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Kirby's Dream Land 3 (SNES)

78
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100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
4.2
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Written by  :  Nancy "Infested" Kerrigan (39)
Written on  :  Dec 06, 2011
Platform  :  SNES
Rating  :  3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars

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Summary

Enjoyable, but forgettable forgotten-classic.

The Good

The Kirby series by HAL Laboratory has made its mark with fun, inventive, and amiable titles even if they are somewhat challenge challenged. 1997’s offering Kirby’s Dreamland 3 continues in that tradition, though somewhat disappointingly. Like its predecessors, it was released at the tail end of the SNES’s commercial lifecycle and sticks very close to the Kirby formula.

Retaining his original abilities, Kirby can float, swim, jump, suck up enemies and then eat them or spit them out. Following Kirby’s Adventure and Dreamland 2, he can also copy some enemies’ abilities and/or receive assistance from his animal pals. The copy ability is pretty straightforward. Simply suck up an enemy, then press down on the D-Pad and Kirby gains that enemy’s attack. The animal pals, on the other hand, can be found in pairs spread throughout the levels. Each provides different forms of locomotion and different attacks. Some can be ridden. Others carry Kirby. Each provides a unique form of attack as well and modifies the copy abilities somewhat. Kirby can disengage with the animal companions at will in order to use his own powers. The choices you make with your animal companions may change your experience with a level. Certain ones can open up different areas that might otherwise be inaccessible, or they may allow you to pick up otherwise unreachable items. This makes the choice more than just cosmetic or preferential. You have to consider not only which companion you have, but which one may be most useful in the future.

A newish entry to Dreamland 3 is Gooey, a googley-eyed, Yoshi-tongued side kick who first appeared in Kirby’s Dreamland 2. This time around, Gooey can be summoned on demand and can be played be a second player, however doing so will cost you a life bar. Like Kirby, Gooey can eat enemies and adopt limited versions of their powers. Unlike the animal friends, Gooey doesn’t really provide any new abilities, but he does get a life bar of his own. Thankfully, he can be reabsorbed by Kirby at will, and this restores the depleted life bar. This lets you add a little extra firepower when you need it or when a buddy unexpectedly drops in, but it doesn’t penalize you as long as Gooey doesn’t die.

The gameplay in Dreamland 3 should be instantly familiar to Kirby fans. Press A to jump and float (when inflated), press B to inhale. X is used for mounting and dismounting the animal friends. Up enters doors or inflates you in conjunction with an inhale. When you’ve swallowed an enemy or item, press Down to consume it or B again to spit it back out. The controls work and they’re mostly pretty good. There was a forced scrolling section where I got a little annoyed because I couldn’t reliably get Kirby to jump down from the ledge he was on to the one beneath, but that may just be my aging D pad being a little sticky. Although the staggering variety of enemies and powers from Kirby Superstar isn’t available, all of the regular faces from the previous Dreamland titles make appearances, including the tree boss and the one-eyed cloud monster, though with little twists and tweaks here and there. There are also some Easter Egg cameos to find including R.O.B. and the doctor from Gyromite, as well as Samus Aran. The level design and tile sets are also largely the same, though the graphics are greatly enhanced from the other games in the Dreamland series, and not simply because of the move from the Gameboy to the SNES.

The Kirby’s Dreamland 3 cart takes advantage of the SA-1 expansion chip which is essentially a streamlined version of the SNES CPU, but clocked up to nearly thrice the speed. Like the FX2 chip utilized in Yoshi’s Island, the added functionality is used to power perhaps the best feature of Dreamland 3; its graphics. Visually, Dreamland 3 is a masterpiece. The game is designed to look like a children’s coloring book. The simple palette is enhanced with an effect that mottles the color. The result is that the sprites and backgrounds have texture as if someone drew them into the game on canvas with oil or a crayon. The layering effects on the background make the clouds in the sky area look like they’re cut out from construction paper. One of the coolest moments in the game is an encounter with a boy named Ado (which is how the Japanese would pronounce the Romanji for art). He paints enemies from a canvas that attack Kirby. They look like they were drawn with crayons or colored pencils. It’s just so inventive and expertly executed. I’d go so far to say that this game features hands down the most ambitious and creative art direction in a game prior to Little Big Planet. Viewed on a CRT television screen, it’s really quite breathtaking. Viewed on an LCD via emulation, however, the effect doesn’t turn out as well. Never the less, it was a bold experiment, well done, and was no doubt in the back of the minds of Kirby’s Epic Yarn’s developers.

The Bad

Many of the same criticisms that can be leveled at other Kirby games apply here as well. Clearly Kirby games are aimed at younger children. It shows. Despite the cool effects in the art design, the world of Kirby is quite saccharin. This is simply going to turn off some segment of older gamers, especially if they missed out on the game the first time around. The animation and character detail are also somewhat lacking. This is especially disappointing because not only did this game come out a year after Superstar, but with so much effort put into creating the graphics, the care wasn’t taken to detail the Kirby sprite or the animals when Kirby absorbed a new power.

Musically, the game is standard fair for the Kirby series. The tunes are cheery and upbeat. Even the bosses have jaunty and playful accompaniment. The familiar themes and songs are all there too. The sound effects are crisp and appropriate to the ambience. There aren’t any real surprises here. Kirby games don’t generally have the sort of soundtrack that you’re going to rock out to in your own time, though, so you won’t miss much by playing with the music off. Again, if you’re turned off by the cutesy visuals, the sound design isn’t going to work for you either.

Kirby games are quite easy, probably too easy for even the younger audience they’re targeting. I got the first Kirby game when I was nine and irritated my mother when I beat it within a half hour of getting my hands on it. While Dreamland 3 isn’t quite that easy, it lacks the depth and variety of Superstar. It won’t take you long to beat. This gives the game little to no replay value. The gameplay is solid and it is fun. It doesn’t miss a beat insofar as the Kirby experience goes. Still, the game is almost like a remake or a port of Dreamland 2. The differences in level design and execution are minor. The cast is expanded a little. The graphics are majorly overhauled. The gameplay and experience, however, are almost exactly the same.

More than anything, the big problem with this game is how little in it is new. In fact, if you’re not a real fan of the series, the game probably won’t be worth your while for the most part. It’s not that there’s anything terribly wrong with it, but if you’ve played any of the other Kirby platformers, you’ve already played this game by and large. The visual effects are neat, but you won’t get anything else out of it. If you’re new to the series, you might get some enjoyment out of this title, but there’s nothing in it that you won’t enjoy more in either Kirby’s Adventure for the NES, or Kirby Superstar for the SNES, both of which are much better games. The fact that the cool visual style doesn’t translate well to modern hardware only underscores the fact. The only good news about the ease and familiarity is that if you do bother with Dreamland 3, it won’t take up too much of your time and you can spend the rest on one of the better games.

The Bottom Line

Kirby’s Dreamland 3 is really the lost episode of the Kirby series. It came out very late in the SNES’s life cycle, being in fact the last first party SNES title released in North America. As such, it was glossed over by much bigger titles of the era like Final Fantasy VII and Tomb Raider 2. Even in the 2D realm, the game is contemporaneous with the epic Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. If it wasn’t for the dearth of good N64 games, I doubt that it would have even been published. If it had been conceived a year later, it may have wound up a Gameboy Color entry, and perhaps more appropriately so.

If you’re into graphic design, the game is worth looking at. If you’re a huge Kirby fan and a completionist, by all means. If you’re totally desperate for a 2D SNES platformer from 1997, take a stab. But if you’re none of these things, you can get all of the satisfaction this game has to offer by watching some clips on youtube.com and moving on.