Being Kirby’s 20th anniversary and all (an occasion Nintendo thankfully intends to recognize with a Wii disc comprising many of Kirby’s exploits), I think the little guy deserves some due credit beyond his upcoming anniversary collection for being a singularly amazing video game character who has starred in some of the darkest games the big N’s ever crafted. That’s right, Kirby games aren’t as sweet, cuddly, and easy as plenty of folks dismiss them as. Well, they are…but it rarely lasts.
It’s no secret to seasoned Kirby fans that things can get pretty dark in the pink puffball’s world from time to time. All of Kirby’s games start out, as I said, sugary-sweet, cute, and cuddly. The music’s bubbly, the colors are bright, and Waddle Dees are everywhere. They try to hurt you, but…they more often than not only harm themselves. It’s all seemingly child’s play; that is, until our brave Kirby ventures into later worlds where the cuteness begins to deteriorate, and the difficulty ramps up (or until you meet your first Scarfy).
In so many of Kirby’s games, there’s a point where the adventure comes of age, so to speak, and the journey’s sense of maturity skyrockets. Kirby’s not the only series to do this, of course – tons of games ease the player into higher difficulties and tense situations. However, Kirby does it so flawlessly, and the transition from light to dark is often so quick and intense that it simply needs to be mentioned apart from all the others. Suddenly, late during our pink hero’s many treks, it becomes apparent that there are sinister forces at hand – a stark contrast to the previously carefree atmosphere. The games rarely ease players into the fire. Skies darken, music adopts a definite tone of urgency, and enemies start to hit harder than they seemingly should for a “kiddy” game. And speaking of enemies, I daresay the Kirby series boasts some of the darkest and most disturbing antagonists in not only Nintendo’s history, but in all of gaming.
Kirby’s Adventure featured the embodiment of nightmares, Kirby Super Star introduced a power-hungry, deceptive dictator wannabe by the name of Marx (willing to twist and alter his physical form to snuff out his pink nemesis), and Kirby’s Dream Land 3 gave birth to Zero, whose gruesome legacy has come to define the darker side of Kirby. And those three only scratch the surface. Drawcia and Magolor follow close behind them on the creepy-o-meter.
Final bosses in Kirby (the true final bosses) are nothing to sneer at. They bleed, they contort and transform, they embody a multitude of different emotions and ideas; sadness, loneliness, anger, lust for power, darkness, deception, destruction – and they mean business. They aren’t afraid to duke it out above the cold, dark surface of the moon, open temporal rifts on a whim (the utter chaos within, I can only imagine), or literally destroy their bodies in a last-ditch attempt to kill Kirby.
That, I feel, is the Kirby series’ greatest strength. Sure, the gameplay is often varied, and its difficulty is progressive enough for seasoned gamers to become invested in. However, what makes Kirby so endearing is the atmosphere his world creates. That sense of urgency many Kirby games bring to the table when, suddenly, the player is shown the darker side of things is unparalleled. The games remind players that the world can be a very dangerous place filled with disturbing truths. You wouldn’t think it at a glance, but Dream Land is filled with graphic manifestations our own deepest, darkest nightmares. Luckily, Kirby (the embodiment of our long-forgotten purity and innocence) is there to pierce the darkness and save the day.
Yeah, Kirby’s totally a kids’ series; rather, his games remind us all that the brightest light casts the darkest shadows, and even when all seems lost…there is always hope. And cake – there is always cake; neatly wrapped into games that anyone can pick up and enjoy at one point or another.
Now, that’s pretty profound. Here’s to 20 more years of Nintendo best kept “sort-of-secret,” if you will.