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FGC #464 Pokémon Snap

Gotta photo capture 'em allPokémon Snap doesn’t get enough credit for being the only Pokémon game that matters.

Pokémon Snap was not always a Pokémon game. It apparently started its time well before the release of the Nintendo 64 as “Jack and the Beanstalk”, a game that does not, in any perceptible way, exist. Was it intended as another Mario 64-esque platformer? A beanstalk-explorer like Ocarina of Time? Or was it actually some manner of JRPG? That last choice might be the most accurate, as, apparently, features from Jack and the Beanstalk were eventually integrated into the N64 release of Mother 3… which was then also scrapped. However, we do know that the original Jack and the Beanstalk did involve photography, as Iwata once confessed that Snap’s ancestor did allow the player to take pictures, but nobody could figure out why the player would take pictures. Yes, in the days before camera phones, selfies, and a built-in screenshot button, it was assumed that someone wouldn’t take random pictures if they didn’t have to (Final Fantasy 15 would be a very different game with this philosophy). What was the solution? Add something people actually liked looking at! Pokémon! Yes, Pikachu is on everything, so why not capture him on film instead of in a pokéball? He’d probably be happier that way…

So Pokémon Snap was designed around taking pictures of “peaceful” Pokémon, and not the pocket monsters that constantly assault young children scampering through tall grass. This, bizarrely, transforms the game into a first person shooter. You’re stuck on (literal) rails behind the eyes of Todd Snap, a kid who has been conscripted into a photographic war that vaguely resembles Disney Land rides. Todd must take the best pictures of Pokémon possible, and, while this is supposed to be a serene environment, he’s often asked to hurl apples and smoke bombs in the name of that perfect shot. Yes, Todd, we all believe that you beaned that Diglett into catalepsy because you were trying to feed the little critter. But, even with the nonlethal ammunition, the entire experience seems a lot closer to Doom than Pokémon Red or Pokémon Stadium. Even ignoring the lack of critter kidnapping, this is a very different Pokémon game.

And, in 1999, that is exactly what the franchise needed.

SAUR!Gamers almost always, as a rule, ignore tie-in media and how it impacts their favorite games. Many of Mario’s biggest fans grew up with the Super Mario Bros. Super Show, and now publicly disavow any knowledge of that time Luigi was cursed by Mario’s errant copy of the Necronomicon, and Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, had to be summoned to purify our favorite plumber. That is not canon. Nor is it canon that Link frequently uttered “excuse me, princess” while palling around with a surprisingly horny fairy. And Mega Man certainly was never green (unless he was equipped with Leaf Shield) and was never transformed into a robot caveman. Cartoon tie-ins (and their brethren: cereal, toys, and all other kinds of merchandise) are to be considered completely non-canon. And nothing much about that has changed in the years since Captain N. Yes, Persona and Blazblue have their own modern animes, but they’re wholly useless, as they just rehash the already robust story modes of their respective games. It’s cool to see Yukiko in full animated regalia, but it’s an experience just as empty as watching Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm. Actually, at least MK:DotR had the decency to include original content to sate an appetite for stories…

But there’s a reason Pokémon: The Animated Series blazed the trail for the “anime invasion” of the early 21st Century. You could claim it was simply its easy to understand, but robust story. You could claim it was the generally gorgeous animation (for, ya know, the late 90’s). You could even claim it was just a matter of good ol’ Pikachu being as cute as a button. But all that is secondary to the real reason Pokémon: The Adventures of Ash Ketchum and That One Squirtle was good: it took the concept of Pokémon Red/Blue and made it real. Let’s be honest here: Pokémon Red/Blue (and Green?) is an extremely limited experience. You find monsters, you catch monsters, you fight monsters against monsters. The end. There’s an overarching plot, and there’s an evil organization of propulsion-based baddies out there to defeat, but the world of Pokémon Red/Blue is otherwise very… sparse. Psyduck might have an interesting pokédex entry about lulling opponents into a false sense of security with its odd expressions, but it’s effectively the same as any other random water Pokémon in a battle. And battles are all you have!

