Since the first Kirby game, we've seen our puffy pink friend in a series of high quality platform adventures (not to mention spin-offs) up until the release of Kirby 64 back in 2000. Despite predictably rendering Kirby's world in 3D for the first time, true to form for a N64 outing our pals at HAL Laboratories have retained its platform adventure roots and kept the action in 2D.
The main game is separated into six stars, each with four levels culminating in a boss battle. As Kirby, you waddle through each level finding secret crystals and inhaling bad guys to absorb their powers. In addition to Kirby's trademark waddle you can also run and even inflate yourself in order to fly for a short period of time.
The abilities you can absorb include being able to turn into a walking rock, and freezing enemies with icy breath. Kirby can also now absorb two abilities at once to create a hybrid power. If you swallow a cutter creature followed by a fire creature you will get a flaming sword attack, for instance. Some of these combined abilities are frankly useless so when you get hold of a power that works for you it is worth trying to hang on to it.
The ambitious hybrid abilities system ends up being a bit of an Achilles heel, however. Most of the powers only have one action, activated with a simple button press and very few offer anything more than this. After the variety experienced in Kirby's Super Star this feels like a huge backwards step. In addition, the Street Fighter-like special moves system that Super Star introduced has been dropped here, leaving Kirby 64 feeling a little flat in comparison.
Completing all six stars shouldn't be too much of a challenge for most gamers, but you will only see a partial ending scene. The true challenge is found in collecting all three crystal shards which are hidden in each level. If you manage to do this, you will then fight a new end of game boss and be treated to the full game ending. For the completionists among us this will be a welcome task, but it is likely that many gamers will pass on this advanced quest as after a while it can begin to feel like a chore.
On the whole the 3D models and backgrounds stand up well in comparison to the earlier 2D sprite-based counterparts. Kirby himself looks great, and there are also nice lighting effects, such as the red glow from lava on certain levels, which really add to the atmosphere of the game. The translation to 3D fell a little short, however, with some of the enemies, which are plagued by poor textures and flat colouring. Disappointingly, when compared to their 2D counterparts they feel a bit lifeless and uninspired.
In true Kirby form there are lots of mini-games to keep you occupied way after the main game is finished. Some of these can be played with four players. They are all fairly simple and unlikely to hold your attention for long, but they are a welcome addition and round off the package nicely.
Overall Kirby 64 is a bit of a disappointment. Not a disappointment of epic proportions, but compared to Kirby's previous outings it feels a little flat. It lacks the attention to detail and charm that define the series as a whole. For platform/adventure fans this is definitely still worth a look. It's not a bad platformer by any means – it just had a lot to live up to.