Do pink balls dream of spherical sheep? Perhaps that is the question Masahiro Sakurai–then just 19–along with HAL Laboratory set out to answer. The result is Kirby’s Dream Land, the world’s introduction to the anthropomorphic cotton candy.
The Game Boy game plays much like platformers of its time–albeit on training wheels. Kirby traverses Dream Land, taking on whimsical bosses like Kabula, King DeDeDe’s aircraft, or Lololo & Lalala, a duo defined by being even less detailed balls than Kirby. Kirby’s ability to float and fly indefinitely makes the game incredibly easy, made all the more apparent by the game’s short runtime (it’s only five levels long).
There’s not much in the way of secrets save for a harder difficulty that’s unlockable. There also aren’t any interesting power-ups outside of Kirby’s trademark inhaling abilities–although Kirby hasn’t quite learned to copy abilities yet. In fact, Kirby’s Dream Land is defined by its sparseness and lack of features–a shame in a dream world. The level designs are utilitarian, while it’d be hard-pressed to find any segments of challenge or excitement. It’s a shame, as the character and sound design offer a compelling mix of charm and intimidation–akin to an Alice in Wonderland vibe.
Like Wonderland, Kracko the spiky cloud or the malevolent tree, Whispy Woods, do draw questions to whether Dream Land shares more with a dream or a nightmare. After all, this adventure is spurred by King DeDeDe stealing Dream Land’s food and sparkling stars. Kirby, so deprived as to resort to consuming fellow Dream Land inhabitants wholesale, is on a journey for survival. It’s gruesome.
But even in times like these, the game switches on its jovial tunes and Waddle Dees–an enemy so innocent, they make Goombas look evil. The dream doesn’t last though. Waddle Dees often make way for Waddle Doos, cyclops that shoot beams out of their eyes. Why? Because nature is ruthless and dreams are fleeting. Sakurai was a sadistic 19 year old.
Dissecting Kirby’s Dream Land may be an exercise in futility in the end. Kirby’s simplistic design was originally a placeholder, until it wasn’t, which sounds a lot like giving up. And while much more craft was instilled into the characters and boss fights, the simplicity infected much of the level designs and gameplay. Even so, Kirby’s Dream Land still serves as a solid foundation for a character that would enjoy many romps across Dream Land and beyond–dark past and all.
A Pink Pop Star is a series chronicling the rise of Kirby, the lovable pink video game icon, through the years.