Month of Kirby: The Uncopyable and Vital Mascot
Posted by Tim Latshaw
Before he could be anything, Kirby was one thing
The Hypernova power is a fantastic addition to Kirby: Triple Deluxe. Dynamic and stage-altering, it’s a continued step up from the heightened inhaling power Kirby was granted in his Return to Dreamland.
“But what’s really so special about that?” one might ask. “Kirby has always been a waddling little vacuum. That’s who he is.” Exactly! And in a time when the puffball has portrayed nearly everything under the sun, he deserves to be given more nods back to his original, marshmallow-like core.
Simplicity has been a main draw of Kirby since his humble beginnings. The character was conceived as a mere placeholder sprite while developing the original Kirby’s Dream Land, but the friendly, unassuming shape ultimately charmed creator Masahiro Sakurai and it was retained as the main protagonist.
Kirby’s uncomplicated form was also not lost on marketers, who incorporated his high doodle-bility into the Japanese commercial for Kirby’s Dream Land:
Trippy ending aside, the commercial showcases the intended approachable nature of Kirby toward beginner gamers. If you can draw him, it suggests, you can surely play his game. The same tune and drawing lesson were carried over to the start-up screen of the next game, Kirby’s Adventure, but granting Kirby a new feature here would blow the creative potential for him wide open.
Copy abilities took the easy “inhale/spit” options available in Kirby’s Dream Land and piled on a roster of equally accessible moves, dramatically increasing the freedom players had in choosing to attack and explore. Outside the games, however, there was little impact.
Just kidding, of course. People saw Kirby could suddenly get a sword and a Link hat and they lost their minds. Not only could Kirby’s minimalist style be adapted to a variety of internal powers, but he could easily be accommodated to reflect properties outside his own realm as well. The point was further hammered in upon the release of Super Smash Bros. and Kirby was given a ticket to directly consume his colleagues.
Kirby quickly rocketed to a Hello Kitty-like iconic status within the realm of video games, but this can be seen as both a boon and a detriment when it comes to the depth of his character. On one hand, there’s no better way to spread your name than to be universally recognized and applicable. On the other hand, changing a character so often this way hinges its identity on the identities of others and gradually pushes its individuality out of the spotlight.
There are arguments over whether Luigi is really as cowardly as portrayed or it’s in Samus’s personality to wear high-heeled jet boots, but you don’t see the same with Kirby. He’s a relatively blank slate, which makes it easier to add to his abilities without any trouble. The trade-off is that there is less talk about Kirby himself and more about whether he’s going to get a sweet set of shorts and gloves when he swallows Little Mac.
Is it necessarily bad that Kirby has developed this way, though? Should we initiate a Pure Kirby movement and abolish all copy abilities? Not in the slightest! Even with the sea of copy abilities he now swims in, Kirby’s original purpose was never to strike out with a personality of his own beyond one of child-like innocence. To have given him “attitude” would have cut into the accessible, relatable nature that makes him so successful at his prime directive.
Kirby’s role has always been one of an ambassador, but while Smash Bros. and fanart have emphasized this on an external level, his true strength will always lie in drawing people internally within his games. No matter what title he appears in — whether he’s an adventurer, a fighter, or just a ball on a playing field — that happy (well, depending on eyebrow placement) face and harmless, roly-poly shape signifies a welcoming, inclusive environment for newbies and veterans alike, just as much as it did in his first game when he couldn’t generate sparks or throw cutters.
That’s Kirby’s uncopyable ability. Among Nintendo’s roster he is its soft, pink comfort blanket. You can wear it as a cape, make it into a fort, or just draw Batman all over it, but in the end it’s always going to be there to do what it was made for.