There are many that claim Kirby Super Star is the secret origin of Super Smash Bros. This is likely wholly accurate, as both games were directed by Masahiro Sakurai, and both titles seem to feature controllable characters with extremely similar general abilities (Kirby’s “ball shield” is very familiar to anyone that ever found the block button in Smash). This brings us to another popular theory: in much the same way that Super Smash Bros is a mix of a fighting game and platformer, Kirby Super Star has strayed from Kirby’s platforming roots, and is closer to a combination platformer/beat ‘em up. In short, Kirby Super Star has less in common with Mario, and more influence from Final Fight.
This is, to be absolutely clear, grizzoshit. Kirby Super Star is not a beat ‘em up. There are too many treasure chests to find for this Great Kirby Offensive to ever be a beat ‘em up. But I, the magnanimous king of this website, will forgive you for ever believing Kirby Super Star could be a beat ‘em up. Why, gentle reader? Because I see how a poor, unenlightened soul may be confused by the artistry on display in Kirby Super Star.
Why do people think Kirby Super Star might be a beat ‘em up? Because, like in any good beat ‘em up, it feels damn good to hit things in Kirby Super Star.
Kirby has always been a violent little dude. While Mario might bop his opponents or toss a friendly fireball, Kirby was swallowing his opponents right from day one. And that was not in a playful, “haha now you’re lunch” Pac-Man way, either. Kirby could swallow an opponent for some empty calories, but he was a lot more likely to then spit his potential lunch as a deadly projectile. So, yes, while you might reasonably be able to complete a pacificist run of Sonic the Hedgehog (give or take some mad scientist bosses), Kirby has always had physical conflict baked into his DNA (or at least his dinner). Even simply breathing deeply generated a mini-projectile for Kirby! And his following adventure saw the puff ball gain the ability to “copy” the skills of his foes, and the powers that stuck with our pink hero all seemed more offensive than movement-based. High Jump and Ball were fun and all, but audiences clearly wanted swordplay and hammer time. And regardless of which abilities would eventually make the cut(ter), early Kirby titles established its protagonist not as a dude that would just run and jump, but someone who was going to slice a deadly swath through adorable star blocks.
But, in the same way that Kirby graduated from simple sucking to copying abilities, the ability to copy at all had to evolve with its attendant hero. On the Gameboy, this took the form of Kirby’s Dreamland 2, wherein having a different animal buddy impacted abilities in different ways, so what was a flurry of sparks on “regular” Kirby became a lightbulb when in the presence of a fish. It… made sense at the time. On the Super Nintendo, Kirby was able to utilize each copy ability in a variety of ways. For instance, the simple parasol was no longer a sword-with-a-floaty-jump it was on the NES, it now involved its own special dash attack, a “meteor attack”, and it could shield Kirby in new and interesting ways. And how was this all possible without any animal buddies? Simple! Kirby got a moveset! He can utilize option A, but it becomes option B while jumping, option C while dashing, and option D if it happens to be used while jumping and dashing. In some cases, there were distinct input commands for “special techniques” that could do all sorts of things (or at least generate a fireball). Kirby has got options!
And, yes, this sounds a lot like a beat ‘em up. It very much sounds like the more complicated beat ‘em ups (Streets of Rage comes immediately to mind) that utilize not some simple “jump+punch = special” architecture, but a variety of special moves activated with particular inputs. And, obviously, you use special moves in beat ‘em ups because they are more powerful and useful than regular moves. … Or is it that obvious? Special moves are special, and they are usually visually magnificent (never a bad time when someone’s fist catch fire), but they definitely have an entry barrier with their special inputs. How do you convey to the player that a special move is, ya know, special? Some people are naturally going to gravitate toward “complicated = better”, but there is an equally larger audience that is going to ask why they should press all these extra commands when simply one button is going to do the job. Sure, it might do more damage, but why bother? Well how about you bother because dammit it feels good to hit things.
