Kirby Super Star Review
I haven’t reviewed a Kirby game since Kirby’s Dream Land, and that was way back in the first month of this site’s existence, back when I still tagged reviews as “spoilers” and “non-spoilers” because it never occurred to me that the former was an extraordinarily bad idea. Yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking, either. Those days are long gone now, and so it’s strange to suddenly delve back into something Kirby-related. Super Star is a game I’ve owned for a long, long time, though, and I was curious to see how well it’s held up since I played it last (I must have left it unplayed for something like a decade). The answer is “surprisingly well, with one or two caveats,” and it’s made all the more worthwhile by the fact that you can see the mechanics and franchises that would eventually coalesce into Super Smash Bros starting to come together here.
I don’t exactly have Kirby cred
The most recent Kirby game I can remember playing is The Crystal Shards for the Nintendo 64, so I wouldn’t exactly say that I live and die with this series. In fact, I even missed out on Kirby’s Dream Land 2 and Kirby’s Adventure back in the series’ early days. I’ve since read that one of those was the first to introduce the copying mechanic where Kirby could swallow enemies to absorb their powers (something absent in the first Dream Land, which contributed to that game being kind of meh), but my lack of experience with those games means that I can’t pick up on any references to them that might exist in Super Star. From what I’ve been able to gather through Wikipedia browsing, however, Dream Land 2 doesn’t seem to have any major elements that carry over, and Adventure’s only obvious contribution seems to be Meta Knight.
Despite not being a huge Kirby Fan, I remembered really liking Super Star and was still filled with rage and hate over how bad Dreamfall Chapters ended up being, so diving back into something all but guaranteed to be enjoyable was especially appealing. I didn’t remember a great number of specifics about the game, though, save for one or two boss fights and The Great Cave Offensive being a long, boring search for treasure. Imagine my surprise, then, when it turned out that finding treasure wasn’t required to actually finish that part of the game, and the boss fight I most anticipated ended up taking place during it. First, though, some explanation: Super Star is broken up into a bunch of separate stories, basically small games with different gameplay and goals, with four of the six (I’m not including the boss rush arena you unlock at the very end because there’s no story to it) being available from the start, and the others unlocking after you finish them. There’s a DS re-release called Kirby Super Star Ultra that includes more stories and minigames (and replaces the sprite cutscenes with ugly prerendered stuff), but I don’t have that one and tend to prefer the original version of games.
This being Kirby, we’re not talking about hard-hitting stories so much as light fluff that mostly just goes through the motions, but they all manage to be likable and humorous in an extremely appealing way to the extent that the game would be a much worse experience without them. Spring Breeze is basically a colorized version of Kirby’s Dream Land to start you off where King Dedede steals all the land’s food and Kirby has to stop him. Dyna Blade is about a giant bird destroying crops. Milky Way Wishes is about Kirby trying to make peace between the sun and moon after they begin fighting. It’s all enjoyably light fare, and you can begin to see shades of what would later become Super Smash Bros the further you play. This is most noticeable in The Great Cave Offensive, which sees Kirby finding various treasures, many of which are from games like Zelda and Metroid and other Nintendo staples that would eventually find themselves in Smash Bros. The very last boss of this section (the internet says its name is Wham Bam Rock) is also remarkably similar to SSB staple Master Hand, fighting with a stone hand that uses very similar attacks. Even the way SSB Brawl’s subspace emissary mode is structured feels like it has its origins in this game, and it was really interesting running through the game and recognizing all of the similarities like that.
There’s a lot of crazy stuff happening here
There was more creative weirdness put into Super Star than most Nintendo games (especially in modern times—Nintendo developers these days seem more willing to rehash past glories than earn them anew), and that’s really what makes this stand out from the other Kirby games that I’ve had no trouble ignoring the existence of. The jRPG-inspired boss fight that I fondly remembered was such an unexpected inclusion that I had no trouble recalling it years and years after last playing it, and that’s just the most obvious of many similarly interesting design choices. For example, Kirby’s powers all have a bunch of different attacks and special qualities to them. Take the yoyo power—if you run while using it, Kirby spins upside down like a break dancer, while using it normally creates a yoyo that can be angled in many different directions (great for hitting switches). It also comes with a special attack that places the yoyo on the ground and spins Kirby up in the air, and that’s only one of many powers, all of which have their own unique pros and cons to them. There are even semi-hidden powers that act like one-shot attacks: the paint ability that can be used to weaken a specific boss, the cook ability that can turn normal enemies (and bosses, so long as they’re defeated) into health powerups, and the crash ability that blows away all enemies on screen.
The gameplay here is surprisingly varied. In one set of levels, you’re racing King Dedede to the finish line, while in another you’re unable to copy enemy abilities and instead earn them permanently from pedestals (and can then switch between them at will). Companions are also an interesting feature, with the game allowing you to forfeit any power you have in order to create an NPC ally with its own life bar. They may not be particularly intelligent—and if there’s anything dangerous around, they will go out of their way to touch it—but they make great distractions and can even occasionally be coaxed into hitting switches and lighting fuses. There are also two minigames you can play, with one being a punching competition that relies on timing (my favorite) and the other effectively being a draw where you have to wait for a message and then react before your opponent. These can be a lot of fun, but they don’t last very long and they’re repetitive enough that you’ll quickly move on.
Kirby Super Star isn’t perfect by any means, however, and it suffers from some truly annoying problems. The first and most prevalent is enemy respawning; if you defeat an enemy, run forward a little bit, and then run back to where that enemy was, you’ll no doubt be annoyed to find that they’ve made a miraculous recovery. This makes thoroughly exploring large, connected areas (of which there are many) a hassle. Not only can you not use an absence of enemies to figure out where you’ve already been, but a lot of times they’ll sucker-punch you after respawning. Thankfully, the game is a bit on the easy side as a whole, but it’s still annoying when it happens.
Then there are two smaller and less annoying problems that aren’t that bad, but that rubbed me the wrong way anyway. To start with, certain parts of the game—mostly those where you’re actively looking for something like The Great Cave Offensive and Milky Way Wishes—love to hide doorways out of sight. Doors are hidden behind blocks and there are doors placed at the bottom of screens where you wouldn’t ordinarily think to look, and while this could be a positive, it pretty much forces you to explore every nook and cranny and makes the respawning enemies that much more irritating. Then there are the auto-scroller sections; certain parts of stages scroll and can crush you, and while most of them are inoffensive, there’s also a side-scrolling shooter section (it blows me away how many platformers—including modern ones—add these in for some reason) ending in an annoying boss fight. This is largely personal preference, but I don’t think this section pulled off the gameplay switch as well as more modern titles like Freedom Planet or Shantae: Risky’s Revenge. I think those games have better gameplay in general than Super Star, though, and that could just be its age showing.
Bright, flashing colors for no reason
Let’s get the music out of the way first: it’s classic Kirby. Song are bright and chirpy, but there are also some tense-sounding tracks balancing those out. As far as the music is concerned, I have no complaints. The graphics are also great for the most part, being colorful and using distinctive sprites that have a lot of personality. However, there are some parts of the game that quickly flash different colors (the “win” screen after Gourmet Race, any time you use the Mike power, etcetera) and it’s really overwhelming. If you’ve ever heard the story about the Pokemon episode that was banned because it caused medical issues, this is the same kind of thing. Even if flashing lights don’t cause any problems for you, though, it can be headache-inducing, and it’s frustrating because of how utterly unnecessary it is. From what I can tell from Youtube footage, this seems to have been largely fixed in the DS version, so my complaint here probably only applies to the original Super Nintendo version.