Love that eggBut that’s the rub about Pokémon Red/Blue, the iconic pokédex (which appears to be some kind of magical, hand-written encyclopedia in the original game) tells a tale about a much more interesting world of magical creatures. Marowak throws its bone like a boomerang. Jynx starts dance parties with its mighty hips. Porygon can live in the internet at will. Lapras was hunted to extinction by previous generations. Hell, the very concept of a “legendary” Pokémon barely exists in the gameplay of the original game. The super birds are just randomly found in caves (and one power plant), but their pokédex entries claim they are mythical monsters that appear before the damned (which, granted, is probably the natural outcome of encountering a creature that can capriciously summon lightning). There are oodles of lore, both magical and mundane, relayed through the pokédex, but absolutely none of it appears in the game proper. If you ever wanted to see a herd of Pikachu in the forest, or a Cubone gently weeping from behind its skull mask (you monster), you needed to look elsewhere. You needed to look to the Pokémon official anime.

And, eventually, you could look to the first game that involved Pokémon being Pokémon: Pokémon Snap.

Mew!Yes, Pokémon Snap has very different gameplay from other Pokémon games. But, more importantly, it allows its Pokémon to be divorced from their usual game-based battles, and lets Pokémon just be… Pokémon. Pikachu is allowed to scamper and surf around. Gyarados is free to swim up waterfalls with impunity. And events that could only occur thanks to a boring “level up” in the “real” games are free to happen as nature intended. Magnemites gather in a trio to form a Magneton, and Slowpoke fishes up a Shellder to become Slowbro. These are all events and behaviors outlined or implied in the greater lore, but never given a chance to breathe thanks to the gameplay being entirely monster violence based.

And, ultimately, this is why Pokémon Snap doesn’t need a sequel (though, let’s be clear, I would jump on such a thing immediately). What’s important about Pokémon Snap isn’t beanstalks, photography, or its gameplay, it’s that the world of Pokémon was finally fully realized in its proper, digital format. Taking random cues equally from Pokémon Red/Blue as the Pokémon television series, Pokémon Snap took the Pokémon franchise into a direction that allowed its monsters to be more than movelists. Yes, a thunder stone will evolve Pikachu, but wouldn’t you rather see Pika play with some berries? Maybe, maybe not, but what’s important is that Pokémon Snap created a world where that was possible. And that world…

Bewear!

Is now the world we live in…

Pikachu!

In more ways than one.

Pokémon Snap was the first Pokémon game to truly explore the world of Pokémon. And that matters.

FGC #464 Pokémon Snap

  • System: Nintendo 64 for the initial release, but also eventually available for Wii and WiiU. I highly recommend the latter versions, as the N64 is unpleasant to look at.
  • Number of players: Sorry, my dude Todd rides alone.
  • Wasn’t Hey You, Pikachu the first real Pokémon spin-off? I didn’t say it wasn’t. It was just not at all important to anyone but microphone enthusiasts. Didn’t Alakazam own a shop in that thing? Non-canon.
  • They can be friends!Not Canon: The three legendary birds hatch from eggs found around the various environments. But everyone knows legendary Pokémon don’t hatch from random eggs! They are summoned by Lord Arceus in a grand and unerringly confusing ceremony that takes place on a sacred mountaintop. And then they hatch from eggs! But smaller eggs! I think!
  • Make it a Blockbuster Night: I still have the original manual and insert that advertises how you can take your Pokémon Snap cartridge to Blockbuster Video to print out poképhotos. When Snap was rereleased on Wii/WiiU, it changed this functionality to online sharing. And that’s great, but looks like I still have to go to Blockbuster to hang these gorgeous polygons on my wall.
  • Favorite Pokémon (this game): Magikarp appears in more stages than Pikachu, so it is clearly the MVP of the event. And it only gets to evolve into a Gyarados in its final appearance. What a little trooper!
  • An end: Your reward for completing all the (relevant) tasks is an opportunity to float above the clouds and photograph the mythical Mew. And that’s right about when the game just wholesale turns into Killer 7, as you have to “pester” Mew into losing its shield, and then take photos of the naked genetic Pokémon. It’s an odd choice, particularly given the whole “cloud” area would be the perfect opportunity to involve other flying/fascinating Pokémon. Also, harassing Mew is just plain mean.
  • Did you know? A mere 63 Pokémon appear in this adventure, despite the fact that the entire goal of the franchise is “catching ‘em all”, which, at this point, was a measly 151 Pokémon. This is likely the result of Pokémon Snap being demoted from its original position on the doomed 64DD expansion, and not at all an intentional slight against my man Drowzee.
  • Would I play again: Maybe for a level or two. Pokemon Snap requires a lot of “grinding” to gain the more useful items (it’s a good way to get extra play out of a game with only seven short levels), but replaying stages with everything available is rather enjoyable. I wouldn’t say no to a portable version that already has a flute unlocked…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Tetrisphere for the N64. It’s like Tetris, but round! Please look forward to it!