This is the secret of Kirby Super Star and good beat ‘em ups. You can face armies of the exact same guy (whether that be Waddle Dee or Two P), you can venture through areas that look remarkably similar (how many times has Kirby wandered through a nondescript forest?), and you can fight the same collection of bosses but-now-a-different-color until the it’s time for your sleep ability to kick in, and, in the end, it will work because it feels good to hit (these) things. Every one of Kirby’s Super Star abilities has an offensive component, and whether you are wielding a fireball or mirror dash, when you smack into an opponent, it feels substantial. Even the more “movement” based abilities, like Wing or Jet, generate “forcefields” that will obliterate blocks and opponents alike. And, of course, if either of those abilities activate their dash attacks, well, Rocky the rock dude is going to be in traction for the next week. And, just in case you think that simple contact is the only way to generate a beefy hit, the Plasma ability proves that this can apply to long range attacks, too. Throw off a simple plasma spark, and it “feels” like you are generating no more force than your average pencil eraser; but charge up to a full plasma ball, and the screen practically vibrates with the overwhelming energy Kirby has blasted into the universe. Sure, it takes a moment to charge up, but you do that because it feels good to annihilate that Bio Spark in a single plasma explosion.
And, even more than Kirby’s shield and other similarities, this is the origin of Super Smash Bros. Super Smash Bros is a game where, no matter what happens, it feels good to “smash” your opponent. It feels good to send Jigglypuff sailing over the horizon, and our primitive lizard brains react well to the sound of the smash-shotgun, the vibration of the controller with every smash, and the temporary “lag” that occurs in an effort to further extend the moment of a perfect smash. Super Smash Bros is more than a strangely chaotic version of Mario’s last birthday party, it is also a game that flawlessly conveys to a player how much fun it can be to hit things. And, even though the roster may wear and the challenges may diminish over time, it always feels good to smash in Smash Bros. It’s right there in the title for a reason!
So congratulations, Kirby Super Star. You might not be a beat ‘em up, but you did refine one of that genre’s greatest strengths. It feels good to hit things in Kirby Super Star, so it feels good to play Kirby Super Star.
Beware the pink fury of Kirby. He is going to hit things while smiling the whole time.
FGC #564 Kirby Super Star (Ultra)
- System: Super Nintendo for one glorious Christmas Season in 1996. Then it was rereleased on Nintendo Wii, Wii U, and Switch. There was also the Nintendo DS version, Kirby Super Star Ultra, which I may as well play, too, because it’s fun to hit things on the small screen.
- Number of players: This is a wonderful little title that uses a “Tails” 2-player mode. History has proven that it is ideal for playing a fun platformer while babysitting. Though, to be clear, you may have to coach a child on the basics of “press up to open doors”.
- Port-o-Call: On one hand, it is difficult to improve on perfection, so Kirby Super Star Ultra seems to provide very limited upgrades to the original. There are entirely new modes/levels/bosses, but, like Chrono Trigger DS, the original content is so jam-packed with fun that the “extra” stuff feels vaguely exhausting. That said, it does reintroduce Kabula the Angry Blimp, so it gets bonus points there.
- This was never a good idea: Though, to be clear, the DS version is abhorrent in its two player mode, as it absolutely requires two cartridges to get anywhere. You can technically share a cart to a limited degree, but the game won’t even appear on the second DS’s screen, so good luck playing through Super Star Ultra while crouched over someone else’s teeny tiny screen.
- What’s in a name: In Europe, this game is known as Kirby’s Fun Pak. This is egregious, as the acronym for Kirby Super Star is almost KISS.
- Favorite Copy Ability: Plasma is my go-to in basically every situation. You just cannot beat launching a green ball of electronic nonsense at all times, and the “static generation” bits are fun to make Kirby look like a little pink maniac. Though we do have to give the Paint ability props here, too, as paint is apparently one of the most powerful forces in the Kirby universe.
- Unanswered Questions: Does anyone know what happened to Meta Knight’s crew? Like, dude had a bird captain working for him in addition to his regular army, and I’m genuinely curious what happened to those guys.
- Goggle Bob Fact: In my youth, I may or may not have drawn an entire comic book based on the general beats of Kirby Super Star. It is a prequel story about Kirby and Jynx teaming up to take down Meta Knight and his fabulous bird ship. If I do say so myself, it is not all that bad, though I did make the (wholly incorrect) artistic choice of giving Kirby visible teeth…
- Did you know? Completing every last bit of Kirby Super Star Ultra unlocks some “outtakes” of Kirby in his iconic cinemas from the original. This means that, like Altered Beast, Kirby is an actor portraying these adventures for an unseen audience. I choose to believe the “real” Kirby is an Estonian dwarf in a costume.
- Would I play again: Did I ever get around to plainly stating how much I love this game? It is my favorite Kirby game, and that puts it in the running for favorite videogame of all time. I like hitting things. I will play Kirby Super Star again.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Beast Wars: Transformers for the Playstation! Get ready to enter beast mode! Please look forward to it!