Kirby’s Adventure, despite being the first game in the series to introduce Kirby’s ability to suck up and take the powers of his enemies, managed to come on the scene in a surprisingly solid and enjoyable form. Still, despite the NES game’s strengths, it had a few obvious areas for improvement, the console’s limitations stymieing some of its ambition and the new power system requiring some refinement. It was ripe for a remake, so along comes Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land, a chance to fix those problems and help Kirby’s Adventure realize its full potential! But… things didn’t totally swing that way. It is by no means a bad remake of the game, but some odd decisions were made here that keep it from achieving those lofty heights.
Perhaps the first odd thing about Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land is that it doesn’t really try to acknowledge its status as a remake outside of Japan. The title and box give no clue, but those familiar with the plot will no doubt notice the similarities. The citizens of Dream Land have lost their ability to dream, and when Kirby goes to the Fountain of Dreams to investigate why, he finds that the penguin-like King Dedede has broken up the Star Rod, the source of the fountain’s power, and given the pieces to his underlings. Kirby sets off to unite the pieces once more and bring dreams back to the land named after them, fighting his way through short platforming worlds and taking down Dedede’s allies. Very rarely would a game’s story undergo changes in a remake, but the visuals and sound have certainly been updated to make colors vibrant and area backgrounds far more detailed than before. Levels are bright and inviting and characters, even the enemies, all have friendly round designs, with even Kirby’s rival Meta Knight being an orb with mittens despite his serious looking mask and sword. While the NES version pushed the system hard to try and make their graphical style work, the GBA remake is completely clean, with no lag or weird distortions to be found. Each world’s visual design is more pronounced as well, since the room to make more complex backdrops allows it to be much clearer you’re scaling a tower in Butter Building and the similar worlds of Ice Cream Island and Orange Ocean are now able to set themselves apart more by playing more into their tropical motif and sunset waters motif respectively. Even areas like the cloud levels of Grape Garden now have more visual punch, and while there is a charm to Kirby’s Adventure doing all it can to push out the best visuals it could, Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land pulls its graphical style off with ease.
By the time Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land was made, the power system of the series had been tinkered with and explored considerably. Frivolous powers had been tossed away or combined with other abilities, some skills were given additional uses, and power retention was made much easier. Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land… doesn’t include those advancements. There is one improvement made to the system, that being when Kirby sucks up and swallows and enemy with a power, he will assume a distinct appearance that makes it obvious which skill he has, most of these either recoloring Kirby or giving him some new headwear. This minor improvement isn’t what Kirby’s Adventure needed though. One thing holding the game back was the fact that any type of damage would cause Kirby’s power to pop out of him, Kirby able to reclaim it if he’s fast enough but the potential for losing it and the need to chase after it a frequent concern. Games like Kirby’s Dream Land 3 had already done away with this old idea, but the developers of this remake seemed to be a bit too concerned with authenticity, leaving in this particular mechanic and not really trying to improve any of the old powers. This still means things like Kirby turning into a Ball or using the Light power are underwhelming, but thankfully, the strength of the original ideas get to shine through still. Kirby can gain over 20 powers by eating certain foes, some like Sword and Hammer giving him something dangerous to swing at enemies, others like Laser and Cutter letting him fight them from afar, and more unique powers like Wheel sending Kirby racing forward as a tire and Crash and Mike letting him clear the screen of weak enemies. A few feel a little redundant since no changes were made. There are two skills that use the element of fire and the same for ice, Backdrop and Throw are sort of similar ideas, and Needle and Spark are still pretty much visual retools of each other, but the powers do enhance how you approach enemies and bosses. Most of them require you to stop moving to execute, leaving you vulnerable to attack, and the need to be in close with some only makes intelligent power use an even more important skill to develop.
Area design in Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land is meant to be easy enough for new player but still enjoyable for older gamers. There are a few secrets off the beaten path, but most of the game is about pushing forward through the seven worlds. Kirby’s platforming is rarely about precision since he can inflate himself to fly around, so most obstacles are enemies placed in your path to hassle you. Kirby can suck in most and spit them back out as a means of fighting, but the powers are a much more interesting way to fight, especially when it comes to the battles with foes who can take a few hits. Minibosses and bosses can be fought with or without powers, most of them much easier with but taking more damage if you turn their own attacks against them. The fights are familiar to those who have played Kirby’s Adventure, although the annoying Rolling Turtle miniboss has been swapped out with an elephant instead, with a few minor enemies being replaced during the art shift as well. Health pick ups and extra lives are frequent enough that even losing to a more aggressive boss or more dangerous level design won’t leave you high and dry. Interestingly enough, there is now a four player cooperative option if you can wrangle up that many players to join you, but it does turn an already fairly easy quest into one where the bits of challenge can be brute forced through your greater numbers.
