It's nice when someone comes up with a NEW puzzle theme as opposed to simply cloning what's already there, copy-and-pasting a new skin to implant over top of the old game with the intent of shopping it out as something new without adding much else. Such was the case with Kirby's Avalanche, a SNES game that basically took the Puyo Puyo license and slapped Kirby characters on it. (The Sega Genesis had a similar instance with Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine two years earlier, capitalizing on the rising popularity of Sonic the Hedgehog.) But just as Dr. Mario was a Mario puzzler that introduced a new concept, it would have been nice if the first Kirby puzzler did the same. And now, here we are with Kirby's Star Stacker, a puzzle game that is genuinely its own thing, with very few imitators. And guess what! It's about stacking stars! Whodathunkit?!
Like Kirby's Avalanche, however, the actual "Kirbiness" is secondary to the game itself. Literally, this could just be called "Star Stacker", and nothing would change at all. Even though the manual has a page dedicated to the game's story, there IS no story. The first line of the plot states, "Kirby needs to stack the Stars." That's the story. THAT is the story. I get that Kirby has some sort of hypnotic infatuation with stars, as he's known to have the ability to turn inhaled creatures into stars, and he takes them for rides from time to time. But now, he "needs to stack" them. Stack them why? The only indication comes from King Dedede, Kirby's off-and-on nemesis, who taunts Kirby and points out his apparent star-stacking weakness. So, the story could just be a mere sportive rivalry between Kirby and King Dedede. Let's go with that. It's something.
...Puzzle games don't really need stories, do they?
The gameplay is very simple. You're stacking stars, with a goal of how MANY you need to succeed for each stage. By matching pairs of blocks with the same icon (portrayed as Kirby's animal friends from Kirby's Dream Land 2 — Rick the hamster, Kine the fish, and Coo the owl-bird-thing) horizontally or vertically, you'll make them disappear. Simple enough. If there are any star blocks in between them, they will disappear as well and decrease the number of stars you need. If you can create a combo by having one pair disappear, then making other blocks fall to cause more pairings, star blocks will rain from the sky to help work on that star count. Even better: if those falling star blocks fill in gaps between two of the same type of icon to form a complete connection, they'll disappear as well, and even MORE star blocks will then tumble down. Making chains are the key to success, as the "stack" of blocks will slowly rise. Other blocks, such as bomb blocks, will appear as well to make your life just a little more difficult.
Stardrops keep fallin' on my head...
It feels somewhat like Tetris, somewhat like Dr. Mario, but not completely like either one. But my main problem is that the concept DOES get old quickly. That means it's better for short bursts rather than lengthy all-nighters. But who would play a puzzle game all night?
I've referred primarily to the playing style of the "Round Clear" mode, which offers a set number of stages spanning five difficulty settings: Normal, Hard, Very Hard, Super Hard, and Insane. The primary difference in difficulties comes mostly with the speed in which blocks fall and how high the blocks are already stacked upon entry. (You can imagine that the "Insane" level drops ‘em pretty hard.) Later levels start you with a mostly full playing field already, and it is highly possible that with the blocks you start out with, you CANNOT win. Act fast or suffer the inconsequential wrath of Dedede! But Kirby's Star Stacker has a few other ways to play. A Time Attack mode tests your stacking meddle within a three-minute period, while Challenge mode just keeps going forever, or until you hit the top of the screen, whichever comes first.
But wait — what if you just happened to have a Game Link Cable? Why, then you can play with your friends if you have any friends with a dusty old Game Boy. Darest thou to challenge thine friends in ye olde Vs. mode? At this point in time, I don't think there is anyone left who has one of those cables left that isn't horribly frayed. And if you're playing this on the 3DS Virtual Console, as i was, the multiplayer isn't even an option at all. Too bad, so sad.
If you're looking for a quick puzzle game on the go, then Kirby's Star Stacker is probably something you could consider. Whether you're on a bus, on a train, on a plane, or in the rain, you can probably get a little bit of enjoyment out of this game... but not thaaaat much...