N64 Review #11- Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards
Good day, fellow Nintendo 64 enthusiasts! Now, if you are that one guy over there who reads all of these reviews, you are right now saying to yourself, “Kirby? What in the name of invisible walls is he talking about? He’s supposed to review NHL 99. He said so at the end of the last review.” You’re right, I am. But then a thing happened.
You see, I was playing NHL 99. Then suddenly the sound got crazy and the game froze. Then for a time, NONE of my cartridges would work and I thought that I had lost the console I hold most dear. Not just in that the N64 itself is what I hold dear but that specific N64. We have a lot of memories together that flashed before my eyes. You know how right before the Death Star trench run, Luke is offered a newer, possibly better functioning R-2 unit and he tells them to get stuffed because he wants the one he is most comfortable with? THAT.
Long story short, I finally got the N64 working again but NHL 99 did not suffer the same fate. Knowing me as well as it does, my N64 apparently has the good to taste to also hate EA games. For a while I was planning for this piece to be a full eulogy for the fallen N64, but as it again lives (possibly as a zombie. I have not caught it eating my other consoles but I am watchful), I decided to just pick a different game. One that interested me but one that I had not yet played. Enter in Kirby.
I like the Kirby character a lot. He reminds me of me. A short, lovable pudgy fellow who will eat anything in his path, especially if there is the off chance it will give him super powers. The game opens with Kirby getting whacked in the dome with a piece of the sky. Except it isn’t the sky, it is a shard of some kind. Perhaps a crystal shard, perhaps someone just broke a beer mug over his head, it isn’t really explained. Here we arrive at problem 1. Why is it not explained? I’m not expecting full voice acting or anything, but we can’t have a text box narrative? Remember how the Lego games used to not have voice acting but they were creative enough with the way the characters would mime out what was going on that you still got it? Not so much here.
You don’t know why, but the combination of the title of the game and what resembled a shard cracking your melon give you a decent idea that you’re gonna have to get these shards. You get to do this through the sweetest of sweet Kirby platforming. Here is where business really picks up. As Kirby, you have the normal slide kick and the ability to fly for short distances. You also have the ability to inhale your opponents and absorb their powers. Anyone familiar with Smash Bros is on board to this point.
What is very cool here is the ability to consume 2 powers. After you consume the first power, you can regurgitate it into a projectile weapon. Hit another enemy with a power and those powers combine into a new power you can wield. Most of the combinations are extremely powerful and trying to find all of the combos can be a game in itself. You can even combine 2 of the same power to make Kirby frighteningly powerful. Some of my favorites were the giant spiked boomerang, the Swiss Army Kirby, and the swinging electric rock. I’m sure I didn’t get to all of them though. It constantly makes you wonder what would happen if I combined A with B? Then you find out. Then carnage ensues.
The carnage is both a blessing and a curse. As I mentioned, these powers make Kirby ridiculously powerful. Honestly a bit too powerful. The difficulty of the game is not balanced well. If you get the right combination of powers early, you are virtually untouchable for the entire game, spare a few environmental hazards. With the giant boomerang, I was able to cut through multiple bosses without ever taking a hit. On top of that, the platforming itself is not all that challenging so you kind of find yourself wanting a bit more and starting to get bored with the whole thing after a few levels.
Each level is broken up into 5 stages, 4 platforming stages and a boss fight. You’ll generally encounter mini bosses throughout the stages and will also find a few friends along the way that will become possessed and try to end you. Once you defeat them, they join you on your quest and provide much needed support. I, for one, was positively giddy when I got to play as King Dedede with Kirby on his back. THAT was a good time. At the end of each stage, there are a bunch of goodies spread out on a picnic blanket and through a very weird jumping minigame, Kirby can land on one of them and claim it for his very own. It was neat when you got a hold of something, but usually just frustrating.
All of that might make it sound as though this isn’t very much fun. That is not true. There is a lot of fun to be had here. Everything that has always made Kirby fun is still fun here. The platforming isn’t overly challenging, but flying around and finding the hidden shards in each level is a lot of fun. Eating your opponent and the spitting them at other opponents is a lot of fun. Did I mention the power combining thing? I don’t know if I can properly explain to you how fun that actually is. I don’t know what 2 things I put together, but at one point I had like a 12 foot tall flaming sword. A flaming sword, for the love of the Expansion Pak.
The visual presentation here is just killer. Animations are great, the character models are spot on, and the worlds are colorful and pretty much everything you’d expect to see from a 2.5D Kirby. There is one cutscene in particular where the characters are all eating together and the eating animations are so impressive for N64 hardware, that I just had to make a note of it. On the audio side, the soundtrack is fantastic. It almost seamlessly blends into the game and at times, you don’t even notice it anymore as a separate entity, it is simply a part of everything that is going on. All of the sound effects that make Kirby Kirby are present as well to make this game a real treat for the senses.
Overall, if you are a Kirby fan and have not played this, you need to. If you are not specifically a Kirby fan but enjoy a good platformer, this is good game to check out. It does come with the disclaimer that you will be sacrificing challenge for the sake of charm and clever presentation, but really it doesn’t take as much away from the game as it might sound like it does. A loose cartridge is a bit on the steep side, going at around $20. I imagine that is as much for the name on the cartridge as anything else. It is also available on the Wii Virtual Console so that might not be a bad to go either. Regardless, Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards is a lot of fun and I highly recommend it.