Speaking of completely new features in Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land, there are a few that do manage to enhance the experience a touch. Kirby’s Adventure had a few bonus games you could enter in the world rooms to earn extra lives. While Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land retains the miniboss arena doors and power museums found in the original, the minigames are new, although technically the Samurai Kirby game is the same as the Quick Draw cowboy duel but with an Eastern coat of paint instead of Western. The two completely new games replace the somewhat plain egg catcher and crane game, the first one being a grinding minigame where you grind on rails and need to ease up on them when you reach spiky portions to avoid getting hurt. The more involved minigame of the two though is Bomb Rally, where you and three other Kirbys smack a bomb around to try and avoid it detonating on you. Earning extra lives doesn’t require a perfect performance in any of these, but Bomb Rally and the Kirby’s Air Grind both have a bit more replayability since they have difficulty levels and more variability.
These new minigames are nice, but not exactly the considerable changes one would expect from a remake. Luckily, Nightmare in Dream Land has one big addition left to talk about, although its unfortunately hidden behind the need to 100% the main game and do the same for the harder Extra version of the game. This unlockable mode is known as Meta Knightmare, and rather than playing as the pink puffball who takes the powers of his enemies, you get to play as one of Kirby’s familiar foes, the sword-wielding boss character Meta Knight. Meta Knight’s sword abilities are a bit more diverse than Kirby’s, which is good because they are all you have access to when you play through the entire game in one sitting without the ability to save. On top of that, Meta Knight has half the health Kirby usually does and starts with very few lives, although he can find 1 Ups along the way. Meta Knightmare is deliberately set up to be the most challenging mode in the game, and while Meta Knight’s sword is a capable weapon and he can fly with his bat-like wings to match Kirby’s inflation ability, his fragility means you can’t just blaze your way through levels that Kirby was able to push past thanks to his varied skill set and ability to weather more damage. While very little about Kirby’s Adventure has changed in its remake outside of the aesthetics, Meta Knightmare does give the game something distinctly new and substantial to experience.
THE VERDICT: Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land was an opportunity to enhance Kirby’s Adventure, to polish an already excellent title with the lessons learned in its sequels. Unfortunately, authenticity was oddly adhered to a bit too much here. Graphically everything was enhanced up to the Game Boy Advance’s standards, but the power system still has some redundant abilities and the unfortunately retained losing of your power after taking a single hit. Nothing was really worsened though, meaning that it still has the engaging copy ability system to play around with and levels and bosses designed to complement it well. It’s vibrant, inviting, accessible, and a bit of clean fun despite not really changing much of the design elements it took from a game nearly ten years older than it. The one major interesting change is the Meta Knightmare mode, a more difficult way to experience the game and an excellent way of twisting how you approach familiar levels.
And so, I give Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land for the Game Boy Advance…
A GREAT rating. It would be disingenuous to say a game that basically ported Kirby’s Adventure to a new system with a few minor enhancements was worse than the original, but it a shame to see that it didn’t aim to update itself with the lessons learned in other Kirby titles. The fact is, Kirby’s Adventure didn’t really need a faithful remake, as Nintendo happily rereleased it on the Virtual Console and even if you just want a version without the visual problems, they would eventually make a 3D Classics take on it as well to smooth those out. This was a chance to make the Kirby’s Adventure design Fantastic by pushing the power system in the right direction and perhaps introducing ideas like powers serving multiple purposes or adding in more modes than just the admittedly great Meta Knightmare as more of a reason to play the remake. It’s hard to pinpoint why the remake was made, save perhaps the fact Kirby had a cartoon at the same time and they wanted to capitalize on the attention somehow.
The Game Hoard doesn’t aim to review every remake or port if they aren’t actually all that different from their original version, but sometimes the only way to find out that’s the case is through playing it. Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land is not really the definitive way to play Kirby’s Adventure despite its improvements, mainly because those improvements were fairly minor. Whether you choose the older game or its GBA remake, you still get to experience a fun Kirby game and don’t really need to play the other due to their similarity.