Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards
Welcome back! Or just welcome!
Welcome, internet! It's good that you're here. Review day is upon us, and I've pulled out a favorite! Well, it's a favorite of someone's, I'm sure. It's one of the classics from the Nintendo 64 era. It's a classic in many other terms, but we're mostly worried about it's era, at least when compared to the rest of possible concerns, it's age is a good measure in the quality, since good games generally age well. This is a pretty good example of that. Have you figured out what I'm going to be reviewing? If you haven't, It's Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards! Then again, that was on the title. You probably already know.
Kirby 64 (we won't be saying the full title from now on for simplicity's sake) Is different from it's previous incarnations in many ways. It's also the same in many ways. You wander around on a 2d spectrum, as well as sucking up enemies and stealing their powers. Of course, they're dead, so what are they going to do with those powers, eh? Kirby's adorable charm also remains unchanged. Even when he's putting on the role of “Devourer” and stealing the abilities of his victims, he's still cute. Even his games are adorable. Canvas Curse, Nightmare in Dreamland, and all of the games before those (yes, including this one) have adorable artwork, quirky animations, and sweet characters. At the risk of sounding redundant, Kirby 64 is no exception.
One of a kind Inhalation
This game is not only unique when compared to the other Kirby games, It's also unique when compared to other N64 games. You see, the N64 controller has three grip handles, as opposed to two. The most commonly used grip handles were the middle, which had the control stick, z-trigger (button), and start button (also a button,) and the right , which featured the R-button, A and B buttons, and the four c-buttons: Left, Down, Up and Right. Kirby 64, unlike other N64 games, uses the left grip, which used the L-button and directional buttons: Left, Down, Up, and Right. But, seeing it from a development standpoint, this isn't all that bad. The Control stick would make the movement much smoother, but Kirby is still in a 2d spectrum, meaning the directional buttons would probably feel better to use. But that's just a guess.
It's unique to the other Kirby games in the way that it's 3D. It was his first full blown 3d game, and even to this day, he still has very few 3D games. The entire environment in the level is designed with 3D models, rendered with 3D models, but is played on a 2D spectrum, similarly to Kirby's Return to Dreamland. Another unique feature in Kirby 64 is the power to combine Kirby's signature copy abilities. In most games, he inhales an enemy, then swallows it for an ability, or spits it out at another enemy to destroy both of them. In Kirby 64, he still has these abilities, but if he spits a monster out at an enemy that also has an ability, the abilities combine to create a new, or upgraded ability. He can make powers like:
-Fridge(Spark+Ice): Kirby will turn into a refrigerator which can spit food out to harm enemies, or heal Kirby.
-Fireworks(Flame+Bomb): Kirby turns into a living set of fireworks, and will pop into the air, destroying enemies while gaining elevation
-Dynamite(Stone+Bomb): One of my favorites. Kirby can throw a set of dynamite sticks, which can blow up and destroy enemies in a huge radius, and can actually damage Kirby if you don't duck. If you duck, Kirby wears a hard hat to protect himself from the blow.
(Also, these may not be the actual names of the abilities. It's just the easiest way to title them.)
And there are plenty more abilities waiting to be seen simply by mixing and matching the abilities he already has. As I said before, he can also upgrade his abilities by combining two of the same ability. His stone ability upgrades to make him huge while in his stone form, and when he doubles his bomb ability, he can fire up to 3 missiles from his mouth, which home in on enemies to blow them up! The homing isn't incredibly accurate, but why get picky about it?
One of my favorite things about the game is the level select screen, which really emphasizes Kirby's cuteness, despite not showing him until you actually select level (or in this case, stage). The stages in each level have a picture drawn in crayon, and you use a crayon to select your level. When you highlight a level, there are three vertically stacked circles, which show you how many crystals you have in that level. There are three in each level, and you need to learn to use different abilities to acquire different crystals.
There are about three Standard stages per level, with one major boss at the end. With three crystals in each stage, and one from the boss, you're looking at about 10 shards for all 6 levels, making a grand total of 60 shards. Once you have all of these shards, you unlock a final boss level called “Dark Star”, but it's not necessary unless you want the “true” ending. Throughout the game, you also find several different friends to help you along the way. Waddle Dee will help you with lifts, elevators, sleds, and holes to other areas, A little painter girl will sometimes paint you an item you may need, or even paint the hint to a secret. Even King Dedede joins in, providing some heavy hitting assistance with his hammer.
Another fun thing about the game is the level design itself. It's not anything amazing, like Super Metroid, but the level designs really match the environments. As you play, you really don't find yourself asking what this item is doing here much after the first level, and you seldom find yourself asking it even then. Even the enemies often cater to the level itself. When you get to castle areas, there are sir kibbles and other monsters with shields and similar themes. In the woodlands you find little moles that dig up from the ground and attack you. In the jungle, you find little tribal people throwing spears down at Kirby. Even in the mini-game at the end of the level, you can tell where you are simply by looking around Kirby. Despite walking on a 2d spectrum, you really feel like the environment is entirely explorable.
If I had one gripe about this game, it would have to be the restriction to 2D. We have this huge, open 3D world which feels like you could take hours exploring it, but you're only limited to left and right walking, and jumping. It doesn't take away from the gameplay in the slightest, but these levels, worlds, and stages would feel so much more alive if we could explore them openly, without the restriction of 2D movement.
Another surprising thing about the game is the length, despite only having about 6 levels, 7 for completionists. Each level is unique to itself, and feels different from the last. The bosses can be tricky, but are never frustrating, and even if you don't strive to get every crystal in the game, you still look at an otherwise inaccessible item and wonder how to get to it. Also, it doesn't feel like you're just grinding through the levels in the hopes of making progress. I know, Kirby games are mostly intended to be child friendly, but more developers should try to make their games feel like this. Make it feel like the player is actually making progress, and make it obvious.
Okay, I think I'm over the mark. Kirby64 is a classic n64 title, possibly even more so than Super Mario 64. It took a cute, lovable character, and brought him into 3D without so much as denting his adorable, puffy form, and turned the many different Kirby worlds and areas into places people would kill to explore (not that they weren't explorable to begin with). But I think I've said enough about it. Friday, we'll think of something else to talk about. If you have an Idea, let me know! In the meantime, See you all soon!