(Game Boy)

Game Review

Kirby's Pinball Land Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Philip J Reed

Less than the sum of its parts

While primarily known as the star of a reliably charming series of platformers, Kirby has also starred in a fair share of spin-offs. One of those, Kirby's Block Ball, came to the eShop just a few months ago. It's a flawed but fun reimagining of Breakout. It plays to the strengths of both Breakout as a template and Kirby as a character, with each of these two otherwise disparate icons of gaming coming together to elevate the experience into something special and memorable.

As if only to serve as a cautionary counterpoint, the eShop now has Kirby's Pinball Land. In this case, neither of the elements complement each other at all, and they seem to be at odds to such a degree that the disparity interferes severely with the enjoyability of the game.

As you might guess, Kirby's Pinball Land is a pinball game featuring Kirby. So far, so good. However the hybridisation must have fallen apart early in development, because the Kirby aspects and the pinball aspects fight for primacy, rather than working together in any cohesive way.

Visually the game is fantastic. Familiar Dream Land obstacles, power-ups and denizens populate the boards, and everything is animated as smoothly as Kirby was ever animated on the Game Boy. Aurally the game is also well-served, with familiar — if sometimes mismatched — tunes from the pink puffball's original platformer.

That's about where the good news ends, however. For starters, the game has only three boards — or four, if you're generous enough to count an isolated boss battle with King Dedede. This is not a problem that many score attack games have to face — after all, some of the best original arcade games took place on a very small number of screens — but Kirby's Pinball Land doesn't easily fit into that genre.

Yes, the items and enemies give you points when you hit them. But scoring points is a secondary objective at best, and is outright irrelevant at worst. Well-designed pinball games — such as Zen Pinball 3D, or the more easily comparable Metroid Prime Pinball — make a high score its own reward. Ramps and targets are stationed in ways organic to the table and contribute to a welcome sense of momentum and flow. Kirby's Pinball Land, however, relies on these same components to restrict travel and fence you into a series of tiny areas, which makes it feel like an entirely different experience to pinball as we know it.

Each screen is less a series of opportunities to increase your score than it is another room in a gauntlet of unrelated puzzles. You may have to crack eggs or get a huge Kirby to raise his umbrella, but whatever you're doing you're batting the ball around endlessly in the hopes that you'll eventually hit the right things in the right sequence with the right timing so that you can move on. In a Breakout clone, that makes sense. When it comes to pinball, however, restricting access to such small, cramped areas at a time does not make for much fun.

If you make it all the way to the bottom of the table, you have the chance to relaunch Kirby into play, similarly to the stage-ending launch platforms in Kirby's Adventure. Make it to the top and you'll get to fight a boss.

The boss fights should be a highlight of the game, but they are quite disappointing. There are only four of them, and they are all extremely similar to each other. You knock Kirby into the boss and...that's it. Do it enough and you complete the table. But miss the ball even once and you're tossed back down below, where you'll need to complete tedious puzzles just to get another shot. This makes the game longer, yes, but it certainly doesn't make it any more fun, especially since each of the bosses has an attack that can freeze your flippers in place, and you're often booted from battle through no fault of your own.

Additionally, the game has an irritating habit of completely halting play in order to show you a celebratory Kirby dance whenever you reach 500,000 points. We can't imagine the developers ever played an actual pinball game before, because if they had they'd surely know that sudden interruptions to the rhythm of the game are not pleasant, and are hugely annoying.

Once you finish the three tables and the uninteresting boss fight against Dedede the game loops, and you'll get to replay all of the irritating puzzles you forced yourself through already. The entire game can be seen in around 20 minutes for those lucky enough not to have to replay too many areas, and perhaps an hour for those less fortunate.

Kirby's Block Ball knew how to take familiar elements of both games and combine them in a way that worked. Kirby's Pinball Land, by contrast, crams them together and ignores the fact that they don't quite gel. It's too crowded and restrictive to serve as a fun score attack game, and it's too loose and randomised to feel like a proper Kirby outing as well. In attempting to serve two masters, Kirby's Pinball Land just ends up disappointing them both.

Conclusion

Kirby's Pinball Land doesn't manage to assert itself as either a Kirby game or a pinball game, and because of that it feels more than a little aimless. It's an experiment that didn't quite come together properly, and so it's a minor — and incredibly brief — departure for an otherwise reliable Nintendo mascot.

