Review: Kirby Superstar Ultra (Nintendo DS)

Kirby Superstar Ultra
Genre: Platformer
Developer: Hal Laboratories
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: 09/22/08

Kirby just might be the single most badass character ever created.

Think about it. He swallows his enemies and then either steals their power in order to beat up their baddie buddies or he spits them right back out, killing them instantly. If he steals your power, he can dump it when another one comes along, or he can force you to come out and help him fight your former comrades. And all the while, he has that big goofy grin on his face.

Kratos, eat your heart out.

Anyway, I was a huge fan of the original Kirby Superstar for the SNES, and as such, this game was actually my most anticipated game of the year once it was announced. (I drove my roommate nuts for months before the game was announced by constantly going on about how cool it would be if the game was redone for the NDS.) That being said, I got this game the day it came out and practically played it through in one shot. (I would have done it too, if not for sleep getting in the way.)

So, will the updated version of Kirby drive long time fans to nostalgic bliss and newcomers to get “sucked” in, or is this another cheap port with nothing new to add?

Modes

Kirby Superstar Ultra isn’t just a single adventure. Rather, there are over a dozen different game modes to play. You’ll only be able to play through one at the start, but you’ll quickly unlock them in droves until you’re given more content than you know what to do with. Let’s give them a rundown.

Spring Breeze: This is the basic Kirby game. King Dedede has stolen all of the food in Dreamland and it’s your job to get it back. This mode won’t take you more than ten minutes to complete the four levels it offers. It basically exists to teach you the game’s mechanics.

Dynablade: A huge mecha-bird has gone haywire and is causing a bit of a panic. Kirby sets out to defeat the beast and calm it down. This mode features an over world map similar to Super Mario World and secret areas full of abilities that you can access before each level. This is basically the next step up in terms of number of levels, and difficulty.

Gourmet Race: There’s no story here. King Dedede and Kirby star in a three level footrace where the goal is to grab as much food as possible. Once someone reaches the exit, the race is over and the food is tallied. Whoever has the highest total after three races is declared the winner. This a few difficulties and keeps track of your high score.

The Great Cave Offensive: This can perhaps be either the shortest or longest of your adventures. Let me explain. The goal here is to explore every nook and cranny of the four branching levels in order to find each of sixty different treasures. Some of these are cleverly hidden or require skill to obtain, but if you want, you just barrel through the levels and skip 90% on the content. Of course, your score will suck and you won’t be able to get 100% completion of the game, but it’s still possible to beat this in around six minutes if you know your way around.

Revenge of the Meta Knight: This is one of my favorites right here. Sir Meta Knight, who you might recognize from a little game called Super Smash Bros. Brawl, has rebuilt his amazing air ship called the Halberd in order to conquer Dreamland and put a stop to the troublesome laziness of its people. Kirby comes to stop him and the game centers around Kirby getting past the ship’s defenses and destroying it piece by piece. There’s amusing dialogue between Meta and his minions on the bottom screen giving the game a bit of humor to its serious (comparatively) tone. You’ll follow a straight level format similar to Spring Breeze, with no over world, but the action is fast and fun with several memorable bosses to deal with. Heavy Lobster rules.

Milky Way Wishes: The Sun and the Moon have started fighting, causing massive chaos in Dreamland. Kirby is told that if he travels to nearby planets and gathers stars from them all, he’ll be able to summon the all powerful Nova, who can put a stop to all of this. You’ll travel to over half a dozen different planets where the goal is simply to reach the end. The big twist, however, is that you won’t be able to get powers from enemies. Instead, you’ll have to find trophies scattered amongst the planets that give you most of the game’s trademark skills. Once you have a trophy, you can select its power at any time using the touch screen. There are 18 of these trophies to find and it can be a real challenge to get them all. (Although why you would ever want Plasma is beyond me.) This, coupled with the best level design of all the modes, makes Milky Way Wishes the best overall game in the set.