I have no idea

FGC #409 Kirby Star Allies

EVERYBODY DANCE NOWKirby is a hero because he never forgets his friends.

Kirby is a force of pure id. The diminutive pink ball (seriously, it’s canon that he’s less than a foot high) is an endless source of destruction for Dream Land. Assuming some malcontent were to lay a paw on even one slice of Kirby’s cake, our “hero” would descend upon the land in a flurry of annihilation, and consume every man, woman, and block from here to his goal. If an evil clown is riding a tomato, Kirby will consume fiend and fruit alike, and then move on to swallow one of those giant bear things. And let’s not even consider the property damage incurred by a reckless warrior wearing a bandana and wielding a hammer! Kirby should be hero and villain to the generally drowsy denizens of Popstar.

But Kirby is only considered a hero by all but the most stubborn of penguin monarchy. And why? Because Kirby is so damn inclusive.

Let’s back up a moment, and consider the concept of a supporting cast. In fact, since I’m psyched about some upcoming Avengers times, let’s talk about superhero supporting casts. Iron Man kicked off the Marvel cinematic universe, and he’s always had his Pepper Potts on standby. There’s also War Machine, who has appeared in every IM movie, and a surprisingly high number of Avengers/Captain America films. But then we have the supporting cast from every other Marvel film, and do the auxiliary characters ever escape the gravity of their private little universes? I’d love to see Thor’s Science Squad discuss matters with Spider-Man’s STEM kids, or even see some Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. comingle with a Strange fellow or two, but I’m pretty sure the best we’re going to get is Wong comparing hair care tips with Okoye. And, in a way, that’s fine, because Avengers: Infinity War already looks overstuffed with every hero under Ego the Living Planet, but it also sucks for every incidental character that has ever outshone their main star. I’m not going to start shouting, “Bring back Peggy Carter!” but… well, okay, I might start doing that. Bring back Peggy Carter! And Iron Man’s dad! They were the best ones!

WeeeeBut the fact that the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” has been so long lasting (do we have a single movie universe/franchise with one solid continuity that has ever lasted this long?) has erased our memories of what normally happens in superhero movies. Let’s look across the aisle at Batman. If you’ve got a Batman movie, you have to have the old standbys: Bruce Wayne, Commissioner Gordon, Alfred Pennyworth, and Martha Wayne’s necklace. But past that? Well, if you liked a particular character from one Batman movie, there is absolutely no guarantee that character will ever be seen again. Lucius Fox? He’s a strong maybe. Robin? Depends on the decade. Batgirl? Geez, I know I’m one of six people that enjoyed Alicia Silverstone’s performance, but we’re somehow never seeing that character again. And even if a character returns, it doesn’t mean they’ll be remotely similar to their previous incarnation. Batman is always Batman, but Catwoman might be a Tim Burton fantasy, or a Bond Girl that incidentally owns a motorcycle. And the Al Ghul family can’t even stick to one nationality!

