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CONSOLE: Nintendo 64 DEVELOPER: HAL Labs PUBLISHER: Nintendo
RELEASE DATE (NA): June 26, 2000 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

Kirby finally arrives in 3D, and he's actually round!

We waited, oh, how we waited for a Kirby game on the Nintendo 64. Back in 1995, a speck of light appeared in the form of a racing game in progress called Kirby's Air Ride. I remember the grainy screenshots on the internet and the slight delight of a new Kirby game... even if I didn't own anything newer than a Game Boy and wouldn't for several years. Well, Kirby's Air Ride never coagulated for the poor ol' Nintendo 64 (it eventually respawned for the GameCube in 2003 to very divided reception), but in 1999, a new pink-faced possibility appeared in the form of Kirby's Cloud, showing -- hooray -- a platformer for the Nintendo 64. It would later ACTUALLY be released as Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards in 2000. And here we are.

Kirby 64 follows the plight of that legendary pink fluffball (honestly, what species is he?) after being approached by Ribbon, a fairy from the planet Ripple Star. She informs him that her planet has been overtaken by the nasty one-eyed Dark Matter. Kirby, being the hero that he is, immediately self-enlists in her aid. As well, as Ribbon was fleeing the havoc, she was sneaking out Ripple Star's sole treasure, the Great Crystal, so that it would not be stolen by Dark Matter. She was attacked, however, by that very spirit and its shards flew all over the galaxy. Now Kirby has to take care of THAT problem as well. A man's work is never done. Along the way, Kirby picks up some allies to occasionally provide some much-needed help, including Waddle-Dee, Adeleine (a painter who otherwise has very little relevance in the series), and even your frequent rival, King Dedede (though he loathes the thought).

This is a 2D platformer. Yes, they were far less prevalent on the Nintendo 64, but they DID exist. Kirby 64 doesn't stray far from its roots, even on a more powerful console. While I would have hoped for a fully immersive 3D environment for Kirby, I guess I must accept my fate and play a 3D game on a two-dimensional plane. Bottom line is this: if you enjoyed the game play of all previous Kirby platformers, you'll find much mirth in this one as well, because there's no evolution here. But hey, as they say, if it ain't broke, don't bother fixing it. Because of its limited scope of gameplay, however, Kirby 64 suffers from very simple level design. It's mostly a case of going from the left side of each area to the right, avoiding some enemies and hopping across platforms. Each level is easy to navigate and lacks any challenging maze-like structures. You might be surprised by a few obstacles, but ultimately, all levels are very straightforward. Heck, the final world is actually easier than the previous ones! What's the deal? And even if you do take some extensive damage -- and you will, even though it's an easy game -- there are plenty of sandwiches, cake slices, Maxim tomatoes, and giant roast beefs laying around for you to snack on to regain health (even underwater, of all places); someone should really research better food storage in this nebula. The overall challenge for the entire game is pretty low; Kirby 64 can be easily completed in a weekend with a 100% completion rate.

The game also is a combination of innovation and a lack thereof. Innovative: the ability combination system. One of Kirby's most beloved moves is inhaling enemies and stealing their powers. There are seven different types of abilities available for use (fire, ice, bomb, spark, cutter, needle, and stone), but unlike previous Kirby games, you can actually either take one power and combine it with another to create something even more amazing -- 28 unique combos in all (including two of the same ability together). You can achieve this by literally lifting the not-so-innate ability above your head in a strange fashion and tossing it at another enemy, or inhaling two enemies simultaneously. Some of the new combos are pretty awesome, such as Bomb + Cutter = Kirby tossing ninja stars; Cutter + Spark = Kirby going Jedi with a neat light saber; or Stone + Needle = Kirby with a wicked power drill. Not so good? Ice + Fire = Kirby turning into an ice cube... on fire. Or Ice + Stone = Kirby as a curling rock. Actually, Ice + most abilities doesn't quality as fun... unless you count him turning into a refrigerator. That's just gaming gold. The only problem is that, for attaining some of the crystals, you have to bring specific power combos in with you to the level in order to access them, making you have to retread old ground frequently (and that's not including times I picked the wrong colour combo or lost my power on my second playthrough).

