…How much can honestly be said about a Kirby game?
No, really. There’s barely any dialogue, hardly ever a real plot, and it happens to be one of the easiest platformers… ever. How much can be said, at least from the perspective of a writer? You pop in a Kirby game, and you instantly know what you’re getting. Although in fairness, the same can really be said about most of Nintendo’s library of mainstays – Pokemon, Fire Emblem, Star Fox – they may introduce new gimmicks with each new installment, but aside from spin-offs, the core game is generally the same. They’re formulas that work (for the most part. Pokemon and Fire Emblem could stand to deviate from themselves a little, but I’ve already talked about those at length). Then you get the Zeldas and the Metroids (whenever we finally get a new friggin’ Metroid game) and they generally mix things up. But I’m getting away from the point.
Canvas Curse and Epic Yarn (and others I’m sure I’m forgetting) aside, Kirby games generally stick to their guns and just add a little gimmick to the core format we all know and love. A pink alien blob that can copy the powers or properties of whatever he eats. He can fly over a vast majority of the levels, though at the price of potentially missing hidden passages to get collectibles and such. If you know what you’re doing, playing the entire game without taking a hit isn’t that hard. Just watch the patterns and you’re good. Add, to that, the fact that extra lives are stupidly easy to get in Kirby games (especially now, since they’ve add the star bits to mirror Mario’s 100 coins = 1up mechanic), and beating a Kirby game can be done in a single day, provided you don’t care about collectibles. So what makes Kirby games so satisfying? Shouldn’t I be irritated by this sameness? Eh.
I think the reason I don’t get bothered by it is because Kirby games know what they are and don’t try to transcend that too much. Which isn’t to say I think they should all do that. I welcome the idea of them trying to tell more complex stories with the franchise. With any franchise, for that matter. But there are other things to consider. First of all, Kirby’s an infant… and has somehow remained so for 25 years. Yeah, and you people give Ash a hard time for still being 10 (even though he’s isn’t). But more importantly, at its core Kirby is ultimately just there to be colorful and fun. Even relaxing, I’m sure. Pick up a Kirby game after spending hours on end trying to conquer a dungeon in any Legend of Zelda game, and tell me your heart rate doesn’t instantly drop. Yeah. Exactly. It’s a cute, simple platformer, with some clever puzzles and a nifty core mechanic in the copy ability.
Obviously Kirby isn’t winning any awards for its story. It’s a gameplay game. And not even in the Overwatch way, where story is implied by visual storytelling and one-off lines between characters. It’s a straightforward gameplay game, and that’s all she wrote. Right?
Well, let’s play devil’s advocate for a bit… remember Mega Man? Or better yet, Mega Man X? Remember just how easy those were? Oh. That’s right. You don’t. Because they aren’t. That’s my point. For something with a premise ultimately rather similar to Kirby, Mega Man is decidedly more difficult. Why? Different audience. So why shouldn’t the Kirby games try something like that?
Well, for starters, they’re already similar enough. Heck, Squeak Squad gave Kirby the ability to store and activate copy abilities on command (gameplay wise, that is. I’m aware he’s always been able to do that, canonically), like Mega Man. Aside from that, though, it’s just a different audience. As I said, if you’re playing a Kirby game, you’re not looking to be challenged. You’re relaxing. It’s a breezy game.
But what about story? You said you’d welcome more complex stories in Kirby, right?
I’m a writer. I welcome more complex stories in anything that doesn’t already have them. But there’s one little thing to consider about that, which is the reason it doesn’t bother me that Kirby’s story isn’t more complex. In a game with a story, those story bits are a reward for your completing passages of the game. You gain the ability to see what happens next. In order for that to feel like a reward, though, you need to increase the difficulty, but not too much. Unless the story, itself, is light and cushy, the gameplay can’t be so easy that the audience wonders why the game wasn’t just a series or movie. But it also shouldn’t be spirit-crushingly difficult. Especially in the case of an RPG, because then you run into the ten foot gorilla that so many RPGs fall into. *Shudder* Level Grinding. I have still yet to meet a soul that enjoys level grinding. It’s tedious, monotonous, and just so… boring! But I digress. Pokemon, for example, is a game that sometimes runs into the first issue. It can reach a point of being so easy (if you’re a smart player) that you wonder why you didn’t just watch a video on YouTube of all the relevant cutscenes (X & Y, for example). Meanwhile, Fire Emblem is the exact opposite, from what some seasoned Fire Emblem veterans keep telling me, becoming so difficult in the latter half that level grinding almost literally becomes a requirement. I mean… you don’t have to, but… if you don’t…
In order for a game to have a story, it has to hit that sweet spot with its gameplay. Not too easy, not too difficult. And it should ultimately still be fun. It is a videogame. So yes, I do welcome a more story-centered Kirby game, if ever we get one. But I’m also acknowledging that such a game would wind up being for a very different audience, at the end of the day. Or at least a game played on a different occasion than your standard Kirby game. Generally the story we get in a Kirby game is in the pause screens.