The unfortunate point of all this superhero talk is that it’s rough being a tertiary character when your best friend has their name in the title. Superman might always have his Jimmy Olsen, but not even the biggest blockbuster of 2017 is going to stick Etta Candy in anyone’s vocabulary. And that sucks for any audience member that actually prefers these “sidekick” heroes (or, as might be the case in that ridiculously male dominated field, heroine). If you’re looking for the benevolent Leslie Thompkins of the Batman mythos, please never watch Gotham, as she’s… a wee bit on the crazy side. But maybe she’ll be better in Batman’s next adaptation!

But Kirby doesn’t have that problem. Kirby has friends forever.

NINJA!We’re going on 26 years of Kirby, and Kirby’s main cast has absolutely not changed with the times. Kirby is the same hungry ‘n heroic puff he has been since day one. King Dedede is a greedy hammerhead of a flightless (kinda) bird (also kinda). Even the freaking tree with a face has been serving the exact same purpose since his introduction as Kirby’s first ever boss. Waddle Dee is Dedede’s minion whether he’s got a bandana or not, and Scarfy is still just as angry about Kirby’s inhalations now decades after that stopped being Kirby’s main offensive maneuver. Link, Samus, and Sonic might explore entirely new universes with every installment, but Kirby’s world has been rigidly defined from his inception.

But Kirby isn’t just about repetition, Kirby is all about the little guy (again, not even a foot tall, but I’m not talking about him this time).

As a member of not only the Metroid Preservation Society, but also someone who has been tirelessly stumping for the Equal Rights for Goombas campaign, I like incidental bad guys in videogames. I could care less about King K. Rool, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Kudgel again. Starman might have dominated the Earthbound box, but I’d rather see the Wild Wooly Shambler make a comeback. And, unlike shield-bearing heroes, I like like-likes. And it looks like Kirby is right there with me! Waddle Dees and Waddle Doos are locks, but we’ve also got Birdon and his fabulous headdress. Bio Spark the ninja, too! Chef Kawasaki! Bugzzy returns! And they’re all playable!

And then you get some DLC, and you’ve got a hamster on the roster, too! What more could you ask for!?

WeeeeeeSo, in a way, Kirby Star Allies is the ultimate form of the Kirby experience. Kirby never forgets his friends, so it’s only natural that he would wander around the universe and make brand new friends everywhere he goes. Yesterday’s villain is today’s best friend, and Kirby’s team of Dedede, Metaknight, and Marx is proof of that. And, even though it’s certain we’ll see another Kirby title after this series highpoint, you don’t have to worry never seeing Kirby’s “Batgirl” ever again. Kirby never forgets his friends, and that’s a fine explanation for why they keep that maniac around.

Kirby’s one tough creampuff, but he’s never going to forget even one of his friends.

… Except Lololo. Screw that guy.

FGC #409 Kirby Star Allies

  • System: Nintendo Switch, the best damn system ever named after a piece of routing equipment.
  • Number of players: Bring all your friends! Four!
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Kirby rules! All Kirby games are good, and Star Allies is fun for the whole family (of mutant, one-eyed waddlers). My only complaint stems from the game relying on the same bosses and minibosses a little too often, and not in stimulating ways. Fighting Whispy Woods more than once in a playthrough, particularly when you know there’s going to be an arena mode anyway, is pushing it. And miniboss twins are okay, but where’s the full 4 v 4 brawl? Keep making me fight Mr. Frosty, fine, but at least make it interesting!
  • CreepyFavorite Copy Ability: How did it take this long for Kirby to become Spider-Kirby? Trapping opponents is fun, hi-jump makes a return as a friend ability, and Kirby gains the coolest hat in the world. Kirby does well doing everything a spider can.
  • Favorite Ally: Bonkers the Gorilla has a hammer and my heart.
  • Sad but true: That minigame where Kirby bats an incoming meteor into the stratosphere is the closest we’re ever going to get to a decent FLCL game.
  • Did you know? In all Kirby 25th Anniversary orchestra artwork, Bonkers plays the timpani. Don’t date drummers.
  • Would I play again: Yes, and please release more and more DLC so I can play Kirby again every month. Bring back that painter kid, Nintendo!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mega Man Battle Network 6: Cybeast Gregar for the Gameboy Advance! Oh boy! It’s time to give my spell checker an absolute conniption! Please look forward to it!

