“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
J. Robert Oppenheimer used this quote from the Bhagavad Gita to express his reaction to some wussy atomic bomb going off out in the New Mexico desert. Really, a waste of a good quote, because if ol’ Dr. Oppenheimer had had the sense to sit on it for fifty years or so, he would’ve had a much better opportunity to uncork it, preferably around August of 1992, because that was when the world was introduced to the most destructive force known to mankind, the Ultraviolent Icon, the most remorseless death machine going, the one, the only, Kirby. Yes, there was a time before the world knew of the unmitigated destruction wrought by the little cloud fella, but that innocent age came to an end with the release of today’s game, Kirby’s Dream Land for Game Boy.
Just like pretty much all of the first half–dozen or so Kirby games, there is treachery afoot in Dream Land, caused by King Dedede’s avaricious greed, as he helps himself to all the food and stars in Dream Land. With the citizenry in quite a tizzy, Kirby steps up to reclaim the stolen goods the only way he knows how: by eating first and asking questions later. Kirby’s scorched-earth revenge tour will take you across five levels before culminating in a showdown with the big penguin himself, and just like all of the first half-dozen or so Kirby games, you’re not here for the plot, you’re here to exercise a violent power fantasy through the avatar of a sentient puffball.
Well, to be frank, Kirby isn’t quite the man of many hats that he would become later on in the series, in fact, you kinda get the impression the designers made this game with a rough idea of the character and his abilities, but hadn’t quite fleshed it out entirely. Y’see, unlike later games in the series, Kirby cannot consume enemies for the purpose of seizing their powers and weaponry; consuming enemies IS his only real offense here. You can swallow enemies, spit them back out at others, fire a puff of air while flying, or land on them from high enough up to flatten them, but that’s really about it. Although, in hindsight, it might actually be creepier that Kirby eats enemies just to do it instead of getting anything tangible out of it.
While it’s interesting to see how far Kirby still had to go before he became the reflection of death he is today, it’s also worth noting how many characters and concepts that were introduced here have survived in the Kirby canon to the modern era. Whispy Woods? Kracko? Kirby’s voice being a smart bomb? Maximum Tomatoes? Those cannons that shoot at you but have never killed anyone ever in the entire history of the franchise? Yup, they all got their start here! Although, I have to say, it is very weird for me to think of Kirby being a bright white color instead of his now-trademark pinkish hue, and it’s not just a function of the Game Boy’s color limitations; even on the box art and the instruction manual, Kirby is as white as a spring day cloud.
Now, compared to even other first-party Game Boy games like Super Mario Land or Metroid II, Kirby’s Dream Land is a rather easy game. Traps like bottomless pits don’t really serve much purpose when you can fly indefinitely, and a majority of the enemies can only attack by making contact with you, so if you’re taking damage, it’s probably more because you just flat-out ran into them instead of getting actively attacked. Even Kirby’s lack of copy function isn’t that much of a handicap; during boss battles, your opponents are pretty generous about plopping out edible objects to fire back at them, and most enemies are quite consumable on their own. Well, actually, I should make a correction there. Kirby’s Dream Land is a very easy game at first. If you beat it once and decide to immediately play through it again, you’ll play a version with a much high difficulty level that features enemies not seen in the first playthrough, which is a nice piece of replay value. Unfortunately, though, it’s not ideal to have to play through the light scrimmage version each time if you want the more challenging version…but luckily, there’s a code that allows you to skip past easy mode, as well as one that allows you to tinker with how much health you have and many lives you start with.
Even with the second round, though, this is still a short game. As I said, there are five levels, but only the first four constitute actual levels; the fifth level, Mt. Dedede, is effectively a boss rush followed by a showdown with the big man himself. This is one way where the original simple difficulty doesn’t help matters, either, as you can plow through levels extremely quickly when there’s very little to slow you down, and worst-case scenario, you can just fly past the overwhelming majority of the enemies instead of bothering to fight them. On the upside, though, there are a handful of hidden doors and paths through the levels, so it is fun to try to poke around and see what’s hiding in plain sight.
Despite the limitations of the Game Boy hardware, Dream Land is very solid artistically. Kirby’s sprite is decently sized, his animations are enjoyable, even if a bit on the basic side, the levels and backgrounds strike a solid balance between being well-detailed but not being too busy and cannibalizing themselves with only shades of green to work with. Before each stage, there’s a little mini-cutscene, which is a nice addition that adds some personality to this new character, and the enemy designs are quite inventive as well, especially Kracko, whose cloudiness makes him seem like the anti-Kirby. The music here is excellently done, for songs being built of bleeps and bloops, but hey, if it was good enough to be featured in I Wanna Be The Guy all those years later, they’ve done something right, and the general theme of the soundtrack fits well with the light, upbeat setting.
I admit that I’m not the most unbiased observer when it comes to Kirby, as he’s one of my favorite video game characters of all time and I find pretty much all of his games quite enjoyable, but I think Kirby’s Dream Land acquits itself nicely even if it is your first exposure to the franchise. It’s fun to look at, fun to play, and while the challenge of the first game isn’t exactly intense, it is a good intro to gaming for someone who doesn’t have much experience with video games, and the second round is a lot more the proper speed for most players. While Kirby may not have reached the apex of his powers here, Kirby’s Dream Land is still a quality Game Boy title and worth a play to see where the trail of blood Kirby leaves in his wake began.
Quality graphics and sound, the second round provides extra difficulty and replay value, gets most everything right with Kirby the first time out.
If you’ve played other games in the series before this, it might seem a little empty, still a very short game even with the bonus mode.