Everyone loves Kirby, arguably the most powerful being in the universe and definitely in the top echelons in terms of cuteness and appetite. HAL Laboratory’s adorable pink (formerly white, in America at least) puffball has starred in countless adventures since debuting on Game Boy with platforming adventure Kirby's Dream Land, but not all Kirby games fit into this mold. In fact, almost every other game in the series sees Kirby doing something completely different!
From imaginative takes on golf to puzzle game reskins and beyond, HAL Laboratory has said that the series’ alternating focus between experimental spinoffs and the core platforming games is one of the big reasons for the series’ continual success throughout the years, keeping the series fresh for each generation! In this short piece, we’ll talk about some of these spinoffs and why they’re fun, or at least interesting. Warp star go!
1. Kirby's Pinball Land
Kirby’s original spinoff, and third game overall, which released in 1993! Kirby’s Pinball Land sees his round body being put to use as the ball in a fantastic pinball adventure that works very well with the series’ cutesy aesthetic. While it doesn’t have the copy abilities that become iconic of the series (which had only just appeared in basic form in Kirby’s Adventure on NES), Kirby’s pinball outing plays smoothly and incorporates settings, enemies, and powerups like the Warp Star and Maximum Tomato in fun ways.
While pinball might seem random out of context, HAL Laboratory was actually a powerhouse trailblazer in pinball video games, having done the heavy lifting on NES Pinball for Nintendo, in no small part thanks to the efforts of Satoru Iwata’s ace programming skills. The company had also previously released Revenge of the 'Gator several years beforehand on Game Boy, an unexpectedly excellent title early on in the system’s library.
2. Kirby's Dream Course
Going from pinball to golf (with a bit of billiards thrown in for good measure), Kirby’s first entry on Super Nintendo would be the quirky Dream Course, a game where you literally play golf with Kirby, with him once again becoming the ball. Kirby’s Dream Course is a surprisingly deep and challenging game full of extreme cuteness belies its high tension, precision gameplay. Players launch Kirby throughout a series of increasingly complex levels rendered in a faux-3D isometric perspective where he has to take out enemies and avoid obstacles, this time also incorporating the copy ability power-ups to add even greater variety.
Just like with Kirby’s Pinball Land, HAL was also a crucial player in setting the standard for golf video games back in the day, all the way back to Nintendo’s NES Golf, which was programmed by Satoru Iwata as well. The “power-bar” approach to Golf proved extremely influential. That being said, Kirby’s Dream Course goes far beyond that seminal title, incorporating a plethora of fun additions inspired by the Kirby series and fanciful stage gimmicks like bounce zones and mini-golf style walls to ricochet off of that make it a much more involved and intriguing game, albeit a very difficult one!
3. Kirby Air Ride
Jumping forward quite a bit we have Kirby Air Ride, a rather unique racing game that’s yet to see any sort of follow up as of writing. This game is a simple racer that tries to streamline the experience with minimalist controls, having players move forward automatically and only having one button to do all other activities such as braking, using abilities, etc., but includes a lot of variety in racing with copy ability powers lifted from the main series, gliding mechanics, and a variety of vehicles.
Besides more standard racing game-type modes like time and lap modes, Kirby Air Ride also features an intriguing City Trial mode where players run around a large environment fighting to collect the best vehicles and then face off in various other challenges with what they ended up with. While not universally loved, Kirby Air Ride is certainly unique. History-wise, Kirby Air Ride would be the last game long-time Kirby designer Masahiro Sakurai (of Smash Bros. fame) would work on with HAL, resigning shortly after its release and forming his own company, Sora Ltd. in 2005, two years later.
4. Kirby: Canvas Curse
In some ways, Kirby’s entry onto the Nintendo DS is a pretty standard platforming adventure in the same vein of the core series with the big exception being the controls. While many games on Nintendo’s extremely successful handheld system struggled to put its titular dual screens to good use, Canvas Curse has players draw lines using a stylus which Kirby rolls on and interacts with in ball form. Full of charm and extremely smartly designed for its system, Canvas Curse’s innovative controls arguably used the hardware’s core gimmick better than anything Nintendo itself put out and it stands as a great game in and of itself.
Canvas Curse is also, so far, the only spin-off game to receive a sequel, which it got with Kirby and the Rainbow Curse for Wii U in 2015. This follow-up built upon the gameplay in the original but stood out with its whimsical claymation visual style.
HAL Laboratory’s approach to its beloved Kirby series is quite interesting and many of the spin-off games are some of the most innovative, mechanically unique, or otherwise excellent entries on their respective systems. As the series seemingly continues in perpetuity we’re excited to see where and what Kirby will be up to on his side excursions in the future! What’s your favorite Kirby game? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to stick around Honey’s for more coverage of all things awesome! Bye~!