KIRBY!

FGC #351 Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards

Hashi no kahbi!Nintendo’s worst videogame system proves one simple truth: you can be yourself, or you can be something else, but you can’t be both.

The Nintendo 64 was Nintendo’s third console system. The Nintendo Entertainment System was synonymous with videogames, brought the entire industry back from the brink, and managed to turn Nintendo into an uncontested juggernaut of the industry. The Super Nintendo had to deal with the upstart Sega Genesis, but it was still home to some of the best games of the era, and a number of releases that, even to this day, unequivocally are the greatest hits of the medium. The Nintendo 64, though… the N64 got problems. It started with a rocky, anemic launch. It bled third-party support almost instantly. It never hosted a worthwhile JRPG when that genre defined the epoch. Its final first-party game was a scaled-up Gameboy title (I’ll save you some googling, it was Dr. Mario). There were some great games for the N64, but Ocarina of Time had to share shelf space with Turok: Rage Wars. The N64 made it hard to be a Nintendo fan.

But let’s take a step back and consider what being a “Nintendo fan” really meant at the time. We take it for granted nowadays, but the very concept of a “console war” didn’t seem to exist before the 16-bit era. The Atari didn’t seem to have any significant competitors, and the NES was videogames for the 80s. It wasn’t until the Sega Genesis decided it needed a chunk of that market share that the flames of “us vs. them” had to be fanned. Did you ever read Nintendo Power from that time? Or Sega Visions? What were already basically propaganda magazines decided to go all in on the most important battle of our time (hedgehogs vs. plumbers), and every other month you’d get new information on how blast processing isn’t even a real thing, riding a dinosaur is for babies, or the essential truth that so much as demoing a second videogame console is infidelity of the highest order. You cannot serve two masters, little gamer, and you should inflict this vital fact upon everyone on the playground.

ROCKYSo, by the time we hit the Playstation vs. N64 years, don’t worry, Nintendo Power, we got this. We know those vipers at Sony are trying to eat our lunch again with their Final Fantasies and Mega Mans and other franchises we used to enjoy on Nintendo systems, and we’ll defend you! We’re forever in debt to the Mushroom Kingdom, Hyrule, and Castlevania. Wait… they got a new Castlevania? And the N64 just has some dork with a chainsaw? Dude. Dude. Look, guys, I’ll keep playing Pokémon, but, uh, I gotta get going. Tekken is waiting, and it’s got a panda fighting a dinosaur.

And Nintendo noticed. Before the N64 was even released, it became clear that CD based systems were finally going to be the wave of the future (after a rocky bump in the road compliments of INXS), and the cartridge was to quickly go the way of Caveman Games. But Nintendo didn’t like the looks of load times, so we were forced to read the phrase “expensive cartridges” for the next five years. And then the Nintendo 64 launched with dopey Mario and frivolous Pilotwings. Wrong! We needed more big boy games for big boys, so we quickly received Cruisin’ USA, Mortal Kombat Trilogy, and Killer Instinct. Ah, yes, that’s the stuff. Mature games for a mature gaming community. And 2-D games are out of style, so we need all 3-D, all the time. It worked for Mario, so how about we get Donkey Kong into the 3rd dimension. And keep churning out those violent fighting games and grown-up shooters. It’s what the people want!

RAINBOW RIDEIt’s clear what happened here: Nintendo had a solid vision for the future of their console… and then “course corrected” to please the masses ten minutes before the system even launched. The controller with camera buttons and an analog stick wound up chasing the system that could be operated with one hand (say what you will about JRPGs, but they only require all of two buttons), and all those polygons decided to stumble over full motion video instead. What developers remained on the N64 were scrambling to match the cinematic experiences available on the Playstation, and the whole library became a mess of neither fish nor fowl nonsense. Look, I love Jet Force Gemini as much as the next guy, but you have to admit that, even that late in the N64’s lifespan, it comes off as pretty patchwork.

