You know, it’s funny. Despite my affinity for both the Nintendo 64 and Kirby games, I’ve never really written at length about Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards.
I like to think the direction we’re going from here is obvious.
In anticipation of the release of Kirby: Star Allies today, I have been doing a replay of Kirby 64. And it’s going by pretty quick, almost speedrun fast. Though speed is actually the first thing I want to talk about: Kirby 64 is kinda slow. Not quite as slow as Kirby’s Dream Land 3 (which is why my attempted replays of that game never go far), but nearly every action cuts Kirby’s forward momentum, if not stopping him dead in his tracks. While this a common among most Kirby games, Kirby’s dash seems slower than usual here, and so many other games at least provide dash attacks for a lot of powers, where this one does not.
I get that this is all an unfortunate byproduct of Kirby’s core design, so it can’t really be helped. His basic attack is inhaling, and sure, he could move while doing so, but it would look really strange. I wouldn’t mind if he could do like a running gulp or something, but what can you do? Kirby’s flight is also innately slow, as it’s really more of a float. That’s just never going to be speedy. Flapping those little nubblies is just for vertical height, not forward momentum. And of course, there are so many power combinations that it’s no surprise that a good number of them stop Kirby completely just by virtue of what they do.
That brings us to the best thing about Kirby 64: the overwhelming number of powers. As per usual, Kirby can swallow certain enemies to absorb their abilities. Eating a rock monster gives you the stone ability. Eating a fire monster gives you fireball. So on and so forth. There are a paltry seven powers available in this game, but that’s a little deceiving. See, Kirby 64’s gimmick is that you can barf up a power and then smack an enemy with it to create combo powers. Fire+Cutter makes a huge flaming sword. Doubling down on Bomb lets Kirby vomit out a barrage of homing missiles. This has never happened again, which is a bit of a shame because the concept is really cool, even if the execution doesn’t always hit the mark.
Having a grand total of 28 power combinations (plus the seven base abilities) means that HAL had to come up with a lot of unique power ideas. While some, like the electrically-tethered rock (Stone+Spark) and the fireworks (Fireball+Bomb) are very cool and practical, some are a little less so. Both the base and double Cutter abilities fire off a huge chunk of Kirby’s body as a boomerang-like projectile, which not only moves slow in and of itself, but makes the rest of Kirby’ body even slower and unable to fly. The light bulb (Spark+Bomb) is fine for lighting up dark rooms but isn’t very helpful in combat. Double Fireball’s massive hitbox is great, but the animation is super long and you can’t cancel out of it. Lightning rod (Needle+Spark) is perfect if enemies are above you, but is tricky to use effectively otherwise.
Maybe this post should have been an article ranking every one of the different powers and combos. Maybe that could still happen…
Another thing that I really like about Kirby 64 may be the most surprising of all: the cutscenes. Throughout the game, you will be treated to little scenes of Kirby meeting his allies, and of their journeys together. These are usually downright adorable, and I think this game might have the most expressive Kirby to date. He never speaks a word, but he has a huge range of expressions and does a heck of a lot of pantomime. I was honestly surprised that I found myself laughing out loud at a few of these scenes. More recent Kirby games have had cutscenes here and there as well, but I can’t recall any that have such a strong sense of humour. Well, now that I think about it, I guess Kirby’s Epic Yarn was funny, too. Or maybe it was just the “feels like pants” meme.
Finally, -and I think I’ve gone off on similar rants before- the levels in Kirby 64 are just the right size. Maybe about five minutes long, at most. Modern Kirby games always seem to have levels that are roughly 33% longer than they need to be. It’s absolutely a personal preference thing, but I would rather have a large collection of shorter levels than a smaller collection of long levels. Not sure how you would explain this psychologically; maybe it’s because I like having that feeling of accomplishment from beating a level to come around more often? That sounds smart. Let’s go with that. Also it’s way more of a pain to have to re-run a long stage to grab a missed collectible, which definitely happens in Kirby 64. Many of the titular crystal shards are hidden behind walls/puzzles that can only be broken/solved with a certain power or combo, so you’ll likely find yourself re-entering a stage because you didn’t have the right power on hand at the right time.
Is there more to say about Kirby 64? Well sure there is. But I just wanted to type up a succinct blog post about some of the stronger thoughts that I had while playing the game. This isn’t an actual review or anything. Didn’t even hit 1000 words on this puppy. Nice!