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Throwback Thursday - The Pink Puff Ball Called Kirby
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 05:54pm 16/07/15 | Comments
Throwback Thursday is a weekly column here on AusGamers where Kosta opens up the proverbial gaming industry attic, has a poke around, finds dusty copies of games from a different time – and plays them!

Watch the puff ball go from a black and white sprite to bright pink polygons

When Japanese developer HAL Laboratory first opened its doors in 1980 it started out by making peripherals for an early PC called the MSX, an IBM-PC that found success in Asian markets like Japan and Korea. With a name derived from the computerised villain from the classic science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey, HAL was anything but a cold and clinical technology company. The name was taken mostly because it represented the polar opposite of what the company stood for. And that was, having fun with friends.

Before they formed HAL, the company’s core employees had previously rented an apartment in the Akihabara district of Tokyo. A small space where they spent their free time designing and playing computer games. One of those core employees was Satoru Iwata, who as a programmer and producer at HAL Laboratory would work on a number of the studio’s titles before taking over as company president in 1993.

And in 2002, become the president of global videogame giant Nintendo.

Iwata proved to be one of the most accessible and fun company heads the industry had ever seen

But, it would be a few years before HAL would focus exclusively on game development. And in the process begin a long and fruitful relationship with Nintendo. One that continues to this day, with HAL Laboratory being a wholly owned second party development studio. Before the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System (or Famicom as it was known in Japan) in the 1980s, HAL were eager to jump on board and develop games for the soon to be released console. With such a small company showing interest, Nintendo strangely instead opted to give the studio the reigns of one of the titles that it was currently working on. One that Nintendo themselves were having a bit of trouble with.

The game was NES Pinball, and in the state that it was given to HAL to complete development, it was all but completely broken. But thanks to the skill, talent, and passion of people like Satoru Iwata, NES Pinball was completed and HAL then moved on to develop a number of titles for the NES. Titles ranging from golf games to the popular Adventures of Lolo series. All made with the same ethos fostered years earlier in that small apartment in Tokyo. Simple games that could be played with friends.

The HAL Laboratory logo, which features a dog. And for some reason, eggs.

But before Satoru Iwata took over as company president of HAL Laboratory in 1993, the studio was on the brink of collapse. Working autonomously and only finding moderate success had taken its toll. The company needed a saviour.

A saviour that came in the form of a pink amorphous ball called Kirby.

Looking at the original Game Boy, with its black and white display that came in the form of greeny-black and greeny-white, it’s a little hard to see the technological wonder that it was at the time. Not in terms of graphical or processor capability, but the mere fact that it was a portable hand-held console that could survive an entire road trip both sitting in a person’s lap and also being thrown around a backseat of a car. The Nintendo Game Boy was sturdy, affordable, and thanks to the prefect design of bundled game Tetris, became a global phenomenon.

Portable power. Certainly a power not to be messed with.

But as a Nintendo system, the Game Boy needed a mascot. Something that wasn’t a simple collection of blocks. The NES had both Mario and Link, so the Game Boy needed something along those lines. Not exactly easy shoes to fill, but the Game Boy was in need of a character it could call its own.

At the time Satoru Iwata wanted HAL to create a portable game that anyone could play, something simple, and something that could be finished in one sitting. In other words, a game perfectly suited to the nature of the Game Boy. During development of this game at HAL Laboratory, designer Masahiro Sakurai began inserting a placeholder character into the game world. Something based on his own design, a character he called Popopo. Which, kind of looked like a simple blob with small blob-like arms. And due to this simplicity, Sakurai always meant for Popopo to remain a placeholder.

But Popopo quickly caught the attention of co-workers. And with input from both Iwata and legendary designer Shigeru Miyamoto, Popopo would remain and become the star of the game. But with a name change, to Kirby.

A land of endless food, and when that runs out people to eat.

The Game: Kirby’s Dream Land
The Year: 1992
The System: Game Boy

Due to the greyscale nature of the Game Boy, Kirby would appear white in Kirby’s Dream Land and on the box. According to creator Sakurai, Kirby was always meant to be pink. Pink or white, Kirby became a formidable success, so much so that in a few short years the character would become as popular with Nintendo fans as a Mario, Yoshi, or Donkey Kong. But what made Kirby stand out? Well, the answer lies with the character’s most recognisable trait. One that also serves as the primary mechanic in just about every Kirby game. And that is, Kirby’s ability to suck up enemies like a vacuum and either spit them out or swallow them to gain their powers.

At the time of its release, platform games along the lines of Kirby's Dream Land were not a rare thing. But a game that was as easy to play with a focus not on survival but on having fun and being able to approach each stage in a different way was. Kirby’s Dream Land was a breath of fresh air for many people, and the pick-up and play nature of the Game Boy itself was a perfect fit for Kirby’s first adventure. Although in many ways it’s still simpler than many of the later Kirby games, Kirby’s Dream Land remains one the best Kirby games available. In terms of story it provides the sort of nonsensical and charming whimsy that isn’t really required to be understood in order to come to terms with the main character. Kirby is Kirby. And a pink puff ball that eats food, swallows foes, spit them out, and does so in the most charming and adorable way possible make this a true classic.