Which is a shame, because first party Nintendo games that followed the “Nintendo way” from the start are pretty amazing. Mario 64 feels like a natural progression of the franchise, and Ocarina of Time is right there with it. Mario Kart 64 refined (SNES) Mario Kart into solid gold, and Star Fox 64 truly used the new technology to turn a bunch of random shapes into a thrilling story of fox versus wolf. And Donkey Kong 64 isn’t responsible for any homicides (as far as we know)! And then we’ve got Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards

Kirby 64 is a 2-D platforming game not unlike many other Kirby adventures. It’s (incredibly disappointingly) much slower and less frantic than Kirby Super Star, but it is right about at normal Dreamland speed. Basically, if you liked any Kirby game featuring helpful hamsters, this adventure is about what you’d expect. There are doodads to acquire (a staple of both the N64 and slower Kirby titles), but, by and large, this is a very straightforward platformer. Move from left to right, occasionally climb a ladder, and have a ball utilizing Kirby’s eclectic moveset. Maybe you’ll eat a hedgehog? That’ll show those Sega dorks.

And, side note? This game is beautiful.

WeeeeeOkay, granted, it’s Playstation/N64 style beautiful, but it is still beautiful nonetheless. The pastels of Pop Star really pop, and everything moves just right. In spite of Kirby’s N64 Smash model, Kirby is actually spherical, and not a pile of edged polygons. Special effects from special powers may seem basic, but in the same manner that a Kirby Krackle can sell a comic book (uhhh… different Kirby), Kirby makes self-immolation look perfect across every system. Everything combines wonderfully, and, without a doubt, this is a game that is undeniably a gorgeous experience.

And this stands in stark contrast to every other N64 game.

N64 games are terrible looking. They contain some of the worst draw distances and fog warnings outside of H.P. Lovecraft. Their protagonists almost always look like they were carved out of some particularly unpleasant rocks by a partially blind sculptor (who maybe is missing a few fingers). Nobody ever moves right. Let’s face it, Majora’s Mask was a success because it identified that every last character populating N64 Hyrule was horrifying. And this happened to third and first party games alike: in an effort to ape the most popular games of the day, polygons and Vaseline were smeared everywhere, and suddenly our greatest heroes started resembling Tobor: The Refrigerator That Walks Like a Man.

Let's chillBut here’s Kirby, just doing the thing he’s always done. There is no attempt to force 3-D gameplay. There is no byzantine story mode. There is no desire to go full angry eyes. It’s just Kirby, a character that premiered on a system without so much as the possibility of color, scaled up to modern technology. It’s fun. It’s pretty. And it’s one of the best games on the N64.

And game reviewers of the time derided the game for being “too kiddy” and “a throwback”. One of the best games on the system, but “too easy”. It generally got great scores, but the expression “no Goldeneye” was thrown around a bit.

So… uh… I guess maybe don’t be yourself? Let’s stick to the blocky bitmaps. Gotta be popular.

FGC #351 Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards

  • System: N64. It also resurfaced on the Wii and WiiU, but I want to say it wasn’t on the super awesome Kirby collection released at the end of the Wii’s lifespan. … It was? Dammit! I turned on my N64 for nothing!
  • Number of players: One for the main gameplay, four for the inevitable minigame sections. Which reminds me…
  • What may have been: Early screenshots of this title seemed to indicate that it would have been four players, with Dedede, Waddle Dee, and Adeleine (the painter dude) filling the other playable slots. This would have been very consistent with N64’s emphasis on four player titles, and an excellent “upgrade” from the two player modes of Kirby Super Star. Alas, it was not to be, and was likely lost with the 64DD. And then we wouldn’t see a similar four player Kirby experience for eleven years.
  • Away we goFavorite Power: All this talk of Pretty Soldier Kirby and I didn’t even mention the main hook for the title: combining powers. Mix cutter and fire to build a flaming sword! Ice and needle to make a deadly snowflake! And rock and spark to make a… lightbulb? Whatever. What’s important is that bomb plus needle will transform Kirby into an invincible Gordo monster, and that’s been a dream since Kirby’s first adventure. Show those jerks who’s the spikiest, Kirby!
  • So, did you beat it? This is one of the rare N64 games that I didn’t finish while the system was fresh (because, admittedly, I was playing those more “mature” JRPGs at the time), but 100%’ed well past its initial release. It’s that good! Or Kirby is that good! Or I have OCD! It’s one of those!
  • Turn the lights off: You ever notice that Kirby seems to see a release toward the end of the system’s lifespan? Kirby 3, Kirby 64, and even Kirby’s Dream Collection were all practically the last boats out of their respective systems. Weird. Anyway, look forward to Kirby Battle Royale for the 3DS!
  • Did you know? The familiar “Kirby dance” does not appear at any point in this game, as worlds end with Kirby waving to the screen instead of dancing. Maybe he just noticed the player, and got self conscious?
  • Would I play again: It’s on the short list of N64 games I enjoy playing, so that’s a yes. I… I think all the rest are all Nintendo games, too. What a weird little system.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bloody Roar 3 for the Playstation 2! Roar! And… Blood! Please look forward to it!

