Kirby’s Dream Land 3 asks the unthinkable: What if Kirby wasn’t a complete monster?
In the early days of Kirby, there were tales of two distinct Kirby directors. Most people (nerds) are familiar with Masahiro Sakurai, who directed a number of Kirby games. While all of his Kirby titles have been distinctly Kirby-based, it is clear to see how this “version” of Kirby directly influenced the eventual creation of Super Smash Bros. (particularly if you look at Kirby Super Star and that dang shield). However, a trio of early Kirby titles (Kirby’s Dream Land 2, Kirby 64, and today’s Kirby’s Dream Land 3) was directed by noted cryptid and likely real person Shinichi Shimomura. Many gamers have noted that Shimomura’s Kirby titles were slower and more exploration-based than the Sakurai Kirby titles that came to define the franchise. Arguably, it is the Shimomura joints that follow the “original” intent of Kirby’s Dream Land, while Sakurai went off in search of crazy Kirby powers and maybe a giant robot or two.
But all their games feature Kirby, and Kirby is a force of destruction.
It’s pretty clear that, even divorced from his greatest and most destructive powers, Kirby is still a pink ball of unrelenting fury. At the base level, Kirby’s greatest strength is unfettered consumption, and his goal in nearly every adventure is either food or sleep. Maybe include some bathing, and Kirby is little more than a bottomless, never satisfied cat… and I can think of no creature more horrifying. And, while Kirby is generally on the side of the angels in rescuing food reserves from penguins or granting his Popstar buddies a good night’s sleep, he is still wrecking up the place with practically every step across Dream Land. Have you seen him turn into a wheel? Wheels are not supposed to be that vicious, but Waddle Dee is still lying unconscious at the side of the road.
But, from the very first level of Kirby’s Dream Land 3, something special happens…
You are allowed to play 95% of Kirby’s Dream Land 3 as typical, destructive Kirby. However, the first level offers an alternative: why not stop and smell the flowers? Or, more accurately, why don’t you stop and not completely obliterate the flowers? The flowers of 1-1 are very delicate, and they will be stomped into nothingness by the entirety of Kirby’s moveset. And once you destroy a single flower, sorry, that’s it, it’s not coming back without exiting and resetting the level. But if you do carefully maneuver Kirby around the flowers (which requires little more than steering our hero with a tiny bit care, this isn’t some “don’t touch the walls” carnival attraction), at the end of the level, Kirby will make friends with a very happy flower. This grants a recognizable “completion” token, and teaches the player an obvious lesson: be careful in the future, and you might get more sparkly doodads. And who doesn’t want more doodads?
And, while not every action Kirby takes to earn these friendship points is as gentle as during the first mission, many take a very “slow down, Kirb” approach to proceedings. Sometimes you have to collect puzzle (or random robot) pieces, occasionally it’s a lost child that must be found in an alternate route, and, in rare cases, you have to carefully study alien biology in an effort to bring peace to the galaxy. Every level offers a different challenge for our pink puff ball, and many of those challenges are far outside of Kirby’s traditional modus operandi.
And that’s pretty damn impressive for a platforming character best known for being a walking black hole.
It’s often noted that videogames are violent (and, make no mistake, I firmly believe that stomping a chestnut creature into a fine jelly is violent) because videogame characters only have so many ways to interact with their worlds. As such, it makes perfect sense that “secrets” or “alternatives” in platform/action games are often simply “look slightly off the beaten path”. Mega Man was entirely straightforward until Mega Man X introduced searching for armor and powerups in hidden areas. Mario was linear (give or take a warp pipe) until World added alternative exits, and then Yoshi added additional findable rarities. Basically, your only choices in many old school franchises for “scoring” beyond “Bowser is 10,000 points” are added alternative paths/secrets, or some manner of accuracy percentage (see: Contra). In both cases, the hero of the piece is not asked to do anything different beyond more effective murdering or maybe murdering in a slightly different location.
None of those heroes ever stop to smell and/or save the flowers.
Kirby has a more varied moveset than most videogame protagonists, but he still didn’t need a single new power to preserve nature. Later levels reward Kirby for bringing a certain skill or animal to the table, but, by and large, many of these events are of the nonviolent nature. You might need the cutter to earn the secret in one level, but it’s simply so you can pop a balloon that frees a chick to waddle back to its mother. What’s more wholesome than that? And speaking of which, one stage per level may feature a reunion between animal pals if you play your cards right. Girl cat and boy cat getting together means adorable kittens. More adorableness! And, added bonus, that darn cat actually looks happy for once. Hugs all around!
So congratulations to Kirby’s Dream Land 3 for allowing Kirby to solve a problem or two without overt violence. Kirby might be one of the most destructive heroes in all of gaming, but, for one title, he was allowed to help without the hurting. Thank you for giving us a kinder, gentler Kirby.
… Well, until it’s time to knock the evil right out of King Dedede. There are some times you just have to go nuts.
FGC #463 Kirby’s Dream Land 3
- System: Super Nintendo initially, but also available on that Kirby compilation for the Wii, and more recently as part of the SNES series on the Nintendo Switch.
- Number of Players: Two! That’s right, this was the first game to introduce Gooey, the nondescript blob of a Kirby partner that is mostly tongue. Please do not touch Gooey for any reason.
- Rare Find: Kirby’s Dream Land 3 was released at the absolute tail end of the SNES’s lifespan, a full year after the release of the N64. As a result, Kirby’s Dream Land 3 was hard to find on shelves already cleared for Playstation titles of the day. In fact, when I found a copy of KDL3 at a Funco Land in early 2000, I was still under the impression the game had never been released in America, and this was somehow an errant Japanese copy. I thought it could only ever exist as a ROM!
- Favorite Animal Buddy: Nago the Calico Cat always seems less like he wants to actually help, and more like he wants to play with the ball-like Kirby. I already preferred cats over hamsters to begin with, but Nago winds up earning my attention simply for how little he cares for our lil’ dude. Very cat behavior.
- Sad Secret Truth: So much of this game is easier with Kirby’s inhale ability and no animal friends. Kirby is too powerful to be restrained!
- Favorite Boss: Pon & Con seem to wholly replace Lolo’s place in the world of Popstar for “bosses that push blocks around”. Considering how little I like Lolo, I am practically elated at this development.
- Did you know? Okay, maybe this isn’t the first appearance of Gooey. Gooey may surface in “kidnapped” bags if Kirby defeats a miniboss while already riding an animal buddy in Kirby’s Dream Land 2. However, it was only ever confirmed in Smash Bros. that this blob-creature was actually Gooey, so let’s go ahead and just say that Kirby’s Dream Land 3 was the first playable appearance of Gooey.
- Would I play again: I prefer Kirby Super Star, but this is still an excellent Super Nintendo title. I would certainly guide Kirby through his kindest adventure all over again.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pokemon Snap for the Nintendo 64! Get your cameras ready! And Pikachus! Please look forward to it!