Lack of innovation: first of all, the majority of bosses are ripped right from older games. This seems to be a trend in Kirby games. That stupid Whispy Woods tree is in EVERY game. He's a staple, I know, but HAL Labs needs to stop recycling its bosses. As well, one of Kirby's classic traits is being able to puff up on the fly and... well, fly. Normally, he'd be able to fly for an infinite amount of time, as in most games. So why does he go for about 6-7 seconds, then start to sweat and tire before tumbling to the ground below (or a bottomless pit below, depending)? That's inexcusable. Finally, Kirby gives in to the mania of collecting things (in this case, crystal shards -- hence the game's title!). Not much innovation there, although actually finding and/or collecting some of those can be a tad on the difficult side. Collecting all of them has its benefit: you get to fight against the REAL final boss and see the true (and best) ending.


Kirby makes a note to only visit pristine regions!

I have to give props (using that term to provide myself with ample street credibility) to the sugary sweet visuals in this game. The fact alone that Kirby actually looks perfectly ROUND on a console whose 3D graphics practically promote jagged pointiness thrills me to no end. Maybe just tweaking his sphericality is the reason why this game took so long to come out. All roundness aside, Kirby's world is full of colour -- and by that, I mean EVERY SINGLE COLOUR can be found somewhere within the levels of this game. Background visuals, though not extensively detailed, have a bright, comical feel that suits the most youth-oriented nature of the Kirby series. Granted, not everything is beautiful -- Dark Matter looks more like the result of MS Paint's spray function -- but this game really demonstrates how visually effective a platformer can be on the Nintendo 64. It's a shame we didn't get more. The game also has brief video sequences every once in a while with some very impressive graphics, typically just to see how the crew gets to the next star.

Meanwhile, the soundtrack is a euphony of classic Kirby tunes and all-new compositions. Most songs are pretty chipper, save for the major battle tunes and darker levels that really aren't supposed to be pleasant (though they are somewhat). There's even a tune with a jive bassline in there that wouldn't be too out of place in an otherworldly jazz club. Even though the Nintendo 64's sound chip only allows for MIDI music, Kirby 64's music lineup is a solid homage to releases from the past. The available sound effects are typical of a cartoony game such as this and not exactly notable, though the game DOES feature the first utterances from our pink protagonist, typically when he gets hurt or after completing a boss fight successfully (where he leaps in the air, then waves at us while saying "Hiiii!"). He sure doesn't SOUND male...

And, of course, Kirby 64 is not without its additional bonuses. Features such as a theater for watching any in-game video sequences and an enemy database (built up by collecting special cards only available by playing a little jump'n'catch game after each level) are quaint, but it's the other mini-games that are worth more attention. Three mini-games are available right from the get-go, which can all be played with anywhere from 1-4 human players, or, if flying solo, at least 1 other character controlled by the CPU. The first is "100-Yard Hop", where each character has to hop 100 spaces down a long path until they get to the end, and everyone is racing to get there first. Pressing B hops one space, while the A button hops two spaces. However, there are plenty of traps along the way that need to be carefully avoided... but you'll also want to keep your speed up! Secondly, there's "Bumper Crop Bump", which is essentially trying to collect more falling fruit in your basket than anyone else... and bump people out of the way so you can get more! The last game is "Checker Board Chase", where everyone is on a checkerboard-style surface, and your goal is to knock the other characters off. Using the A button will send a wave forward that knocks the row or column directly in front of you down; if anyone's standing on it, they'll fall into the abyss below. It can get really frantic, and the last one standing will win it all. These mini-games are actually quite fun (well, okay, Bumper Crop Bump can get a little dry after a while) and a good addition to the game, even if they are short-lived. Last but not least, upon completing the game, you'll also get access to "Bosses", where you try to beat all the game's bosses in one life. This is, without a doubt, the biggest challenge of the game. Good luck!

Kirby 64 is neither an evolution nor a revolution. That being said, it is still just as fun as any other Kirby game to date, boasting all the basic elements that makes the series such a blast. Kids will love it, and adults will love it, too, if only for a brief period. This is still Kirby in his prime, and even with the simple gameplay and average level design, Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards is definitely worthy of anyone's library. Fortunately, this game is also available on the Wii's Virtual Console, so you don't need to hunt down an elusive Nintendo 64 in a dark used game store to play it. Fight on, Kirby!


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