Kirby Super Star Ultra
Nintendo has had a sort of falling out with its “hardcore” fans as of late. After a dismal E3 appearance that promoted puppies and musical toys, angry followers bemoaned the lack of any classic franchise presence. Where was the new Zelda? A revamped Kid Icarus? Not even a new franchise outside of the casual Wii ___ series? It was a hard pill for some to swallow. Now, at least, DS owners can play Kirby Super Star Ultra and yearn for days gone by. Sure, it’s an obvious pander to the angry mob – a mere port of a SNES game – but they at least chose a good game to translate over to the DS, and did a great job of it at that.
Kirby Super Star was a collection of Kirby games on one SNES cartridge released towards the end of the system’s lifetime. Instead of one coherent Kirby adventure, it contained several smaller games – all of them distinct in style or gameplay. It was an odd concept then, but it proved successful with fans, and the mix-and-match gameplay complements the portable nature of the DS perfectly. Starting with the ridiculously easy Spring Breeze, a remake of the original Kirby’s Dreamland on the Game Boy, players unlock new games to play by completing sections of other ones. For example, beating Dyna Blade, a classic platformer, unlocks The Great Cave Offensive, a more puzzle-oriented adventure where Kirby must hunt down 60 pieces of treasure. Progressing in this mode unlocks other games, like Gourmet Race, a fairly self-explanatory racing mode, and so on and so forth. It’s a great incentive to experience each game without forcing gamers down a linear path that would render the whole “multiple games in one!” concept a little pointless. Frankly, that adage is not exactly true – each game tops out at around an hour, maybe more if 100% completion is the player’s goal. It’s closer to a collaborative art film like Four Rooms, minus Quentin Tarantino and lots of swearing.
Thankfully, there are plenty of features in this port that prove that it received a good amount of attention. For starters, a friend with a copy of the game can join along as Kirby’s helper, which is much more fun than leaving that position to the fairly stupid AI. There are also some new minigames to help round out the collection – all of them based around the DS touch screen. It’s a little sad to see the old minigames go; Megaton Punch will be sorely missed. However, the new games aren’t offensively bad, and their inclusion is more than welcome. The best additions are the new platformer modes that appear after the original SNES platformers are all completed. The option to run through the entire game as the sword-slinging Meta Knight, rather than the ability-copying Kirby, extends the game’s replay value by about double, as the entire Kirby concept is essentially thrown out the window to make room for a side-scrolling hack and slash game. The Arena now lets players compete as specific helper characters, not just Kirby, which may be great fun depending on whether or not you care about the tertiary characters.
Along with these gameplay tidbits, the visuals of Super Star have been given an overhaul. For the most part, this is a positive thing; the new sprites are crisp and colorful, and everything animates in a simple, appealing fashion. On the other hand, the SNES game looked great too, especially some of the environments. In Ultra, there are a few areas that just aren’t as appealing as they were in 1997, thanks to overzealous revamping. Pseudo-3D art just doesn’t fit with the simple, storybook aesthetic of Kirby, and there are areas of the game that just look boring. Likewise, the old in-game cutscenes have been replaced with prerendered videos that aren’t only a bad juxtaposition to the 2D game, but compressed so poorly they don’t even run at the DS screen’s resolution. Squinting to watch a video half the size of the screen is just a chore. There was nothing wrong with the crisp sprite art from the original game; why change it? Fortunately, the audio has been changed for the better. Great remixes of classic tunes play along in the background, and the classic Kirby sound effects are all present sans-editing.
While it hardly makes up for the lack of a true new game from Nintendo, Super Star Ultra is a great port of a classic game. Everything that made the original Super Star has, for the most part, survived the journey, and luckily, most of the additions truly add to the game, rather than bloat it. Kirby Super Star Ultra is a package worth picking up, especially for those new to the series.