KIRBY'S DREAMLAND 3 / Nintendo / SNES (1996)
This game represents what's best about endeavors like the Virtual Console -- the ability to re-release underlooked but excellent games to the mass market, so that they can perhaps finally get the appreciation that they deserve.
Kirby's Dreamland 3 was one of the very last games released in America for the Super Nintendo, in its waning days when everyone was all hot for ugly 3D polygonal Playstation action. It's an exceptional platformer - like all the Kirby games, definetly a touch on the easy side, but the ride is worth it. Some shady blob has cast its evil tentacles all over Kirby's home planet Poopstar, and this is pretext enough to send you through a whole bunch of levels knocking the evil out of baddies and such.
There's plenty of levels to go around, but the game gains some replayability beyond other Kirby games as each level has some sort of specific task you have to do to please a character at the end of it, and you have to uncover these secret tasks in each level to unlock the true final battle. These range from something as simple as clearing a level without tromping on any fragile flowers, to finding a hidden item, taking an alternate hidden path through the level, or finding and playing some sort of mini-game (among many others). The game has absolutely no dialogue whatsoever, so everything is conveyed through the emotive expressions of the characters ... and it's done so well you'll actually feel bad for not figuring out how to help them.
The game has a wonderful atmosphere, and even though it's not very challenging it's worth playing through just to experience its unique watercolor art style, sort of reggae-ish music (one of the guys who did the Earthbound score composed this one and it's got that same sort of dub touch to a lot of the songs), smooth gameplay and nice level design. It also even has two-player simultaneous cooperative play - one of Kirby's new powers in this one is that he can at any time unleash a sidekick named Droopy or Goopy or somesuch, a sort of tar ball that floats and eats as he does (but cannot ride animal buddies). Normally, the computer AI controls Goopy when he is deployed, but if a second player is handy with a second controller they can jump in and take responsibility for Goopy's actions. I can't recommend this one enough, it's a true underlooked gem in Nintendo's catalog and I'm pleased to see it re-released here.