Kirby: Super Star Saga

If you check the Nintendo Online account right now, you’ll find that Kirby: Super Star Saga, happens to be this month’s mission. That works quite well for me, as it happens to be one of the retro titles I’ve played recently while I was waiting for sales (they have now happened and new games should be coming soon).

Originally released on the Super Nintendo in March of 1996 and now available to play for free if you have an online account, Kirby Super Star Saga was a hit when it came out. The game claims to actually combine several different games into one experience, and that claim is more or less true, even if several of the “games” involved are more what one would consider mini-games, while others are essentially 20-40 min Kirby games.

Throughout most of these games, Kirby controls the same way. One button makes him jump, hitting that button a few times will make him inflate and fly in an awkward manner. Another button will have Kirby inhale enemies; pressing it again releases that enemy as a star to hurt others. Or you could press down and Kirby will copy the ability of certain enemies (well, he will in most of the “games” provided here).

Speaking of, here’s the “game select” stage

The controls are simple, and for six of those eight different play modes up there, Kirby controls exactly the same. In fact, many of those games play essentially the same way. Both Spring Breeze and Dynablade are fairly standard affairs. You control Kirby through a series of different stages, beating bosses and performing relatively simple platforming. There’s nothing particularly special about them, though Dynablade has a cute story attached to it. Spring Breeze is apparently a remake of an older Kirby game, if you’re the kind who likes nostalgia. These two games are clearly here in order to introduce people to Kirby’s controls and how he moves.

Yep, a sword wielding puffball and a hammer wielding monkey against a quasi robotic bird creature; looks like Kirby to me.

Gourmet Race is… odd. You control Kirby in a footrace against King Dedede, both working their way through a course in order to eat as much food as possible and make it to the finish line before the other. The idea is to test Kirby’s abilities in movement and to really get used to how the stages work and how Kirby handles. Again, there’s not a lot of meat there, but it can be quite fun.

Those bottom two: Megaton Punch and Samurai Kirby are essentially a pair of mini-games. They play not unlike the kind of games you’d find in a Mario Party game, and they’re fun enough diversions, but obviously the weakest of this bunch.

See, the real meat is in those last three games.

By the way, the graphics are quite good for a SNES game, and hold up well years later

If you follow the pattern, moving from left to right, you’re likely to play the Great Cave Offensive first. This was by far my favorite of the bunch, and the reason for that should become obvious when I reveal what it essentially is: a Kirby Metroidvania.

Make no mistake, it’s not an overly complicated game. Even the most complicated of these (which ironically also plays a bit like a Metroidvania game) isn’t all that difficult. Kirby isn’t about barrier to entry, though I did find the games giving me a slight challenge at times. But The Great Cave Offensive is essentially a game that utilizes Kirby’s mechanics in that sprawling, action-exploration style.

The goal is simple: Kirby is dropped in a cave and is looking to collect as many treasures as he can. There are sixty total treasures, something the game tells you at the time. There’s not really a stated reward for collecting as many as you can, beyond it just being the point of the whole thing. I ended up with about 56 treasures, missing one or two by accident and refusing to go after two others because one is incredibly hard and essentially involves chance while the other all but requires a second player.

These treasures are spread throughout an interconnect bit of Cave. Kirby winds his way through this, taking abilities as he goes, and the path isn’t always straightforward. Like other metroidvania games, this one expects you to explore, to look in nooks and crannies. Sometimes that’s to find a particular treasure, while othertimes it’s to find a particular ability you need in order to access a treasure that may be in plain sight. This gets oddly addicting and quite engaging, particularly if you like these sorts of games.

Yes, you did game, yes you did

I’d honestly say that The Great Cave Offensive in and of itself is worth playing Kirby Super Star Saga, and there are several other modes and games here to play.

Revenge of Meta Knight is the only game here that has Meta Knight as a character you encounter. The story is relatively simple, but that works to its advantage. Kirby is invading the Halberd, Meta Knight’s base of operations, because they’re using it to terrorize Dream Land.

The player is encouraged to sprint through these stages as quickly as possible, causing damage to the ship and the enemies around them. There’s actually a timer in this game, unlike some of the others, and it very much feels like its pushing you to go faster and faster.

This also actually threads “story” throughout, with having various members of Meta Knight’s crew comment on Kirby’s abilities. They treat the pink ball almost like a force of nature, commenting on his abilities to just tear through their ship.

Ah, 90’s humor

It’s easy to see where the earlier games prep you for this, with Gourmet Race encouraging speed while the others have you mastering Kirby’s abilities and determining how they move. The game is a fun, fast paced platformer that starts giving some hints as to Kirby’s world and builds it a bit more. It’s not the most brilliant thing in the world, but it’s all kinds of engaging.

This brings us to the last mode, Milky Way Wishes. Here the game tweaks the formula a little: Kirby cannot naturally copy abilities. Instead, scattered through several planets (which work as stages) are various ability pods, similar to the ones that have been featured in other games. These give Kirby that ability permanently, and he can change into whichever one he wants by entering a menu and selecting them.

The story is, again, pretty basic, but a little more involved than “get more food than Dedede” or “find the treasure.” The sun and the moon are fighting, so the being Marx encourages Kirby to go to various planets to connect star routes in order to balance things out.

This drops the player onto a mini-map/stage select. Each stage is its own little world, with its own little gimmick. And each one contains two to three powers (save for a secret stage tucked in the bottom right corner that gives you copy, which is probably what you should go pick up first).

Standard victory screen for this mode

This can get challenging at times, and is arguably the hardest of the various games included. I got dangerously close to a game over a few times throughout this mode, particularly before I got a few of the abilities that I found most useful.

And the game does encourage exploration and can present its stuff non-linearly, with hints that going back to earlier stages with new abilities can reveal certain things (so, yeah, a metroidvania light). However, once you have about four to six abilities that you’re really good with in a variety of situations, there’s not really a lot of incentive to find them all, beyond a need to finish the game. I went through the whole thing without the ice ability and never missed it.

Still, the mode itself is all kinds of fun, with the stages being varied and imaginative, really putting to the test what you’ve learned. Having free access to the abilities becomes rewarding, and it adds yet another new dynamic to the game.

That’s the thing, this game is nearly thirty years old, but it feels new and dynamic. Each of its games offers something unique and interesting to readily engage the player, and they each feel like they’ve been designed with real purpose and love for the character, his world, and how those all can work together to make a great game.

The music works pretty well; it’s Kirby, so essentially it’s aggressively cheerful and upbeat, with some more spacey elements. As mentioned earlier, the graphics look pretty darn good, and hold up remarkably well (better than some of its contemporaries, in fact).

I did find the mode selection a bit strange, and there were a few times when I felt like I could use at least a little more story, though I’d also argue that’s not really what most of these games are here for. Some of the games, particularly the beginning ones, are just sort of here, but they’re also there obviously to teach the player how to play the game.

Kirby’s always been aimed at a younger audience, but speaking as an older gamer looking back and playing this for the first time in decades, I’d say this game holds up remarkably well. Again, it’s available to anyone who already has a Nintendo online account and is currently their “challenge” game for the month of May (2022). It’s also available through certain other means that I sort of low-key champion, but playing it via the Switch is the way to go if you have that method.

9 nearly there, but the sort of hollowness of the earlier games and a need for just a bit more incentive in the later ones kinda holds it back from sheer perfection for me… if just (this would be like a 9.5 really)

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