Kirby is the pink and very round Nintendo character whose versatility ensures he will show up in any number of different game genres. In fact, his spin-off games, like Kirby's Block Ball and Kirby's Dream Course, are probably just as endearing as his main adventure games. Let's return to 1993, when Kirby's spin-off career got off to a rolling start with this release for the Game Boy (now available on the 3DS Virtual Console). Even in his early days on the Game Boy, Kirby's roundness made it easy for him to find a place in a pinball game, long before gamers experienced other beloved Nintendo character pinball spin-offs like Pokemon, Metroid Prime, and even Mario (ok, that one didn't make as much sense at all!).
There are a total of three main pinball 'worlds,' each one consisting of three main rooms/ floors, with a bonus room and a boss room to top it off. The worlds and hazards are based off Kirby's adventure games, so Kirby will be facing off enemies like Gordos (spike creatures), adorable but mean chickens called Tookey, the face guys (Kabu), Mr. Shine and Mr. Bright, Scarfy, and so forth. Each of these three worlds is owned by a classic boss of the Kirby series: Whispy Woods, Kracko, and Poppy Bros. Senior. The goal in each of the worlds is to reach the top room and open the portal to the boss room. Defeat the boss to clear that world, then after clearing all three worlds you can play in the final boss room.
On the left is a screen shot. On the right is what the complete level looks like, the equivalent of three screens stacked on each other.
The graphics are pretty simple and perhaps a bit plain. However, that's not a bad thing: every character and item is bold and easy to identify, which was a huge plus on the old Game Boy black and white screen. The simple look doesn't detract from the game at all. The graphics help accentuate the nice animation touches found in lots of little places, from the way enemies move, to the way the giant Kirby characters express themselves as the Kirby Ball rolls along all around them, interacting with the environment and different items. All this really makes the game shine in its own right.
The game is pleasant to play partly due to being somewhat forgiving to mistakes made by the inexperienced pinball player (like me!). You only have to focus on one room at a time; it all fits on the screen so there's no issue with a camera having to follow the Kirby Ball as he rolls around or having to zoom too far out and making the details difficult to follow. On top of that, each of these small rooms has a limited number of rules and gimmicks, all of which you can either figure out as you play for added challenge (kind of like solving the puzzle) or can easily look up in the 3DS in-game manual if you have the digital copy (on a side note, the VC manual is really well done and explains the whole game very well). For example, in the Kracko stage, you have to hit the moving cloud enough times to cause it to rain, which makes a big Kirby figure pull out his umbrella (for a limited time). Get the ball to land on the umbrella so the Kirby Ball can get boosted up to the next higher room.
Other features that make the game easier to play include outlane stoppers (represented by Pep Brew ) and drain stoppers (represented by Maxim Tomato ) that are pretty easy to set up. Also, if Kirby Ball falls to the very bottom, you don't instantly lose. Kirby Ball will instead land on a little springboard (much like when he completes a level in his adventure games), and if you time it correctly, Kirby will launch right back into the pinball table. The springboard's timing becomes more difficult to pull off with each successive use (in order to prevent the player from abusing this feature), but those few extra chances themselves will result in a welcome sigh of relief. Also, you can nudge the pinball table in either direction as much as you want without consequence (no tilt penalties here!).
One thing that may disappoint Kirby fans is the game does not feature any of Kirby's copy abilities, so you won't see him using the Stone, Spark, etc., moves. It's understandable that the game doesn't make use of those moves; after all, Kirby's Adventure had just released in 1993 as well, and that was the first time Kirby ever had those kinds of powers. It would be interesting to see a new Kirby pinball game with the abilities in mind (Kirby's Block Ball might be an indicator of how those powers could be used in a Kirby Ball game). The game plays just fine as it is, and the Kirby character is used well enough to make the game of pinball more interesting as it is.
In the end, one of the only complaints I really have with the game is that it's very short. Once you beat the final boss, the game does allow you to continue playing all the worlds again, but there's no difference in gameplay. You're basically playing the same game all over again, with your only motivation being to add on even more points to your ever-growing score. Much like the original Dream Land, it would have been nice to see an 'Extra mode' come into play, with the world becoming a little bit harder to master but perhaps reward the player with bigger score payouts. I mean, pinball really is all about going for the high score, right?
So yes, the game is not very long. Once you get good enough, it's not too difficult to start a fresh game and beat the last boss in under an hour or even 30 minutes! Getting good at this game really comes down to mastering the physics of the Kirby Ball, which not surprisingly behaves a bit differently from an actual pinball. How so? Well, the Kirby Ball is a little floaty and feels somewhat soft when you are doing things like... cradling the ball peacefully on one of your flippers ('Hold Trap'). Regardless, the different gimmicks in each of the rooms does give this game more of an adventure feel than your typical pinball game, which is one reason I find myself coming back to this game over and over again just to
I have no problem recommending this game to Kirby fans, but for pinball enthusiasts, the game's simplicity and low level of difficulty may be a turn-off. While the game may lack a bit in content, it more than makes up for it with a charming package that is fun and easy to pick and play.
This game is currently available on the 3DS eShop for $3.99 U.S.
Capturing the excitement of "actual pinball" in a pinball videogame is often tough to replicate. I was going to ask about the "weight" of the ball, and how everything felt, but you did mention that it was a little floaty. Yeah, that does kinda turn me off a little bit. I like the rooms though, and the climbing up, up, up that you'll have to do. Surely that has to add some intensity to the mix, too!
What kind of special things can you do? I don't see any ramps on that three-room stack up there (which, for me, is one of the most exciting things you can do short of MULTI-BALL), and the only thing that looks like you can duck down in are the two holes on the middle room. What happens then? Do you toggle both to start the Slot Machine? Slot Machine stuff is fun in games like this, too; I can't tell you how often I ran out of time on Sonic's Casino Zone as a kid..
Special things you can do? Well, most of the special things in this game revolve around the environments that are simply fantasy driven and thus wouldn't be found in a 'normal' pinball machine. For example, having to bounce Kirby Ball into jumping enemies, wandering enemies and items is part of the fun (and boss battles!). There aren't ramps like you would see in a pinball machine, you're right, but the way Kirby Ball moves into the outer lanes on the top level of Wispy-Woods Land seems like it serves a similar purpose. It's hard for me to compare to real pinball since I have so little experience with the machines (the most time I've spent with them is when I met Kris in Austin last year!), but this game seems to take great liberties with pinball physics and rules in that it strives to be own its own thing.
Oh, in that picture, those two holes in the middle room simply warp Kirby Ball from one hole on one side to the hole on the other side. That may not sound like much, but when you combine that mechanic with the slot feature on the big Kirby, lots of fun and interesting things begin to happen. The Slot machine actually toggles when you roll Kirby Ball over the top of the big Kirby!