KIRBY SUPER STAR / Nintendo / SNES (1995)

Super Star isn't so much a proper Kirby game as it is a stew of half-developed concepts and mini-games thrown together, and while it definitely has its good bits it's ultimately unsatisfying due to being way too uneven.

When you first open the game you've got six modes of play available, with two further unlockable. Three of these are mini-games; those are Megaton Punch, Samurai Kirby and the Gourmet Race. Megaton Punch is, uncharacteristic of a Kirby game, the ultimate display of mindless manly machismo -- you and a foe compete to see who can punch the ground hardest and come closest to absolutely destroying the planet underneath you. This is a simple timing game, similar to the mechanics of many golf games -- first you stop a sliding power meter at the right time, then some crosshairs, then a pendulum to optimize your punching power. Samurai Kirby is an even simpler test of timing - Kirby squares off against a series of foes, in each battle you must simply press the button as fast as possible when signalled to. Do it within a certain amount of milliseconds and you win, take too long and you lose and start over. The Gourmet Race has Kirby running through three short levels racing King Dedede to the finish line while also trying to grab the most food along the way.

Samurai Kirby has some cute artwork, but both it and Megaton Punch lose their entertainment value in literally minutes, and the Gourmet Race is far too short and easy to fare much better. Spring Breeze and Dynablade are two short five-level romps that serve as sort of a warmup to the later challenges -- these play as traditional Kirby games, but each is completed in maybe 15 minutes at most. The Revenge of Metaknight (unlocked after you complete the previous two games) is *slightly* longer and a lot more challenging, but not necessarily in a good way. It's full of a lot of cheap hits, and it seems like the level design was done by someone of the Treasure school of thought (graphical effects and ZOMG HOW COOL sequences over fair enemy placement and layout that works with the controls instead of against them).

The game in general also seems to favor those irritating boss encounters where you get one chance to shoot at them and then have to dodge like 5 minutes of attacks before the next chance comes up. None of this actually matters a whole lot in Metaknight, though, because you have infinite continues from the last room you were in before you died. The Great Cave Offensive is probably the most interesting of the games on offer here, probably the closest thing we'll ever see to a fusion of Kirby with the Metroid style of gameplay. You're in a fairly huge world which has you seeking out 60 treasures, and there's little safe rooms here and there where you can heal up and save your progress as you search. Completing all of these previous games opens up the Milky Way Memories, which is both the longest and highest quality of the regular platformer style games included here.

The game on the whole has some really nice graphics, but the music is as uneven as the rest of it -- some themes are really good and others are hideous. The game does introduce some new gameplay conventions to the Kirby formula that are interesting, if not totally well functioning. Upon absorbing a foe with special powers, you can choose to make a helper out of them instead of sucking down their abilities. Under the computer's control the helper can sometimes be a huge asset in certain sections and against certain bosses, but they also move very suicidally and frequently will knock themselves out of the game before they've made themselves useful (any area with spiked tiles is almost a guaranteed death for a helper because they totally don't regard them as a danger to be avoided).

The game takes most of its powers from the previous games, but they've all been beefed up significantly -- most now have some wide rapid-fire projectile along with special dashing and jumping attacks. To compensate for this buffing up of the moves, however, the enemies now are much hardier in general and take multiple hits to knock out. This sort of changes the gameplay dynamics to something a bit different from what players of the older Kirby games will be used to, when you have some of the powers such as the Sword or Cutter it takes on almost an arcade-like hack-and-slash quality. There's also some new abilities added, such as the Ninja, which I think really illustrates what's the most wrong with this game. It sort of seems more concerned with looking cool and pandering to the adolescent action-cartoon crowd than with being a smooth and well thought-out gameplay experience.

The Ninja is a great illustration of this. Everyone is of course going to want the Ninja power because ZOMG NIJORS ARE BADASS, but in actuality the Ninja ability is one of the most useless in the game. His running slice is pretty good, but his shurikens are incredibly weak and if you have to actually hit something that's not on a flat plane with you he starts to really struggle. His little piledriver move (that they totally ripped off from Hanzo in Samurai Shodown) is dangerous because if you accidentally grab an enemy with it while jumping over a pit you're going straight down to your death. And he's got a triangle jump ... which is utterly worthless because, please remember, *Kirby can fly*. It completely does not fit in with the Kirby style of gameplay and yet there it is anyway, which is how a lot of stuff in this game seems to work. All these new ZOMG BADASS attacks also all come out really slowly, leaving you standing there open to getting your ass kicked forever. They may look cool but they just don't fit right, but seemingly nobody on the design team really cared about that.

The one new positive touch is that, in the Milky Way Memories game, once a power is acquired it can be recalled through a series of button presses rather than having to track down a foe with it all over again. I thought that was a nice touch, even though it was present in only one of the games.

This one might be better for time-crunched gamers looking for something they can just pick up and put down in small doses. It also might be better for people who have a second player consistently around to play with - the partners can be controlled by player 2, and all of the mini-games are 2-player competitive as well. For someone playing solo and looking for something to get involved with, I don't think this is a good choice. It does have its share of fun bits, but you'll run through those in a very short period of time.

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