The Arena: This is the coolest. You’re give a few full health items and the ability to chose any power in the game at the start. Then, you face a gauntlet of all the games bosses and a few mid bosses to run through. The object is to make it through with one life and use your health recovery items sparingly so that you don’t run out before the end bosses. Real pros will have a blast trying to make it through this with all the powers and even without using any health recovery items.

You also have Megaton Punch and Samurai Kirby, which are a couple of mini games that require timed button presses in order to advance to the end. Megaton Punch is easy, and Samurai Kirby is challenging.

Those are just the modes found in the original game. They are all back for Ultra and better than ever with the games improved graphics and status screen moved down to touch screen. Now let’s take a look at the NEW modes.

First off, you have three stylus mini games where you’ll either have to shoot down cards with enemies on them, be the first to tap the correct card, or eat food that is coming down a conveyor belt while throwing bombs, bugs, and stones out of the way onto your opponent’s tracks. Each of these is a short time distraction at best and can be played with 1-4 players wirelessly with either one or several carts.

Revenge of the King: This is basically a sequel to Spring Breeze where King Dedede comes back with robotic enhancements (not kidding) and a new cast of baddies that make the old ones look like…well a spring breeze. It features an almost identical level design but with new graphics, different enemies, and an extra level chock full of mid bosses. Like Revenge of the Meta Knight, Dedede will provide commentary along with his friend Waddle Dee. What’s great about this is that King Dedede goes from being a pushover to a legit boss that might just pound you into submission with his vastly increases arsenal of moves AND an a electric fence to prevent you from flying around too high.

Meta Nightmare Ultra: This is my favorite new mode. You play as Meta Knight. (!!!) You’re out to be the best warrior in the galaxy and the way to do that is to everything that Kirby did, but with only your trusty sword. You’ll be able to summon a sword wielding knight friend, and gain ability points for each kill. These can be used to heal, increase speed, or summon a huge tornado that will just about everything in one hit. You’ll play through the basic levels of Spring Breeze, Dynablade, The Great Cave Offensive, Revenge of the Meta Knight, AND Milky Way Wishes. There are some sections missing (You don’t need to collect any copy abilities or treasures) and you don’t get to fight yourself during “Revenge” but the mode is fun simply because you’re playing as Meta.

Helper to Hero: This is a truncated version of the arena where you play as one of about twenty different helpers and try to beat the bosses. They all have different abilities, and the game encourages you to beat the game with all of them. You have less health recovery and no helper, so it can be a real challenge.

The True Arena: This mode gives you no full health recovers and only a few partials. You’ll be tasked with running the gauntlet of the much harder bosses from Revenge of the King. This mode never stops being challenging, as even the best players will end up taking some major damage.

Each of these new modes has a brand new end boss that will challenge you much more than previous modes.

This has taken nearly three pages on Microsoft Word to write out. There is a TON of content here to play with and even if they don’t all have a story to tell, each one fills a hole in the Kirby universe to give you a real feel that Kirby is a true superstar.

Graphics

Believe it or not, this is one port that actually bothered to improve the graphics. Nearly every port I’ve played on the DS has looked like it was from another era, but not so here. Kirby and co. look great and each pixel has been cleaned up. Looking back on the original game, I can see several improvements. The helpers in particular look amazing and are full of little details that I never noticed before. For instance, Bonkers, the hammer wielding fiend has Vulcan ears! I never saw that before.

If you’ve ever played a Kirby game, you know what to expect here. Everything is made to look like a Saturday morning cartoon (there even was one at one point). The effect is great as it gives even the most basic character a ton of personality. This might not be a great technical game, but the art style is one of favorites.

The other new thing here is some 3D cut scenes interspersed between games. The animations for these are great. Watching Kirby zip along on a cloud like he was Gohan or something is just good times. Sadly, the DS isn’t powerful enough to run these moments, and it’s full of blurs and artifacts.

Overall, the graphics won’t wow anyone over the wonders of the DS, but they will amuse even the hardest of gamers into breaking out a smile or two.