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User Comments (65)

Geonjaha

#2

Geonjaha said:

It's not like they can complain though is it? There are plenty of VC titles coming up for NA (2 a week) and people should have done their research before hyping up a GB game to themselves..

Ah well - at least theres Sword of Hope II. :P

NintyMan

#3

NintyMan said:

That's too bad. I thought I would get this, but if I'm going to be stuck in small areas for too long (which happens enough in Kirby's Block Ball) I might as well pass. What I like about pinball is that you can zip everywhere in a point-taking frenzy, not getting stuck so much.

At this rate, I'll just stick with the pinball in Kirby Mass Attack.

RevolverLink

#5

RevolverLink said:

I was just thinking about getting this since goofy Kirby spin-offs are usually some of my favorite games in the series, but this sounds like it's both an incredibly underwhelming Kirby and pinball experience (which is a shame, because I still think it's a great idea on paper).

Tsuchinoko

#7

Tsuchinoko said:

@Geonjaha I'm just happy for NA people that they finally get SML3 Wario Land and Kid Icarus 2. Most of the other games just look so-so, and I think the Selection/Sword of Hope games are not going to be to everyone's liking, though for those that enjoy it, its a good experience.

Chris720

#8

Chris720 said:

Lol, so this game is quite bad huh? Well obviously Zen is the way to go people!

LordJumpMad

#9

LordJumpMad said:

Great review Chicken Brutus.I didn't see what was all the hype about this game was about. its nothing to a real pinball game, like Zen pinball. Kinda glad I got Mighty Switch Force!, it was a dollar less then this.

iphys

#13

iphys said:

Wow, poor Kirby! Wasn't expecting this at all with the premium price they're charging for it.

Luigi_is_better

#15

Luigi_is_better said:

I downloaded this right away and am loving it. I had it when I was younger, so nostalgia might have something to do with it. I see Philip's points though and I didn't play pinball as a kid so I didn't compare it to that. I also got Kirby Block Ball resently and love that as well. I didn't have that as a kid. It definetly does a better job of acting like the game it's born from, but it did come out three years after Kirby's Pinball Land. I still recommend pinball, just remember to play it like its a quirky and fun way to play Kirby, not comparing it to an actual pinball game.

Bass_X0

#16

Bass_X0 said:

Yeah, its not trying to emulate real pinball. Those games that did on the GB failed miserably because the handheld just wasn't able to cope. I find it unfair on this game to compare it to real pinball and modern pinball games on the 3DS. If you do, obviously it won't hold up. However, taken for what it is, its an enjoyable experience. Its a decent little game, with emphasis on both the 'decent' and 'little'.

You could review all the pinball games on the GB and Kirby would still come out on top, with only perhaps Revenge of the Gator matching it, but I haven't played that one much.

MrWezzle

#17

MrWezzle said:

Yeah, this is kind of what I thought when I took a moment to think about what a Kirby pinball game would be like. Not the most difficult, and certainly not the most lengthy. When the absolutely astounding Marvel Pinball 3D is sitting right alongside it in the eShop, a sub-par pinball game won't have the greatest chances. Plenty of other great VC titles coming out, I don't feel too bad skipping out on this one. See ya next time, puff.

Aqueous

#18

Aqueous said:

I was going to pass anyway having Zen, good to know it isn't much I'm missing. Well the wait for Pokemon Pinball begins

TheDreamingHawk

#19

TheDreamingHawk said:

This is not a bad game. It's really fun for what it is, and it does have a focus on scores, seeing how someone like myself can just play the game to see how much it scores.

Also comparing this to Zen Pinball is a bad idea. That's a newer game, so of course it will be better, no reason to lower the score because of that.

theblackdragonAdmin

#20

theblackdragon said:

me and my siblings had this game when we were little, and it was one of the few we had to share amongst ourselves whenever we went out someplace. I always used to hate being the one to get this game because it was so boring and we just couldn't get anywhere in it — it took forever to defeat a boss, and if you died, you started over; if you won it started over too. ugh.

Starzsixty9

#21

Starzsixty9 said:

I bought the cart off of eBay for my ancient Gameboy (God bless it's little heart) a few months ago and I really enjoyed the game actually. Sure it's a bit frustrating after you finally make it up to the boss only to have your paddle frozen and have Kirby fall down a level, but that's part of the challenge. I'm sure gamers who grew up in the 8bit era will really enjoy it, but if your'e looking for something gaudy and flashy.. maybe it's not for you. I love it though :p I'm still trying top the high scores from the previous owner.
I think 4 stars is a bit harsh though.

