Okay, so let’s just get the “Kirby sucks LOLOLOLOL” out of the way now. All right, done.
Kirby’s Dream Land, released in 1992 for the Game Boy, is the very first game featuring Kirby, Nintendo’s lovable, ever-hungry puffball. The plot of the game is simple enough–King DeDeDe, Kirby’s nemesis and an all-around not-very-good guy, has stolen all of the food in Dream Land. He’s also stolen the stars that are used to harvest said food. An entire land of hungry denizens is obviously a terrible thing, so Kirby sets off to defeat DeDeDe and get the food and stars back. It’s a simple plot, but it works, and doesn’t get in the way of the gameplay.
Said gameplay is also basic, fitting, for the most part, your typical platformer mold. Kirby can walk forward and jump. He can also fly by pressing Up, although he can’t leave the screen by doing so, and he’ll move forward more slowly when flying. Pressing B while flying will make Kirby fall and exhale a puff of air that can destroy enemies as he does so.
Where Kirby sets itself apart from other platformers is Kirby’s primary way of dealing with foes. He doesn’t jump on them or shoot fireballs at them (At least not usually)–rather, he sucks them up and either swallows them or spits them out. Inhaling things and then spitting them out is also how he deals with bosses. It’s a neat concept, essentially taking the mechanics of Yoshi from the Super Mario series and making them central to the game, rather than an occasional add-on. Kirby’s round, happy appearance also sets him apart from a lot of other protagonists, especially in the 90s, which were a contest of “How much darker and more ‘adult’ can we make this hero than the previous one?” for most of the decade.
Is the game actually fun, though? Happily, the answer is yes, at least for as long as it lasts. With only 5 stages, Kirby’s Dream Land is not a very long game. This was fairly typical of Game Boy games–the original Super Mario Land, for instance, only has 12 stages in it, a far cry from the 32 of the original Super Mario Bros. Game Boy games were, of course, also cheaper than NES/SNES/Genesis games of the time, which may be one reason for its short length. Besides being short, the game is also quite simple. Nintendo’s present-day position is that the game is a perfect beginner’s platforming game. Whether this is just them trying to cover for the simplicity and short length nowadays, or that was their plan for the game for the start, it’s an accurate assessment of the game. It doesn’t make it a bad game at all, and it does include an Extra Mode that ups the challenge by replacing pretty much every enemy with a harder variant. Without this Extra Mode, though, it’s a very quick game to play in one sitting, even if you’re not trying to speedrun it.
Besides its simple gameplay, it’s also worth noting that Kirby hasn’t yet acquired his Copy ability that would become a series staple. Instead, swallowed enemies simply disappear, with no further reward for swallowing them up. Besides the cool little strut Kirby does while holding enemies in his mouth, there’s no real reason to not inhale and then immediately spit out an enemy in this game. This was the first game in the series, but I would argue that Kirby’s Adventure is the first game to really come close to what we think of as being “A Kirby game” today.
In spite of that, Kirby’s Dream Land is still worth playing, if only to see where the series started. They were pretty humble roots, to be frank, and maybe it’s best that way, if only so we can appreciate the leap forward that Kirby’s Adventure was.