So why is the title of the most recent Kirby game, Planet Robobot, the headline, here? Honestly? Because there was clear evidence of them attempting to go a bit further with story, here, and it… didn’t really work. Not saying they were making any sort of attempt to go deeper, but they were clearly trying to do more. Even the visual style makes that apparent. Lots of cinematic camera angles, lots of dialogue from the game’s antagonists, it’s trying much harder than usual. So what’s the deal? Popstar has been taken over by an organization that’s aiming to Robotici-… mechanize everyone and everything. But not so they can create a planet-sized amusement park ego trip. They just want to make everything sterile and controllable, basically.
The bosses of the game make more sense than usual, at least, as they’re not random monsters from Dreamland, standing in your way. They’re actually modified inhabitants, clones, and so-on that are sent by this company to get you out of the way. All by Susie, the secretary to the company’s CEO. Seriously. Just… just look at her. That’s adorable. So yeah, I pegged her to be the villain, immediately. The Marx, Magolor… it only made sense. And I hadn’t played Kirby Triple Delux, so prior to deciding to write this, and do my research, I didn’t know anything about Taranza. But can I just say Susie was my favorite part of the game? Something about her dialogue was just extremely amusing to me. The way she’d talk to Kirby, then instantly realize “Oh. That’s right. You have no idea what I’m talking about.” Like she has this huge ego and very much wants to be praised, but actively realizes she’s wasting her time. It’s almost endearing in a way. That and her demeanor in general just amuses me.
So Haltmann, the man in charge, turns out to be an evil… egg-shaped… villain in a mech suit… I’m beginning to think that whole robiticization/mechanization similarity wasn’t a coincidence. Well, whatever, he unearths this ancient super computer called Star Dream, which becomes the Mother Computer, running the functions of the company. That’s… pretty much it. Prosperity for all things through robotici- mechanization. But after you beat him in his “executive suit,” (which is an awesome name for a big mech suit, made of solid gold) he links up to Star Dream. Except then Susie steals the control device from him. Because it turns out she’s a vaguely complex character, with her own motivations. Except apparently this causes Haltmann’s mind to fuse with that of the Mother Computer. Okay. So now the computer, thinking with the goal of universal prosperity for all things in mind, decides its civic duty is to eliminate all organic life. So you know. As ya do. Meta Knight shows up on the Halberd, you fuse your mech suit with it, and off you go to fight a giant space computer… living planet… thing. Cool.
See, the thing is… the game, while still overall enjoyable, tries a bit harder. So I’m inclined to be a bit harder on it. And to its credit, it does better at telling a cohesive story than most previous main series Kirby games, if not all of them (Kirby Triple Delux not withstanding, since I’ve not played it). But it does come up a little short. It’s nowhere near the level of “Aw. You tried. Cute. Now try harder” level coldness that I reached with, say, Pokemon Black & White, which I’m possibly much too hard on (though in my defense, that game was far more ambitious). The gameplay is your standard fair Kirby game, really. But once you get in one of those mech suits, everything becomes a breeze. You can just walk through most of the level, while in one of those things. And can we talk about the code cubes, real quick? Because… those were some phooey. Getting them was, for the most part, a fun experience. A lot of inventive puzzles surrounded them. But as far as I can tell, the reward for getting them all… was just a Haltmann sticker. That’s… lame.
Anyway, the point is that obviously Nintendo’s been moving into the direction of telling more complex stories with their games. It’s been apparent since at least Mario Galaxy, with Rosalina. I don’t think I have to even mention my adoration of Pokemon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire or the Delta Episode, again, let alone Pokemon Sun & Moon, all marked improvements in storytelling for the franchise. And if Kirby can follow suit, I won’t be complaining. But with that news, not too long ago, that Nintendo’s going to be aiming to generate original non-videogame content, based around some of their franchises… I’m beginning to wonder if that’ll mean we’ll just continue seeing more of the same from the actual games, or the games will keep developing in their storytelling so they can keep up. It’s an interesting thing to ponder, as the time draws nearer to seeing where all this heads. With all that being said, thank for reading.
Keep up the awesome, and take care