TheConsiglio

#22

TheConsiglio said:

Kirby's Block Ball had way more content and for a dollar less. I still got it cause' the commercial made me.

Spoony_Tech

#23

Spoony_Tech said:

I don't think its that bad. Maybe more like a 6. For a gameboy game it actually move quite fluid. Its challenging and easy at the same time. Lets be real this was made to appeal to kids and I believe they have hit the mark. Now where is Revenge of the Gator?!

Monsti

#26

Monsti said:

I don't even know what to say. This is ony of my favorite GB titles and basically my favorite Pinnball game of all time....and I'm not as big of a kirby fan as my avatar pic might make you think I am. I started playing this again a year ago and I think it holds up so well. Hmmmm

sc100

#28

sc100 said:

I've been having fun with this game and find it quite challenging too, which is good. You definitely shouldn't go into this game expecting realistic pinball or you'll be disappointed. Not a whole lot of content, though. I'd probably give the game a 6 and $2.99 is a better price for it.

KaiserGX

#29

KaiserGX said:

I'm not changing my opinion because Nintendolife gave it a low score. I never played this game before and I like it. It's a time killer, and I am glad I bought it.

You hit the bosses and that's it? What else are you suppose to do with Pinball?

Morpheel

#32

Morpheel said:

Yeah, I'll simply play Kirby Mass Attack if I ever feel the urge to play some Kirby-themed pinball.

MetalMario

#33

MetalMario said:

I was thinking about getting this, but maybe I'll just get it later and save money for Kid Icarus.

Bass_X0

#36

Bass_X0 said:

@MrWezzle Its not sub-par, its just 20 years old. It is a VC game after all. Link's Awakening could be considered sub-par if you were to rate it in comparison to Ocarina of Time 3D.

Capt_N

#38

Capt_N said:

Might get this, or if I can do more research on MSF ~ I'm not sold on it yet, but I might get it. On the other hand, I might get the DSi events calender.

JoeDiddley

#39

JoeDiddley said:

I love this game, I played it for hours as a kid. I still dust off my gb now just to play it. When it comes to Europe it's a day one purchase for me.

It only has 3 tables yes, but they are each in 3 sections & there are bonus games. Pinball Pulse only had 1 table, cost about the same, had less character and got a better score (I game I have & like too).

MeloMan

#40

MeloMan said:

Hm... didn't know it was that bad. Ah well, it wasn't high on my to get list back then, so I guess it will remain that way. Love ya platformers, Kirby...

Bass_X0

#41

Bass_X0 said:

Its not bad. Its just an old simple GB game. It still plays quite well. Just don't expect a realistic game of pinball. I do recommend it to open-minded gamers.

lanabanana

#42

lanabanana said:

I'm so glad i got Mighty Switch force instead of this game :D I probably wasn't even born when the game came out! XD

Henmii

#43

Henmii said:

Oh this scored bad, wich I didn't expect! But I guess I still get it! I think I must try it myself!

NintendoNaut

#44

NintendoNaut said:

I owned this game as a kid, so I guess maybe a lot of why I enjoy it is nostalgia, but even still--I think it's a bit better than Phillip gave it credit for. But to each his own.

47drift

#45

47drift said:

Downloaded it before the trip I'm currently on this weekend and have had a hard time putting it down. Never played it back when it came out, so this is my first time, and it's really really enjoyable and full of simple charm. This game does its own thing and really set the stage well for pinball games to come, like Pokemon Pinball and the like. It's easy to pick up and hard to put down; the perfect style for a portable downloadable game.

In short, I disagree.

sketchturner

#46

sketchturner said:

Wow, I've never disagreed so strongly with a NintendoLife review. I absolutely love this game and it was one of my most-played GB games ever. I normally find pinball games incredibly boring, but this was like a pinball platformer. And while I normally don't care about high scores, I absolutely obsessed over it in this game and got some crazy high scores.

grumblebuzzz

#48

grumblebuzzz said:

Wow, this was hyped by a lot of fans as a game that they were really looking forward to. I wonder if this is just one reviewer's bad experience or if it actually isn't such a great game? Hmmm. Off to do more research before I buy.

