Saturday, August 1, 2015

Kirby's Pinball Land (GB) Review

Received: December 25th, 2012 / Written: August 1st, 2015
(As played on the Super Game Boy)
Year: 1993 | Developed by: HAL Laboratory | Published by: Nintendo
Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit... and Kirby!  =)
After the dual success of his 1992 Game Boy star-making debut Kirby's Dream Land and 1993's very late NES platformer Kirby's Adventure, HAL Laboratory's pink puffball Kirby made a good name for himself and quickly garnered an audience among gamers thanks to his likable charm, intuitive controls, lighthearted fun, and non-demanding difficulty.  So naturally it made sense to move forward with what began to establish itself as a franchise.  =)
Kirby's Adventure was the first game in the series to introduce Kirby's trademark copying ability via enemy inhalation, and one of the abilities in it was that of a ball; and considering it never popped up in any Kirby platformer since then (save the 2002 Game Boy Advance remake Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land) it's easy to understand why: Kirby's already ball-shaped, there's no need for it.
Although, one could see it as enough incentive for HAL to take full advantage of Kirby's roundness in ingeniously creative situations; and since Kirby is one of those characters alongside Pac-Man who's easy to draw regardless of artistic skill, why not?  Frankly, I'd be more concerned if HAL Laboratory didn't take advantage of the heroic pink puffball's rotundness in one way or another.  =<
Enter Kirby's Pinball Land, the second Game Boy game featuring Kirby as the main hero, the first ever non-platforming spin-off of the series, the second handheld pinball game HAL made after 1989's Revenge of the Gator, as well as the second Nintendo-published pinball title since the 1983 Nintendo 8-bit game simply titled Pinball.  King Dedede is back and challenges Kirby once more in pinball-fashion, so Kirby wills himself to become a ball and goes after the penguin monarch.  ...that's all I got, really.
Select your Warpstar
Since this is a pinball-styled game the controls are pretty reflective of those arcade machines' structure, which means the gameplay is simple to play but difficult to master.  This is especially true when you have no direct control of the ball itself except for the two flippers, so practice and timing is a must in order to prolong your progress.  The left button controls the left flipper while the A button takes control of the right flipper, and if you needed to hold either flipper in place just hold down the respective buttons.  Also like real pinball machines it's possible to make the game tilt itself should you press the right button over and over, but don't use it too much or it'll affect your play.
Cappies and Kirbies in place
Each of the three primary areas have three sections: the starting point at the bottom, the midway point, and the topmost section at the highest point.  In each of the sections you get a chance to get as high a score as you possibly can, or move on to any of the other sections (whether because you missed at the bottom or if you were propelled upward by the flippers or other elements).  If you hit Kirby ball enough times against enemies or towards helpful items there will be something that will aid you: something that helps you get higher easier or a Warpstar.  Depending on the level you're at when you make the Warpstar pop up you'll be sent to one of the following: the boss fight (top point), the timed sixty-second mini-bonus (midpoint), or back to the area selection room again (low point).

"Oi, you!  Get out!!"
The way in which you try to pull off high scores and try to beat each area is different and each one is designed differently.  Some of the ways in which you temporarily add a bottle that blocks either hole on the farthest of each side, or even temporarily getting a Maxim tomato that blocks the very center hole momentarily, is by making Kirby fly around opposing corners, or even knocking over enemies enough times so that a Maxim tomato will be there for the brief taking.  And some of the ways to gain access to the Warpstar is by spelling its name or even completing the upper section of the area.  If ball Kirby falls from the bottom section of the area, you have a chance to save yourself if you press A on the springboard (which shrinks with each successful usage) at the right moment, but if not then one of your lives will be lost.

"Whatcha dreamin' bout, Sparky?"
With veteran HAL Laboratory composer Jun Ishikawa not returning to compose this Kirby title (due to the commitment he gave to HAL's Japan-only Nintendo 16-bit action-adventure game Alcahest), this marked the first time in the series that Ishikawa was not involved.  Taking his place in Kirby's Pinball Land is Tadashi Ikegami, and while Ishikawa's trademark composing style is missed the music provided here isn't bad.  Some of the themes, namely the Bubbly Clouds and Kirby's themes, almost sound like they were lifted from Kirby's Dream Land (almost, there are subtle differences), but everything else sounds pretty fun for what it is, like Whispy's stage theme.  And the sounds are aptly chosen for they befit that of an actual pinball game (particularly the ones where Kirby bounces off of flippers).  =)