We've got a runner

FGC #330 Kirby and the Amazing Mirror

KAHBY!There is only one Mario. There is only one Donkey Kong. Bowser has a shallow gene pool, but he is the only King of the Koopas. There are not multiple Fox McClouds, just one singular Captain Falcon, and if you see another Samus Aran, it’s an alien parasite mimic of some sort. Even some Nintendo mascots that are supposed to be species are generally regarded as singular. Yoshi is that “one” Yoshi from Super Mario World, and Pikachu is “Ash’s Pikachu”, star of stage and screen. Leads are supposed to be singular, and no one wants to explain to an audience how there are multiple Mickey Mouses or Supermans. We want unique heroes, and the most successful companies are happy to deliver.

Oh, and then there’s Kirby. Nothing makes sense about Kirby.

Kirby was established as singular in his first outing. Kinda. Anyone that ever beat back the nefarious King Dedede knows that when Kirby returned the stolen food to the good people of Dreamland, they appeared to be… Kirbys. Plural. Granted, they’re only seen in silhouette, but Kirby(s) has a pretty distinctive shape. You could probably chalk this up to Kirby’s Dreamland being nothing more than the start of the Kirby Expanded Universe, and also being eternally tied to very limited hardware. Future versions of Kirby’s Dreamland rewrote Dreamland as a place populated by its own unique species, and the army of hungry Kirbys were forsaken for a more solitary hero. But even when Kirby is alone, he is many. Ever beat a world with our favorite creampuff? Think it… strange that the individual Kirby will split into three to dance with himself upon victory? Shouldn’t he have used that ability earlier, when he was actually fighting the boss, and not just to dance on its grave? Is this some kind of after image thing? Is he moving too fast for even saiyan eyes? Kirby is full of mysteries!

Stupid cupidBut the origin of multiple of Kirbys is no mystery in Kirby and the Amazing Mirror. Dark Meta Knight (the version of Meta Knight that is black instead of dark blue) has escaped from the mirror-verse, and dices Kirby into four inexplicably differently colored kirbys. The quad o’ kirbys all vow revenge, and venture through the mirror-verse, occasionally using a cell phone (that Kirby likely accidentally vacuumed off a passerby) to call each other for help with locked doors and giant bosses. In general, the Kirbys all operate independently, and leap and scurry around the screen doing whatever the heck they want. That… is pretty normal for any given Kirby, as Kirby Prime does seem to have the id of a toddler. It’s a wonder the mirror-verse survives a swarm of Kirbys at all…

Kirby and the Amazing Mirror was released in 2004. The Legend of Zelda Four Swords was released with Link to the Past Advance in 2002, and the more accessible The Legend of Zelda Four Swords Adventures was released in 2004. At the time, it seemed like this whole “there are now four players” thing was some manner of new, here-to-stay Nintendo trend. After all, the Gamecube and N64 both proudly touted their four player capabilities, and it seemed only natural that “let’s play as four Links” or alike was an evolution of any franchise that didn’t already have enough supporting Luigis. Single player experiences are for JRPGs, man, it’s time for these super advanced videogame systems to step up to the next level and get everyone playing at once. Or at least four everyones. Maybe we’ll work on some networking for the next Mario Kart game, get that number up to infinity.

