Retrograde Review: Kirby Super Star

The Super Nintendo is easily my favorite video game system; I still have it hooked to my HDTV and I still play games on it. While it didn’t have the power to push lifelike polygons and games over 30 hours to today’s standards, it has the soul that hasn’t been in games for a while since the outbreak of CD technology. While there are numerous games on the Super Nintendo that will always be remembered and spoken about, one touching classic does not often pass the lips of the casual gamer who was alive in the early 90’s: Kirby Super Star. While Kirby Super Star isn’t anywhere close to being the paradigm classic of the Super Nintendo, it certainly stands out as a memorable game, and possibly one of the best Kirby games you could play for any system.

Kirby is most widely known for his appearances in the Super Smash Bros. Series and as the star of a number of platform adventure hits on Nintendo’s portable systems, the Game Boy series and the DS. Lesser known are his console games, but it is on a console game that Kirby first learned to acquire enemies’ abilities, now one of his trademarks. However, if you’d like to see where Kirby’s advanced fighting moves came from, the best place to look would be 1995’s Kirby Super Star for the Super Nintendo.

To be fair, Kirby Super Star is not quite a single game. It’s six short games, each with their own unique style, and my use the term “short” is café-liberal, much like a “short story” isn’t confined to a single-page anecdote or less but isn’t at length with Moby Dick. “Spring Breeze” is a remake of Kirby’s first game, Kirby’s Dream Land, using Kirby Super Star’s engine. “Gourmet Race” is a race to grab food and reach the finish line. “DynaBlade” incorporates an overhead stage map and optional paths into the game. “The Great Cave Offensive” is more of a large-scale adventure game, a treasure hunt with inns and save spots that will remind you of an RPG. “Revenge of MetaKnight” is a fast-paced action platformer named after one of Kirby’s most memorable bosses – now featured in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. There’s also “Milky Way Wishes,” a game that throws you a curve ball: instead of obtaining abilities from enemies, you must collect a sparkling trophy to have it permanently added to your collection, and you can switch between them via a menu ala Mega Man. There are also two minigames – a timing based “Megaton Punch” and a reaction-speed based “Samurai Kirby.”

None of the main games justify cartridge release alone, but if you consider the fact that “Spring Breeze” is almost the original Kirby game – and you’ve played it and love it all the same – you wouldn’t complain about that. Each of these games are charming, although some are clearly more enjoyable than others: “Gourmet Race” was the only game I didn’t really care much about, but “Revenge of MetaKnight” and “The Great Cave Offensive” make up for it in spades. If you spent the time to beat all six games, you get a seventh game – a boss endurance mode called “The Arena.” “The Arena” stands out as my personal favorite and the most challenging, not to mention worth grabbing a friend to play with – more on that later.

Kirby Super Star stands out from several of the other Kirby games for a number of reasons. For one, instead of a six-dot counter for your life bar, you (and bosses, for that matter) have an actual life meter. While it’s harder to quantify how much damage you take from enemies, it’s a more comfortable fit in this game than the dot system. This is due to another unique feature of this Kirby game: Kirby’s advanced moves. In many games before this one, Kirby’s abilities were usually single-button functions. In this game, certain button motions will allow you to perform varied attacks. For example, pressing Up and Y with the Hammer ability will give you a charged hammer uppercut – yes, the same one King DeDeDe uses in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. In addition to this, Kirby has a number of moves that follow on every ability, including the ability to slide and block. The combination of these features give Kirby Super Star a unique beat-’em-up feel. Who knew such simple mechanics could lead to such a rich and deep game?

There are roughly two dozen abilities to copy from the games. While you can’t necessarily copy every ability in every game (the overpowered Plasma ability would break something as easy as “Spring Breeze” if it were to turn up so rapidly, wouldn’t it?), if you happen to inhale two enemies with an ability, you get a roulette table that may give you any of the abilities. The powers include the single useless status ailment and some limited-use bombs, though the major bulk of the abilities are unlimited use; those abilities range from tricky or specific to powerful and destructive, and while some may be useless for combat purposes, rest assured that each power has at least one use in the game and you will have fun finding uses for them.

Kirby also has the ability to create helpers by simply acquiring an ability and pressing the A button. These helpers are modeled after the ability he uses and typically have the same moveset as Kirby with that ability, though it does have a few extended abilities like snap-teleportation to Kirby’s location. Helpers are limited in that they cannot absorb another ability unless they are in the throes of death, during which time it flashes with an explosive fury and it is critical to its survival to touch an enemy with an ability. Moreover, these helpers can be controlled by a human player, which greatly improves its performance. The AI isn’t terrible, but it shows in The Arena that at times you are better off not using a helper. Additionally, the death of a helper does not usher into a game over, even when played with a second player, so it gives the second player more freedom to go berserk on the enemy.

Now, why does this collection of classic-styled games with 16-bit technology sit with me as one of the more played games of this system? You’d have to know something about the hardware of a Super Nintendo Cartridge: RAM memory. Essentially, all your Super Nintendo game saves are held on a battery. When your battery dies, so do all your game saves. This stops me from playing a few of my favorite classics on its original platform too much – most notably Chrono Trigger, my single favorite game in the history of games. I love Kirby Super Star so much because, while the battery on my copy died long ago, it’s actually fun to play the game to 100% completion in a sitting or two. Even if I sometimes overlook some of the more difficult trophies of “Milky Way Wishes,” I still try to beat my record of under 7’30” in “The Arena.” This game is so much fun that I will play it over and over, but it’s short enough that I won’t drive myself mad keeping constant power to my SNES or lurk in paranoia of a game over screen.

There is possibility of Kirby Super Star being remade for the DS as Kirby Ultra Super Deluxe (that’s an EXTEEEEME MOUTHFUL!!!, isn’t it?), so if you missed this game the first time, you may have another chance to try it with updated graphics. Will it ever be talked about as much as Super Mario or Final Fantasy? Maybe not, but that’s no excuse to miss a classic like this. You don’t have to devote yourself to an entire game, but it’s enjoyable enough to just pick up the game for ten minutes to a couple hours and find yourself getting lost in the undeniable charm of any Kirby game.

~ Setsuna Setsunai

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