Gioku

#50

Gioku said:

The Minigame Kirby Brawlball in Kirby Mass Attack alone was a lot better than this game sounds.

grumblegrumble

#51

grumblegrumble said:

Oh wow. In my opinion, you totally missed the mark with this review. (This is my opinion of course, the review is yours.) However, I would give this game at LEAST a 6/10, I think it's lovable and charming, very fun and has a lot to offer on many levels. So I would encourage everyone to check out other reviews too and make up your own mind. I love vintage Virtual Console games and pinball, this one is great. ;)

RetrogamerFan

#53

RetrogamerFan said:

Still planning to get this if it gets a European release.

I find the comparison to Metroid Pinball and Zen Pinball in this review a little unfair. It's a much older game on less capable tech. I still enjoy some computer pinball games from this era - Dragon's Fury (MD) (aka Devil Crush) and Pinball Fantaises (Amiga) are two of my all time favourite games, so I will get this if/when it becomes available.

Philip_J_ReedStaff

#54

Philip_J_Reed said:

Since it's come up a few times, those other games are admittedly more advanced technically, and they were not used as a direct comparison for Kirby's Pinball Land. They were used as reference point for readers of this review, in order to help them understand better ways that similar games can be handled. None of that is down to an advance in technology; it's all about the game design itself.

This game was not rated a 4 because it failed to measure up to them. If those games never existed, Kirby's Pinball Land would still receive the score it got. But since they do exist, they make for easy counterpoints to its shortcomings.

GameCube

#55

GameCube said:

I hope they put on Tilt 'n Tumble next, that could work perfectly on the 3DS.

RetrogamerFan

#56

RetrogamerFan said:

@Philip_J_Reed

OK, fair point, Zen Pinball is quite close in price and is availble through the e-shop, so i can understand that people might consider that as a better option. I haven't actually played Kirby's Pinball Land, but have played Zen Pinball, which is a very good game, although i found it a bit dificult adjusting to the screen size.

Still planning to get KPLif it gets a European release - depite the low review score.

Freak-Show

#57

Freak-Show said:

Even though it's Kirby, no one should have expected a masterpiece from a pinball game on the GameBoy. :|

Joygame51

#59

Joygame51 said:

I have had this game since if first came out ... I still love it!! on my Sp it quite pretty too ...so I give it at least a 6 and think that the reviewer is simply spoiled by Zen and others.. this is not a "NEW" pinball game its GB and still fun.

16bitdave

#60

16bitdave said:

Are you kidding me?! I love this game. Beating the bosses is all fine and dandy but for me it's all about the high score. Also do you know what year this came out? 93 and you're comparing it to Metroid Prime Pinball which came out in 2005. Quite a big difference there. Don't review Gameboy games if you only like the new stuff and can't hang with the old stuff. Kirby's Pinball Land is a great game. 8/10 sounds more accurate.

swiller

#61

swiller said:

Are you kidding me? Kirby Pinball was way better then Block Ball, which I found dull. I also think reviewers liked it more at the time. Kirby Pinball remains one of my favorite gameboy games. It's awesome, even for a old man like me (42 yrs), playing since 1975.

chefgon

#62

chefgon said:

Wow, I'm amazed at how completely opposite our opinions are about Kirby Pinball and Kirby Blockball. Pinball came out first originally and I fell in love with it. It's not a pinball simulation by any means but it's an addictive adventure game and getting a high score is both challenging and rewarding. When Block Ball came out I was super excited because it was like a spiritual sequel to one of my favorite games, but then I played and played and I kept waiting for it to get interesting, which just never happened. Kirby's Block Ball stands in my memory as one of the most disappointing video game releases of all time entirely because it failed to live up to the sense of fun that made Kirby Pinball such a timeless classic.

Mirrorball

#63

Mirrorball said:

Just got this as a Club Nintendo "reward" and being a pinball junkie, I decided to give it a try. Never have played it before & read this review before I got it, but went ahead anyway. This review is way off, which is strange since I usually agree with the scores on this site. Oh well ...

jayblue

#64

jayblue said:

the review for this is a load of crap i bought this today and its a great pinball game,had loads of fun, if you like kirby or pinball must buy,was the guy that scored this on the can.

Deadstanley

#65

Deadstanley said:

I agree 100% with the reviewer. The only thing he omitted which I would add is that the tilt feature is essentially useless.

I liked this game as a kid, but as an adult I find it reprehensible.

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