Woooo!However, a future of four simultaneous Donkey Kongs was not meant to be. The Mario series has carried the four player torch with its Mario, Luigi, and Toads (and the occasional thieving rabbit), but, aside from that recognizable example, the era of the four heroes seems to have ended as quickly as it started. Maybe a mere three Links might team up to offer a princess fashion tips, but now Mario is forever one Mario, and Samus has to recruit random federation dorks to fill out her multiplayer experiences.

But Kirby has never been one for rules.

Despite the multi-hero trend shuffling off this earthly coil, many Kirbys persist. Kirbys appear constantly in Kirby-based minigames throughout the series. Return to Dreamland offers Kirby’s unique friends, or the ability to just play as another quad of Kirbys. And then there’s Kirby Mass Attack, a game that is all about having as many Kirbys as possible. Why stop at four? There needs to be a Kirby crowd stomping across the planes, laying waste to any and all obstacles in their path! Kneel before the Kirby army!

But why does it work for Kirby? Why is Kirby allowed to be Kirbys, while Mario and alike are carefully cultivated and held to their inimitable standards. Even the Multi-Link had to be taped down with one magical sword, and there is absolutely no expectation that Breath of the Wild Link is suddenly going to split up to pilot all four Divine Beasts by his lonesome (though, admittedly, that would be pretty cool). Kirby is many, but his contemporaries are singular. Why is Kirby special?

NOTHING WILL SURVIVEThe answer is likely simple: Kirby is a locust. Well, maybe not specifically a locust, but Kirby is an eating machine that demolishes all in his path regardless of alliances because, I don’t know, someone stole his cake. Kirby is an unstoppable force of nature, and like any force of nature, it is just naturally (see?) assumed that he could be many and one at the same time. In the same way we fear “bees” and not “Jerry, that one bee that is kind of a dick” Kirby is practically a species onto himself, and has been for his entire existence. The fact that Kirby has been singular in many adventures is an accident of fate, and we always knew the impending Kirby-pocalypse would one day be upon us.

And that’s why Kirby can carry multiple versions of himself. In our hearts, we know what Kirby actually is, and we accept it readily. His name is Kirby, for he is many.

FGC #330 Kirby and the Amazing Mirror

  • System: Gameboy Advance, and WiiU Virtual Console. Also available on the 3DS should you be one of the chosen few.
  • Number of players: How many Kirbys we got? Four? That sounds good.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: This is one of my least favorite Kirby games. That still makes it better than like 90% of the games out there, but the lack of a decent map (or a map that makes any kind of intuitive sense) and the “one hit, lose your power” pairs poorly with what seems to be the largest of the “labyrinth” style Kirby adventures. That said, it’s still a fun time, and there is something infinitely satisfying about summoning a multitude of Kirbys to beat down a random tree.
  • AHHHHFavorite Kirby Power: Kirby finally leaned into the Smash Bros. fame, and gained the “smash” ability from devouring an errant Master Hand. And it was good! It doesn’t make a damn bit of sense, but it’s fun seeing “Smash Kirby” demolish a traditional Kirby game.
  • Did you know? The Batamon, an “enemy” in Kirby’s Dreamland 3, might be the first appearance of a Kirby-like creature during gameplay. They’re usually seen exploring areas that are inaccessible to Kirby Prime… but feel free to murder the doppelgangers with any copy skills you have laying around.
  • Did you know addendum? Batamon is the first appearance of a Kirby-like creature during gameplay… Except maybe Keeby. But nobody remembers Keeby.
  • Would I play again: Yes, but only on the technicality that this is loaded into my 3DS, so I’m very likely to play it again when I’m on the go and feel like getting a Kirby experience. Even when Kirby isn’t making headway, it’s still fun to bumble around as the pink puff, so it’s hard to say no to the little guy(s).

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Mario Galaxy 2 for the Nintendo Wii. Yeeeeeeees. Please look forward to it! I am!

Not quite Whispy
YOU COULD HAVE ALL GONE AROUND!