Kirby's Dream Land (Game Boy): Does It Hold Up?
It's been almost two years since we last featured Does It Hold Up? here on GameZone. Quite frankly, that's kind of a long time to not be talking about retro games, so our nostalgia-drenched editorial series is back once more so we can all lust over older games, both good and bad! And what better way to kick off the return of Does It Hold Up? than with a look back at the very first entry in the Kirby franchise?
Kirby's Dream Land originally launched for the Game Boy in 1992. These days you can find the game on the 3DS eShop and in Kirby's Dream Collection for the Wii. Heck, you could also shell out more than $300 for an actual Game Boy cartridge, but that's probably not the wisest investment — and that's coming from a diehard Kirby fan.
As is often the case when revisiting decades-old classics, the first thing you look at is the graphical style. Dream Land doesn't look like much anymore on account of its black-and-white visuals. It's not like Limbo, which was designed that way for stylistic purposes. No, Dream Land is completely in black-and-white because it was developed for the original Game Boy hardware. Considering how lovely later Kirby games looked, it's impossible to deny that this isn't exactly a graphical masterpiece by today's standards.
Even without the luster of modern technology, however, Dream Land is still totally charming. It may not be gushing with color, but that inherent Kirby style is still as evident as ever. It's impossible to keep from staring at Kirby, enemies, and bosses without any sort of adulation. They're ridiculously sugary and cutesy, sure, but since that's been the series' MO since this very first entry, it's easy to enjoy the visual treat that Dream Land offers its fans, lack of color notwithstanding.
Kirby is known primarily for his ability to suck enemies up and steal their powers, but some folks may not be aware that said mechanic wasn't introduced until Kirby's Adventure for the NES. In Dream Land, Kirby can still swallow enemies whole or use them as projectiles, but he can't copy their attacks. The result is a more simple platforming caper that's actually still a lot of fun. Spitting out enemies to take out other baddies is really cool, and swallowing up piles of blocks to uncover secret areas is a great touch.
The great thing about the Kirby series — and something that's evident even in this first installment — is its open-ended design that lets you take on levels in different ways. You can run across stages and jump over pitfalls in standard platforming fashion, swallow up anything that gets in your way, or simply fly through entire levels. It's not the most gripping openness as far as level design is concerned, but it's something we don't even see in Mario games these days, so it was pretty progressive for its day and still provides ample freedom.
Sadly, with only five levels, Dream Land is on the short side, spanning anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour at most. Because the game will only run you $4 on the eShop, that's not too bad. That said, the criminally short length is indicative of a much older handheld era. To top it off, this isn't exactly a challenging adventure, which a lot of platformer fans may not be too thrilled about.
Thankfully, you can toggle a hard mode option on the title screen by inputting a specific button combination. This is where the real challenge in Dream Land comes in, tasking you with battling tougher enemies whose attack patterns are much more unpredictable. In addition, bosses attack in more brutal ways. I never saw the game over screen during my normal play-through, but when I took on hard mode, I encountered the shameful screen a handful of times. Even with the two modes, though, you're still looking at about two hours of playtime in total, which is kind of a bummer.
The verdict: Dream Land holds up as the epitome of short but sweet
Obviously, Dream Land won't win every platformer fan over, but you probably already know if you like this series or not anyway. If you've yet to play this inaugural entry and fancy yourself a lover of Nintendo's resident pink puffball, the $4 entry fee is worth it for both a nice Kirby history lesson and a couple of solid hours of charming entertainment. You could also go with Kirby's Dream Collection, which features Dream Land as one of its six awesome greatest hits inclusions.
Even if you're a super-fan, I wouldn't suggest you shell out $300 for an original cartridge, but if you love all things Kirby and missed out on Dream Land, you'll be glad to know that it still holds up quite nicely.
Want to talk about indie games, Kirby, or cheap pizza? Follow me on Twitter @dr_davidsanchez.