Smiling and carefree, little did they know that they would soon be absorbed by giant dead-eyed pink mass.

Throwback Rating:

Best Forgotten / A Trip Down Memory Lane / Timeless

Kirby shows his true colour, glorious pink.

The Game: Kirby’s Adventure
The Year: 1993
The System: NES

Released in 1993, the home console debut for Kirby didn’t arrive on the more powerful 16-bit Super Nintendo, but on the 8-bit NES. A system which at this point had been on the market for almost a decade, and was clearly showing its age. But as Kirby’s Adventure was the first Kirby game to feature colour, even though it was released on the older and dated hardware of the NES, it still represented a step up for the pink fluff ball. In terms of game, it was very much identical to the Game Boy original but with a few new tricks added to Kirby’s arsenal. Two things that fans of Super Smash Bros. (also from HAL Laboratory) will no doubt be familiar with.

First is a slide-kick ability that serves as a sort of dash-attack for Kirby to take out enemies in a quick and non-vacuum like manner. Secondly, and definitely the more important, is the ability for Kirby to swallow enemies and copy their abilities. So if you see an enemy shooting fire, simply swallow them and Kirby will learn how to shoot fire through the wonders of the digestive tract of a pink amorphous ball. It’s these new abilities that help keep Kirby’s Adventure feeling fresh throughout, providing a new spin on a character that would re-appear on Game Boy Color with a fancy new bag of tricks.

You will believe a sentient pink ball can fly

Throwback Rating:

Best Forgotten / A Trip Down Memory Lane / Timeless

Kirby Super Star, the first sign of the videogame hat-pocalypse

The Game: Kirby’s Super Star
The Year: 1996
The System: SNES

Kirby has always been about fun, and the idea of a gluttonous pink thing sucking in everything, eating, and then cloning others abilities is proof of that. Kirby’s Super Star for the Super Nintendo understands this concept perfectly and represents just about the best home console version of Kirby ever released. It also gets extra point for donning Kirby in different hats and wigs to represent the different new copy abilities. Presented as a collection of mini-games Kirby’s Super Star further positions Kirby as the Nintendo character that is all about pick-up and play fun.

From a quasi-remake of the original Kirby’s Dream Land that introduces new and fun layers to the game, to a mode where Kirby has to try and out-eat the bad guy of the Kirby series, King Dedede, Kirby’s Super Star is not merely a collection of mini-games. It’s a testament to Nintendo and HAL’s commitment to quality, with just about every one of the eight games contained on the cartridge looking and feeling like it very well could stand on its own. Also, this is visually leaps and bounds ahead of any Kirby game released to date, and even though it came out towards the tail end of the Super Nintendo’s lifecycle, it still looks fantastic today.

Ninja Kirby is too cute for words. Also, will kill for no reason at all.

Throwback Rating:

Best Forgotten / A Trip Down Memory Lane / Timeless

Kirby enters the world of 3D graphics and then sucks them all up

The Game: Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards
The Year: 2000
The System: N64

Which is a lot more than what could be said about the visuals of Kirby 64, which are unfortunately kind of bland and simplistic. No doubt due to the limitations of the Nintendo 64 hardware and the primitive nature of 3D games at the time, comparatively speaking. Game-wise even though it does feature 3D graphics, Kirby 64 doesn’t stray too far from the Kirby formula. Which is to say, it doesn’t stray at all. With a control scheme that utilises the d-pad and not the analogue stick for movement, Kirby 64 plays out on a 2D-plane. But with fully 3D characters and environments. So kind of exactly like the original Kirby’s Dream Land, but in 3D. At the time they called these 2.5D platform games.

Either way there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with Kirby 64 in terms of how it plays, it’s simple in the way the series has always been. It’s just that visually the blandness hurts the overall game, especially in terms of Kirby, who looks nowhere near as cute as seen in Kirby Super Star on the Super Nintendo. And doesn’t really animate in a way that makes the character look and feel alive. Which, makes this a misstep in an otherwise long line of solid Kirby games.

Dwayne "The Rock" Kirby

Throwback Rating:

Best Forgotten / A Trip Down Memory Lane / Timeless

In memory of Satoru Iwata, 1959 - 2015

Previous Throwbacks:

Kosta Andreadis remembers a time when in order to get the best out of a console game you had to blow gently into it and whisper sweet nothings like "please work, I’m up to World 8-3, for fudgcicles sake". Situated in Melbourne, Kosta is a freelancer who enjoys playing RPGs, strategy, adventure, and action games. Apart from investing well over 200 hours into The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim he’s also an electronic musician with an album recently released.

Find him or follow him on Twitter - @toadovsky, Steam - toadovsky and Xbox Live - Toadovsky.

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