Nintendo just couldn’t get enough Kirby in the final days of the 16-bit era! Released after the launch of the N64, Kirby 3 was the final first party game that the Big N released in North America. By then everyone had bought a new system, be it a Playstation or a N64, and were far too busy with the novelty of all their favorite franchises being in 3D to notice a 2D Kirby game (Games like Mario 64 and FF VII were out at this point). Still, those who were lucky enough to hear this swan song were treated to one of the system’s best moments.
Right off the bat it’s clear that Dream Land 3 plays much more like a typical Kirby adventure than Superstar did. For one thing, there are less powers, not to mention less things you can do with said power. While this simplifies things and can be seen as a disappointment, I find it does not restrict gameplay due to the return of the animal buddies. There are five of them, each combining with Kirby’s powers in different ways. So in a nutshell, each power has six uses. That adds up to a massive variety of experimentation and re-playability. My favorite combination? It has to be Rick the Hamster with the Cutter Power, then watching him throw Kirby as a boomerang!
The animals are also differentiated based on the situation, as each has varying strengths and weaknesses that are assets in some levels and liabilities in others. So Rick the Hamster may be great in ice levels because he does not slide, he also cannot suck! Kline the Fish swims against currents but is useless on land, and Neko the Cat can jump to incredible heights but his large size makes him an easy target! All add to the gameplay without breaking it.
One thing that does make a return from Superstar is the 2-player support, one of Superstar’s most popular features. Here the second player takes control of Gooey, a ball of slime that can do all of the same things that Kirby can do. What if you don’t have a friend over at the moment? Fear not, for you can still make a Gooey that is controlled by the A.I. Despite not being the best player in the world, it does have its uses. See what happens when you suck up and swallow Gooey!
Likewise, the level design is a hit as well. Levels are packed with a wide variety of baddies that you will have to contend with. I’ve always enjoyed the heavily populated aspect of Kirby game design. It gives the series a combat focus as opposed to some other platformers where it’s more likely you will just go around enemies. Ample opportunities are also abound to try out all of those powers since there is so much variety in the different scenarios. From a journey inside of a tornado to a pyramid that gives you choices in where to explore, you are always doing something different. Stages are designed with adventure in mind. One of my favorite examples is Iceberg World, where you begin the first stage climbing up a mountain. Then in the second stage, you must outrun an avalanche down the other side before crossing a frozen lake in level three! From there, level four takes you into the castle, level five sees you fighting your way past all the past mini-bosses with stage six being a top of the tower boss fight! There is always the feeling that this is an adventure, and because of this, these levels are the most coherent and well designed in the series.
Best of all, it all ties together beautifully thanks to a system of bonuses that I like to refer to as ‘Favors’. Each level has a picture of one of Dream Land’s denizens that is in need of assistance, and it is up to Kirby to help them out! These are as varied as the levels themselves, and range from finishing a level without stomping a flower to rebuilding a robot for a professor! You may even find yourself hunting Metroids (In a Kirby game? You bet!). I absolutely love these little mini-tasks, as they give the game some variety and encourage you to play the game differently. Not to mention how much fun it is trying to figure out what you are supposed to do, as the game never expressly explains what the objective is for these mini-games! There is also a reward for your efforts, as each person you aid gives you part of the means of defeating the secret final boss at the end of the game!
Boss battles are also a treat, and here a great opportunity is taken to shake up some of the re-hash bosses that the series has become known for. Every single one plays out differently, from your underwater battle with a whale to an angry artist that draws up enemies from the past to attack you! Even enemies you have come to expect have a few surprises, and I almost guarantee you’ll blink a few times in shock when Whispy Woods turns into a scary tree and starts chasing you!
Even after the credits roll for the last time, you won’t be finished. Have you checked the options menu? As your percentage of completion goes up for a given profile, you begin to unlock more options. These extras range from a sound test mode to the all important Boss Rush ala Kirby Superstar. My personal favorite is the mini-game arcade that allows you to replay the countless mini-games that you had to conquer in your quest to help Dream Land’s inhabitants.
Visually, Dream Land 3 is a treat of epic proportions. Like Yoshi’s Island’s Morphmation, Dream Land 3 uses the SNES hardware to execute new graphical tricks. In this case, the game uses what is called ‘pseudo high-resolution’ to blend colors and sprites. This gives the game a fuzzy look. Not only does this visual style suit Kirby perfectly (It almost has a pastel paint feel), it gives the game an unique appeal, as no other SNES game uses this effect. The music has a similar property. Upbeat and whimsical, it does a good job of portraying Dream Land’s atmosphere, though it is far from the most memorable soundtrack of the era.
The tragedy of this game is that far too few ever enjoyed it. Kirby’s Dream Land 3 hit the marketplace in late 1997, two years after the launch of Sony’s Playstation. By that time, the Super Nintendo was facing competition from its own company in the N64. With heavy hitters like Star Fox 64 and Final Fantasy VII being released, interest in the system was finally losing ground despite the fact that there were still many SNES systems in homes. Pair this with the fact that it came out after Kirby Superstar, and was judged in comparison, then it was no wonder that the game is considered a failure.
Still, despite having such a sad fate, Kirby’s Dream Land 3 is excellent and I personally consider it to be the best in the series. As much as I like Kirby Superstar’s many adventures, this game just feels so much more cohesive and is filled to the brim with awesome content. You can definitely tell that this game was a labor of love. Since it came out so late, it received a limited production run. You will see this game at higher prices than a platformer typically would run. Despite this barrier I promise it is worth the price of admission. I still call this one of the best games for the SNES that no one played. Give it a shot, and watch it put a smile on your face!
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