Cloudy with a chance of angry
cloud weather
The visuals are really charming and likable, and I enjoyed seeing how the enemies introduced in the previous games would be used as literal set pieces; that's another clever way of using HAL's material in Kirby's first spin-off.  Kirby's ball animation for when he rotates is fluid, even though the only way of telling is by looking at Kirby's eyes.  The diverse (bonus) areas with the myriad exterior patterns and animation of the various enemies and their bosses is solid, and I liked how the enemies would pop up out of small holes (like the Junior Poppy Brothers in Poppy's area), or even the animation for when Squishy throws you in any direction.  Those are just a couple examples, though, as there are so many to name.

Poppy Brother attack
Kirby's Pinball Land was a big success upon its 1993 debut, garnering generally positive reviews and becoming a best seller, proving that Kirby could be a flexible character that could do good even when not starring in a platformer.  I'm glad, because it paved the way for more ball-based spin-off adventures for Kirby, and it's always interesting to see what direction HAL Laboratory takes with that formula.  Although I did find it interesting that Kirby reverts to his normal self while fighting bosses as opposed to staying as a ball, though perhaps it could not be helped.  In 2012 it got rereleased for the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console, so people who did not own a Game Boy prior to that year got to experience it for the first time.

Kirby's Pinball Land also presumedly got remade as the mini-game Kirby Brawl Ball, only with elements, enemies, and bosses that have since been introduced up to 2011 in the Nintendo DS Kirby swansong Kirby Mass Attack.  Okay, not entirely the same game, but the mechanics are the same.

Aim for the jackpot
So, with all that going for it, does Kirby's Pinball Land hold up after almost twenty-two years?  It does... and it doesn't.  Let me elaborate: as Kirby's first ball-centric spin-off can be a fun and enjoyable game to play once in awhile, and the creative setup with the puffball and all the enemies is very likable and clever.  =)  It also helps that it adds a bit of replay value to the package which area you tackle first and how high you're able to score before losing all tries; but ultimately that's what Kirby's Pinball Land essentially is: a score attack game.  And since it's requisite that you use the flippers at the most appropriate and opportune of times it can be difficult to survive unless you've got the pinball mechanics down pat.

There's also the fact that since its release more Kirby platformers and spin-offs have been made, and pretty much all of them eclipse Kirby's Pinball Land in terms of fun value.  That's not to say that Kirby's first spin-off is a bad game, it's just that it falls victim to age.  That, and whether or not someone will enjoy it depends on how much they like the pinball genre in the first place, not to mention putting up with their structure.  Personally, I do give this game credit for a lot of things and I do like to play it in short bursts when I'm in the mood, but it's not quite something I'll play every now and then.  Now don't get me wrong, I do like it for what it is, but as unfair as it is to judge something by their age it is hard to not make comparisons with the other games in the series (especially said Kirby Mass Attack mini-game Kirby Brawl Ball).
If you're a fan of the pinball genre I think you'll really enjoy Kirby's Pinball Land, and if you're a fan of Kirby I believe you'll get enough enjoyment from it.  =)  As for everyone else, your mileage may vary.  It's not exactly one of the better entries in the series, but for what it is it is fun to play in short bursts and it can be fun to see how high you can score.  For me, it is fun and enjoyable once in awhile, and while it's not great in my opinion it is very decent lighthearted entertainment.

My Personal Score: 6.5/10
<( ^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^ )>
P.S. Pokémon fans may be interested to know that Jupiter's Game Boy Color game Pokémon Pinball used the same exact engine as this game.  =)

P.S. 2 Has anyone noticed that it seems the Game Boy installments of series have the word "Land" on them?  I mean think about it: Super Mario Land, Wario Land, Kirby's Dream Land?  That's quite a coincidence.

P.S. 3 If my screenshots seem to be inconsistently sized, that's because I had to squeeze them manually when converting from when I took snapshots of my widescreen TV and do as best as I could to make them square; at least with the video camera option (back when my old laptop worked properly) it automatically squared the entire widescreen ratio that I recorded (just comes to show how old my camera is).
P.S. 4 The next attempt at ball Kirby's formula would be Kirby's Dream Course, which I can't wait to talk about in the near future, so look forward to that one.  =)
Thank you for reading my review, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think.  Hope you have a great Summer, take care!  =)

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