Review: Kirby's Dream Land 3 (Wii U eShop / SNES)

Third time's the charming

Kirby’s Dream Land 3 is the epitome of a lovable gaming experience. Carefree and popping with irresistible charm, this SNES platformer builds off the two previous Game Boy entries in the series and fulfills the potential they introduced. That doesn’t mean the core mechanics have suddenly become nuanced or up to par with your Mario and Sonic titles of the day, but boredom is successfully warded off with constant variety, abnormally beautiful artwork, and smiles. Lots of smiles.

If you’ve played just about any Kirby game on the market, your expectations are probably in the right place. There will be platforming of the 2D sort, emphasized by floaty controls and whimsy. Gobbling up bad guys to copy their powers is also in full effect, handing Kirby a huge range of creative abilities on a silver platter. Each tool of the trade is handy for a different situation, and although finding this out for yourself is half the fun, some areas demand certain abilities to gain treasure that's hidden away. It’s possible to stumble through most of the game without exerting a great deal of energy, but paying attention to your surroundings will make it a far smoother ride, not to mention reveal important secrets along the way. All of this this may sound awfully familiar, and it is. In fact, the heroic sphere of pinkness himself is perhaps the least original aspect of Kirby’s Dream Land 3; it’s the animal friends who steal the spotlight, with style to spare.

Kirby has rounded up a bunch of his buddies to gallivant across the countryside fighting evil and—more importantly—enjoying life to its very fullest. He can still clamber onto the backs of Rick the hamster, Coo the owl, and Kine the fish like in the old days of Kirby’s Dream Land 2, but a trio of new faces are introduced as well. Pitch is a pint-sized bird who carts Kirby about by land and air, ChuChu is a feminine octopus who can climb tentacle-over-tentacle from the ceiling, and Nago is a cat of gregarious nature who tends to roll Kirby along the ground as a dung beetle rolls… dung, as it were. But it’s way cuter than that, we swear.

Hopping on and off these friendly compatriots at will is a tactical advantage now at your disposal, allowing you to choose the right friend for the job. Not only do they each possess separate innate skills, but the effects of copy abilities take a sharp turn depending on the chosen character. The Spark power, for example, simply turns Kirby into a stationary ball of electrical energy, damaging enemies that stray too close. ChuChu, on the other hand, fires off wall-bouncing laser beams; Coo bombards the ground beneath him with electricity; and Pitch transforms into a remote-controlled rocket guided by Kirby’s nimble (albeit digit-less) hands. This goes a long, long way to keeping the adventure fresh, and you may very well finish the game without seeing every combination. They’re well worth seeing, too, largely because the happy-go-lucky critters are so adorable.

As the rotund Kirby skips across a pastel landscape riding atop a giant hamster, cotton-white clouds scrolling across a blue sky and flowers dancing in the crayon-inspired hills, smiling isn’t recommended; it’s required. It’s a shame the cheery music doesn’t quite match Kirby standards, but the SNES puts in overtime to deliver a splendid show of colour that rivals Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, which is saying a lot. Every character, every power-up, and every mixture of the two come to life with the most huggable animations you’ll ever see, keeping pace with the always-changing environment. One moment Coo is morphing into a feather duster to stave off cavern spiders and the next Kirby and ChuChu are joyously spinning around on a parasol carousel as the levels shift from horizontal platform hopping, to vertical tower climbing, to screen-scrolling chase scenes. The structure is straight-laced when compared to the amazing grab-bag of Kirby Super Star, and the amusing diversity can’t entirely disguise rudimentary gameplay, but the balance is just right for some breezy good times—and they don’t have to be enjoyed alone.

There’s one more pal we haven’t covered yet: the ever-gelatinous Gooey. This blob-like fellow is essentially a clone of Kirby, and while the troublesome AI will probably just get in your way, another human being can pick up a second controller and join the fray instead. The extra set of eyes are a welcome boon indeed, because each level comes paired with a bonus objectives, often hinted at with more subtlety than you might expect. A flower may want you to spare its brethren from your crushing feet, or perhaps the local janitor needs help sweeping up; save for a few overt mini-games, these challenges will pass you by if you’re not careful, leaving a very sad panda in your wake. You’ll need to fulfill these wishes if you want to fight the final boss and see the true ending, which is an excellent excuse to revisit old stomping grounds.

Conclusion

Kirby’s Dream Land 3 is a worthy sequel, improving and expanding just about every aspect of its handheld predecessors. The leap to home consoles gives it a delightful coat of paint and multiplayer support, both of which have become specialties of the series. What it lacks in compelling gameplay is made up for with buckets of charm supported by a whole lot of variety, perfect for short bursts of playtime with a friend by your side. If another helping of Kirby is what you seek, another helping of Kirby is what you’ll get — and it’s pretty delicious, too.