Thursday, June 2, 2011

At Random: Kirby's Pinball Land (Game Boy)

I've been playing a whole slew of Odyssey^2 games lately, so this week I thought I'd change it up by pulling something from a random assortment of Game Boy cartridges I acquired at a thrift store a while back.  So what have we here?  Oh, joy!  From 1993, it's Kirby's Pinball Land!

Kirby debuted on the 8-bit Nintendo Famicom/NES and has appeared on almost every Nintendo platform since, most recently in Kirby's Epic Yarn on the Wii in 2010.  Kirby's trademark ability to suck an enemy into his mouth and make use of its powers isn't in evidence here; instead, his roly-poly form enables him to act as a pinball through several tables inspired by characters from the mainstream Kirby games.  There are three tables to choose from as the game gets underway, each named after its ultimate boss, and the elements of which are visually summarized onscreen:

In general, it's easiest to launch Kirby into the POPPY table on the right, which is also the easiest of the three tables to play; if we fail to intercept him with the flippers, he enters a cannon which allows us to select any of the three tables by timing his launch. 

All three tables provide a decent game of video pinball -- the physics are consistent and credible if not completely realistic, and the tables are several screens tall, with plenty of bumpers and animated obstacles.  Here, we must hatch three eggs, scaring off little snowmen who try to reseal them before we can get them all the way opened, and dodging a fluttering mama hen who tries to shield the eggs.

If we succeed in cracking all three, we proceed to a bonus round where Kirby can face off against Poppy Bros. Senior, a boss from the original NES Kirby's Adventure game:

There are also minigame bonus rounds, like this one that allows Kirby to earn points by feeding special items to his doppelganger before the clock runs out:

There's quite a bit of depth to the scoring system -- plenty of temptation to hang out in one screen and shoot for escalating item bonuses, multipliers to increase, and plenty of chutes to knock the ball back down to a lower level.  When Kirby falls through the bottom, the player has a split-second to react by pressing the A button to knock him back into play; the timing must be precise, and I've only been able to manage it a few times.

If we manage to clear all three tables completely, we face off against the penguin boss King Dedede, who appears in the opening cartoon.  If we don't, eventually it's game over, and while there's a narrative of sorts going on here there isn't a compelling reason to continue, beyond besting one's high score.

Kirby's Pinball Land holds up quite nicely all these years later -- the action feels solid, and the player never feels like a bad or miscalculated bounce is to blame for his or her poor reaction time.  Kirby and company remain cute and funny, simple enough to look good on the limited Game Boy screen, and the classic Kirby music score is bouncy and fun with some new stereo effects to boot.  It's a near-perfect title for portable play.

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