop out and bounce around the screen for a bit. You can absorb it and get it back, but after a bit of time it will poof, and if it lands in spikes or water, it’s gone as well. Losing your power over and over in a boss battle can almost make you not want to use it anymore, especially since the bosses have an interesting design choice. Attacking a boss with a power is fast and easy, but the damage you deal is less than if you wait and let a boss’s attack send out something you can eat and spit out at it. This ensures you do have a speedy way to finish a fight without a power, and Kirby even has a few options outside of copied abilities to hold his own in a fight. Kirby’s got a simple slide kick good for killing grounded enemies, he can shoot out an air bullet if he’s puffed up and in the air, and while underwater, he can spit out a stream of water to make up for most of his powers being unable to function while submerged. Even in your basic powerless state, Kirby is still fine and fun to play as.
Kirby’s Adventure’s plot doesn’t explain where his new power to take on the powers of his enemies comes from, but it does bring Kirby’s previous foe King Dedede back into the picture. The citizens of Dream Land are unable to dream, Kirby discovering that Dedede had broken the Star Rod that powered the Fountain of Dreams and distributed it to his friends so they could defend its pieces. Kirby sets off to reunite the pieces to bring dreams back to a land named after them, heading to many different locations like an island, the sky, and a tall tower called Butter Building. Each area has a pretty detailed visuals for an NES game… in fact, they might be a bit too detailed. Kirby’s Adventure pushes the power of the system in its efforts to make the game cute and appealing, and this has two unfortunate effects on these otherwise lovely backdrops and character designs. The far left of the screen has a weird distortion effect present that thankfully doesn’t impact play ever, but when there are a few too many enemies on the screen, the game begins to slow down as the NES can’t quite process that much visual information. The areas where this usually happens are pretty safe so you won’t take damage for them, so ultimately, it probably was a worthy sacrifice to make Kirby’s world so visually rich. Enemy appearance and environmental obstacles are more important this time around after all, as the player needs to be able to figure out which enemies give which powers and noticing how those powers can affect the game world makes them more interesting to use.
Between levels in Kirby’s Adventure, the player is taken to a room with doors to access whatever unlocked levels they have. This area isn’t just for moving from one place to another though, as finding special exits or switches in levels can unlock special doors that can lead to minigames or power museums. The minigames are ways to earn extra lives, and even though death doesn’t really push a player back far, it’s nice to have some reserves since bosses and bottomless pits can sometimes take a few away from you. The minigames are cute amusements, a crane game, wild west duel, and an egg-eating contest serving as simple diversions and easy enough sources for a life or two, although every level also ends with a small game where a properly timed press of the A button can earn you an extra life. The power museums aren’t really games, but if you like certain powers, these can prove to be a reliable resource for getting one without having to hunt down the right enemy in a level.
The last special door you can unlock is an Arena fight that ties into the game’s combat. Minibosses and bosses alike achieve an interesting balance of being better to fight with powers but achievable without them, with neither approach making them too easy. Battles with them also ask the player to be more careful about taking damage, as both bosses and minibosses can’t be absorbed during the fight and only sometimes have attacks that can give you a copy power. For regular stages you can sometimes skip over much of the challenge with a good power or even just floating near the top of the screen and besides a search for variety, the game doesn’t really try to motivate you to ditch a power that’s working wonderfully. There is an Extra Mode meant to challenge players more to perhaps compensate for the ability to breeze through some of the game, but it’s a bit unimaginative, trimming your health bar down from six to three and removing the ability to save your game. Luckily, the regular difficulty does pack some punch, even if you won’t feel it too often outside some of the more aggressive bosses like the swordfighter Meta Knight or strange minibosses like the Rolling Turtle who tries to roll in to grab you constantly. Kirby’s Adventure isn’t trying to be hard, but it puts in what it needs to avoid being a cakewalk, nestling it into an enjoyable mellow middle ground.
THE VERDICT: Giving Kirby the ability to suck up enemies and take their powers was a stroke of genius, one that Kirby’s Adventure embraces with a bit too much gusto. Feeling out how to integrate powers into the series leads to a few odd ducks like Ball and Light, but in general, they take the platforming design of Kirby’s Dream Land and enhance it quite a bit, making it possible to approach areas with different attack methods for a shifting and varied experience. Pushing the player to get in close to use their copied powers allows boss battles and even regular enemies to be somewhat dangerous even if some of the better abilities can tear through things fairly easily. On the whole, Kirby’s Adventure is an adorable adventure and a fun platformer that takes only a minor hit from taking both the visuals and the powers a bit too far for the game to adequately support.
And so, I give Kirby’s Adventure for the Nintendo Entertainment System…
A GREAT rating. Kirby’s copy power comes out hitting here in its debut appearance, but room for refinement is still apparent. Losing it on every single hit is a bit of a drag and while there are highlights in the wide array of options you have, there are quite a few skills lost in the shuffle that you’d only pick up because you don’t have one of the better powers. The level design does support a fun platforming adventure with enough opposition in your way to keep your powers in use, so even if you aren’t a fan of Hi-Jump, you can still have a blast with Hammer or Ice or Wheel or Parasol or… well, the list goes on!
Kirby’s Adventure keeps you moving to grab the next new power and take it for a spin, the series really beginning to discover its identity here. Even though its a bit rough around the edges, Kirby’s Adventure does propel the pink puffball into his special platform game niche well enough that future games in its series can build even better experiences off its ideas.