Every once in a while, great games slip under the radar. One of those games that many people missed was Kirby Super Star, released in North America in 1996. It sold over a million copies in Japan, but was largely ignored on this side of the Pacific for a couple of reasons. One, it was near the end of the Super Nintendo’s life cycle. Two, a little game called Super Mario 64 was released just six days later. It’s a shame, because Kirby Super Star was a great game that never got its due.
Fortunately, Nintendo felt the same way and released a new version called Kirby Super Star Ultra, with slightly updated graphics, new games, and new modes of play. So, what’s the verdict? Does Kirby Super Star Ultra still hold up after 12 years? Did Nintendo mess with the game too much, or did they do right by everyone’s favorite bulimic pink puffball?
Instead of going the full 3-D route, Nintendo and HAL Laboratories decided to stick with what the DS does best, and they gussied up Kirby Super Star‘s already-vibrant 2-D graphics. Everything looks distinct and crystal-clear. The backgrounds look great, but they don’t detract from the action on-screen. The enemies all have great, simple animations. Your computer-controlled helpers look excellent as well.
HAL Laboratories also went the extra mile for this adaptation and threw in pre-rendered cinematics, a touch usually reserved for more high-profile releases. Instead of being boring like I expected, they look fantastic. It’s actually a treat to see them, which definitely surprised me.
The only downside is that since everything looks so vibrant and colorful, sometimes you can lose track of exactly what’s going on in the game. Still, since Kirby is always in the middle of the screen it’s not awful, and the only person who really gets lost in the fray is your computer helper, who usually takes care of his own business surprisingly well.
Kirby games are known for cheery, upbeat music, and Kirby Super Star Ultra continues this tradition. It’s worth noting that the tracks in Kirby really add a lot to the game. They give an odd intensity to the proceedings that is entirely unexpected. The various squeaks and chirps of enemies as well as the other tones in the game are scattered about quite a bit, but since there’s so much variety they’re not annoying. You always have a clear idea of what’s going on with the audio cues you’re provided.
Control is precise and on the money. Unlike some games which kill you because the controls did something you didn’t want to do, Kirby Super Star Ultra handles sublimely well. Most games use nothing but the D-pad and the face buttons with extra options to be had by tapping the bottom screen, and it’s all very neat and clean.
There’s also a lot of variety in the controls as well. As you know, Kirby copies the abilities of his enemies. Kirby Super Star was the first in the series to give you several different moves to pull off with each ability. For instance, the Cutter power doesn’t just give you the ability to throw boomerangs, but also gives you the ability, once you are close to the enemy, of slapping them silly with a barrage of boomerangs, flying up in the air, and slamming back down to the ground, unleashing a blast in front of you.
Every ability has several different moves to unleash, and they’re all a blast to use. If you’ve seen this in other, newer Kirby games, the novelty may be diminished for you. It still doesn’t change the fact that it’s freaking awesome.
You may hear that Kirby Super Star Ultra game has 11 games in one cartridge and assume that it’s a collection of minigames, rather than full-fledged games. You would be wrong. While there are some minigames scattered throughout, they’re certainly not the main attraction.
Some of the games are more straightforward, what with the swallowing of enemies, and the copying their powers, and the using thereof. The level design in these portions is tight as a drum, but the games are easy, and there’s nothing revolutionary.
It’s when you move beyond the opening portions that you start seeing the wrinkles they threw in. Some games are holdovers from the original, like The Great Cave Offensive. The Great Cave Offensive revolves around progressing through levels like any other Kirby game, but with a twist: The point is to find different treasures sprinkled throughout the world. Some are seriously hard to find, and some are easy to find but hard to get to.
There’s also Milky Way Wishes, a game that totally trashes the “swallow enemies, copy powers” formula. Instead, you’re finding the powers throughout the game world, and you can then use them whenever you wish by selecting them on the touch screen. At the end of Milky Way Wishes, the game changes into a side-scrolling shooter, and then into one of the coolest boss battles around.
In one of the new entries, Meta Knightmare Ultra, you traverse all the game’s levels as Kirby’s mysterious sword-wielding nemesis Meta Knight. The gameplay is very different from playing as Kirby. Instead of copying abilities, every enemy you beat gives you energy which you use to unleash special moves, like a healing power or a screen clearing attack.
Kirby Super Star was more than likely originally conceived as a bunch of games that were great ideas that couldn’t get stretched into full-size games. As such, it was basically all killer, no filler. Kirby Super Star Ultra does the same thing, adding in more little games that they couldn’t possibly stretch out into full releases. Because they’ve trimmed so much fat, you’re left with rock-solid pure video game joy.
There are some complaints, though. As with any Kirby game, it’s a little too easy, but I can’t say I minded that. Sometimes, I don’t want to prove my l33t skills when I play a game. However, if you’re put off by games that are too easy, bear that in mind. The next complaint has to do with the Arena mode where you fight every boss in the game with limited recovery items. These are seriously hard. I can’t beat them, and I’m a veteran Kirby gamer. It’s a jarring transition in difficulty that I wish they could have evened out a little better. Still, for such a great game, these are minor flaws.
Like every Kirby game, you’re never really finished until you’ve found 100% of everything. Unlike some Kirby games, getting 100% is hard. Like I stated before, I’m a veteran Kirby gamer. I’m stuck at 85% and have hit a brick wall.
Kirby isn’t a game you would normally expect to see co-op play in, but they went and did it. There’s an option for wireless co-op, which is very cool. There are a bunch of minigames to master, and all of them can be played wirelessly as well.