Kirby’s Dream Land – A Retrospective Review

Despite beginning their game development on very different home computer platforms, HAL Laboratory have, over the years, been one of Nintendo’s most important second-party developers. Indeed, Satoru Iwata, currently president of Nintendo, was previously president of HAL Laboratory and still works with the company to this day. Throughout the company’s history of working with Nintendo, they have developed a few franchises which have become intrinsically linked with Nintendo’s own story. One of these franchises is the Kirby series, which began in the early 1990s and has continued to the current generation.

Kirby’s Dream Land is the first game in the Kirby series, developed in 1992 for the Nintendo Game Boy. Kirby’s Dream Land is a side-scrolling platformer, a genre it shares in common with many of its successor games in the series. Kirby, the eponymous character, is a denizen of Dream Land and has a number of peculiar abilities including the ability to inhale large objects and spit them out with great force, along with the ability to inhale air and float. When Kirby learns that King Dedede, the dictatorial monarch of Dream Land, has stolen all of the food in Dream Land for a midnight feast, he goes forth to retrieve the food.

Even at the early stages of the series, one could see many of the distinctive elements of the Kirby series take root. The ability for Kirby to inhale his enemies was distinctly different from the head-jumping attacks of Mario or Sonic, for instance, and the ability to float changed the flow of the game distinctly from other platform games. Some of the elements which would come up in later games is missing, though; most distinctly, the ability for Kirby to copy his enemies’ abilities, which was introduced in Kirby’s Adventure is missing, changing the dynamics of the game to make using the spitting attack more prominent in standard gameplay.

The game takes place over five levels, all with different themes. One of the levels is an extended boss rush, however, so only four of the levels have real substance to them. This makes for a rather short game, which on one hand is merciful, because the Game Boy cartridge has no save game capacity, and on another hand is somewhat disappointing. The standard game is very easy as well, for that matter, although some additional length and difficulty is added by the bonus game, a rerun of the game with more difficult enemies.

Most of the levels follow a distinctive pattern, with a mini-boss battle in the middle segmenting portions of the level with standard enemies, along with a boss battle at the end. The mini-boss and boss battles are substantially more difficult than the battles against standard enemies, which are made easier by the fact that you can often float over them, and the large amount of vitality that Kirby possesses against these enemies, with six hit points as opposed to the regular one or two found in many other contemporary platformers.

If an enemy does damage you, there are power-ups to replenish life, and the four lives you’re given at the start of the game can be supplemented by additional lives along the way. Unless you’re very inexperienced with platformers, you won’t need these much in the standard game, although the bonus game might be somewhat more difficult. It’s all very forgiving compared to the likes of Super Mario Bros., though.

Graphically, the game is simple but effective. There’s only so much you can do with the monochrome screen of the Game Boy, and while there are games with more impressive graphics on the Game Boy Color, HAL Laboratory certainly didn’t do a bad job with the more limited Game Boy screen. The sprites, in particular, are not that far off those that would be seen on Kirby’s Adventure a year later. The sounds are similarly simple, but again effective. Apart from the eminently hummable Green Greens music, most of the tracks don’t stand out too much, but they’re adequate.

All in all, Kirby’s Dream Land serves as a decent introduction to the series, and as a decent introduction to platform games in general. The lack of difficulty in the standard game is a blessing in some regards, as it lacks the unforgiving gameplay of many other contemporary platformers, although it does make for a very short game at the standard difficulty. The main problem with this game is that it has only been released on the original Game Boy, which means going back a few generations before you can get a handheld that can actually play it natively. The game also doesn’t exactly bring anything to the story of the series that you’d miss, so if you’re not looking for an easy introduction to platformers or if you’re not a massive fan of the Kirby series, it would be tempting to give this game a miss. On its own merits, it stands up relatively well; in the context of the series, it’s not the most unmissable game out of the many Kirby titles that have been released.

Bottom Line: Kirby’s Dream Land is a decent platformer, with very forgiving difficulty. It is somewhat let down by its short play time, the platform it was released on and the lack of save games, but it was a good first attempt by HAL Laboratory.

Recommendation: If you can find it in a bargain bin somewhere and you’ve got a Game Boy, Game Boy Color or Game Boy Advance, you could do worse than to get this game. Bear in mind that it is very short before taking a bite, though.