Audio

I always thought the music of Kirby wasn’t too memorable. Then I started playing Ultra. As it turned out, I still remembered all of the songs, but for some reason I had forgotten where they had come from. The music in this is stellar and fits whatever mood the game is going for at the time perfectly. From the light-heated tunes of the Spring Breeze to the hard fast tracks of Revenge, Kirby delivers catchy tunes that will be stuck in your head for weeks after you’ve stopped playing. They’re not as great as some other games out there like Zelda or Mario, but for a character that’s always been on the C list of Nintendo stars, Kirby’s music sure doesn’t act like a C list game.

There’s no voice acting, and not as many sound effects as you’d like. Most of Kirby’s sound repeat through the game such as the sound he makes when he inhales, to the poof of air coming out when the attacks. Every weapon does have its own unique sound that it uses, which is good, but every kick sounds like every other kick and explosions are a dime a dozen. It gets the job done, but there’s nothing to write home about.

Gameplay

If you don’t know how Kirby works, then you’ve clearly never even played a Smash Bros. game. That’s just weird. Anyway, Kirby is a six inch tall pink butterball with two stubby arms and red pink boots. Scary, huh? Well wait till you see his special powers. First off, he can fly. By inhaling, Kirby can inflate himself and float around. He’s not too fast, but you keep yourself afloat by tapping the x or b button. You can tap a to release the air as an attack or to fall quickly to the ground. If you’re using a power, you won’t be able to use it while inflated. When you don’t have a power, this is your only weapon against enemies that can be inhaled.

If you haven’t guessed, Kirby’s primary ability is to inhale an enemy and steal their powers. By holding down a, Kirby will suck in any nearby enemy and hold them in his cheeks. Pressing a again will spit them back out as a projectile, but tapping y will give you a power based on which enemy you just swallowed. There are over twenty different powers in the game and each has their own controls and special moves. For instance, if you use the sword ability, you be able to jab forward with a combo, do a spinning slash in the air, or jump up and ram the sword into the ground beneath you. The bomb ability, however, just lets you throw or drop bombs. The wing ability allows you to fly much faster than usual, as well as do damage to airborne enemies by flapping into them as well shoot feathers. You get the idea. This means that you are never delegated a strict t amount of powers to use, and any time you get sick of one, you can hit y again to throw it away or use it to create a helper.

A helper will take the form of whatever enemy you originally swallowed and will follow you about and fight enemies. The AI for these is pretty dumb, and they’ll walk right into enemies and not dodge at all. They’ll also grab onto you when you’re flying and slow you down. Still, they can be good decoys against bosses and can be useful for clearing out enemies while you’re exploring. You can also share health by touching each other after one of you has gotten some. The real fun comes when a human player takes over the helper and then can make a real difference. If they start to die, the can steal the power of any enemy they touch or you can throw them yours to refill their health as well as change their power. If they get stuck behind, human helpers can press y to instantly warp to Kirby’s position. Otherwise, Kirby can press y when next to a helper to turn them into an item he can than swallow and steal the power back.

The levels in Kirby are for the most part standard platform fare. There are a few moments where you’ll step out of this shell and have a puzzle or two. These either require you to have a specific power to continue (such as needing the fire ability to light a fuse so you can blast off in a cannon) or hit a switch to open a door and then hit another switch before that door closes to open another door. That stuff is pretty basic as well. After all, this game design is from 1996, so it really shows its age. It may not bring anything new to the table, but the classic formula can still be fun. If you’re looking for the next Canvas Curse, you’re going to be sorely disappointed, but diehard Kirby fans will find this is the most complete game in the horizon.

Each of the modes has a distinguishing factor to keep the gameplay from getting stale. During Milky Way Wishes, you can tap the power you want on the bottom screen and watch yourself instantly get it. The game will pause for this, which is nice. During Metal Nightmare Ultra, you’ll use the touch screen to activate your powers. The screen doesn’t pause for this, which can be a killer during boss battles, so you’ll have to learn to use your finger nail to tap the heal button.

The controls are good and the gameplay is fun. It has aged over the past decade, and the vast majority of this game will be easier than a piece of a cake to most people, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from enjoying the simple pleasures of Kirby’s power stealing ways.

Replayability

Are you kidding me? With over a dozen different modes and several modes that encourage and reward you for completing them with every character, Kirby offers near untold replay value for a SNES platformer. It’s no wonder you can find dozens of speed run videos on the internet on everything from The Arena, The Great Cave Offensive, and even the full game.

For me personally, this game will stay in my DS game case for months and months. Since that only holds six games and I tend to buy one or two games a week, I think that should give you some indication of how many times I plan to replay this game.

Balance

This game is a cakewalk. There is plenty of life around, and even if there wasn’t, you go pretty much barrel through any level and kill every enemy in your path. Most of the bosses have painfully obvious patterns and I could beat nearly all of them without getting hit. To be fair, I did play the crap out of this game as a kid, but it was just as easy then as it is now.

If challenge is important to you, you may want to reconsider before paying for Superstar Ultra.

Originality

This isn’t quite a straight port, but the new content doesn’t really bring anything new to the video game world. I hate to repeat myself, but this is no Canvas Curse.

Addictiveness

While I couldn’t stop playing the game, the sheer ease of play has the chance of boring people. The new mini-games don’t have any lasting value beyond a few tries at most, since each mode is pretty short, you’ll be done soon after you begin. There’s no crossover between modes to show advancement and no over-arcing story to suck the player in. No pun intended.

While Kirby fanatics and platforming fans will eat this game up for the sheer fun value, others will have a harder time getting into it.

Appeal Factor

I believe I said at some point that Kirby was a C-list video game star. I have serous doubts that he’d be in games like Smash Bros. if not for the fact that the creator of Kirby is the man who develops those games. Kirby did bring in some fame after Canvas Curse tore up the NDS scene, but that was years ago and people have started to give up on a sequel to that game.

Also, the original Superstar came out in 1996. That year is hardly known for its plethora of SNES classics. A lot of people may have missed this game the first time because of a little thing called the Playstation. Or how about the Nintendo 64? Kirby hasn’t been known for putting out games towards the beginning of a system’s lifespan.

There are no doubt legions of diehard Kirby fans out there like myself. For us, this is a must buy, but not so much for everyone else.

Miscellaneous

I’ve been trying not to let my rampant fanboyism get the better of me. Fact of the matter is, this game rocks and I don’t care to associate with someone who can’t find some enjoyment out of it.

There is some multiplayer that I would like to mention. You can play Spring Breeze with a friend using only one cart, but none of the other modes outside of the stylus mini games. That sucks. I was looking forward to playing this with my friend, as we had played through it long ago and only managed a 99%. We did end up playing Spring Breeze together, but the game forces the helper to look on Kirby’s screen. It worked fine, but wasn’t fun.

If you’ve got two DS systems AND two game carts, you will be able to play the whole game together. I also believe each person can use their own screen, but I was unable to test it as the game costs thirty-five bucks.

That’s another thing. Why charge so much for a port of a game released over ten years ago? I’m getting so sick of Nintendo’s insistence at placing each first party game at thirty-five bucks. Plus, they don’t every get lowered in price. Even though games like Mario Kart came out during the DS’s launch, they haven’t dropped in price one bit. If this game had been something like twenty or even twenty five bucks, I probably would have bought two! As it is, its going to be hard to convince people to spend so much of their hard earned money on such an old adventure; no matter how fun it is.

    The Scores

Modes: Classic
Graphics: Good
Audio: Good
Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Great
Balance: Poor
Originality: Worthless
Addictiveness: Below Average
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Below Average

Final Score: Decent

    Short Attention Span Summary

As much as I love me some Kirby, I know this game isn’t for everyone. The gameplay is archaic, fun and it’s also horribly easy. Still, for those of us ready to dive in and play this game the way it was meant to be played, we will be rewarded with more Kirby then what’s ever been put on one cart. Kirby fans should go out right now and buy it. Everyone else should probably see if they can borrow to see if it interests them. This is one of the better ports I’ve seen on any system.

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