Given enough time everyone who pursues gaming as a hobby builds up a sort of shame list, a collection of games that are of interest but have gone unplayed for various reasons. We call this list a backlog, and the following details the elimination of another title from mine:
Despite the relatively few number of titles in the series I’ve played, the Kirby franchise has always been a favorite of mine for various reasons: Not only is it a reminder of the mascot platformer wars that characterized the 8- and 16-bit eras (if you’ll allow me a bit of nostalgia), but nearly every title in its main series does something to build on the existing formula through either additional or augmented features, and each game hides a more substantial challenge behind its decidedly childish minimum victory requirements.
Kirby’s Dream Land 3 not only embodies all of these qualities, but it also clued me in to the schism in design philosophies in the series starting after the original Dream Land. Where one branch, starting with Kirby’s Adventure and continuing through Super Star and Return to Dream Land, emphasize tighter control, crisp visuals, and a variety of distinct powers, the other focuses on combining abilities to unique effect and eliciting a warmer, fairy tale atmosphere as a backdrop to a continuing story whose links only become apparent when completed at 100%. I identify this second branch as composed of the numerical Dream Land sequels and Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, with Dream Land 3 falling squarely in the middle.
I count Super Star as one of my absolute favorite games, so the substitution of its sharp sprites and separate suites of maneuvers in Dream Land 3 – a game in the same genre and series released on the same system – was initially not only unexpected but a little off-putting. After a quick adjustment period, though, this quickly became a non-issue, since mixing powers was one of my favorite parts of Crystal Shards and this game does much the same thing in its helper/power interactions.
Speaking of helpers, Dream Land 3 doubles the number of tagalong fauna from its predecessor. Each helper puts a different twist on Kirby’s control scheme, with differences between them ranging from fairly obvious (Kine the fish handling more awkwardly on land and best in water) to strange (Rick the hamster only being capable of single jumps but able to climb sheer walls) to inexplicable (Chuchu the octopus being hard to manage at best, near useless at worst). If you’re like me, you’ll find a favorite helper or two and stick mostly to them.
What really intrigued me about this iteration, though, was the inclusion of denizens to each stage. Instead of hunting down the same item throughout every stage like the crystal shards in (duh) Crystal Shards or Return to Dream Land‘s energy spheres, each stage’s resident has a specific task you need to fulfill in order to win their star heart and ultimately purify their world. Many of these tasks fall into the same general categories (each world has a flower-tending stage, a matching game stage, a stage requiring a certain helper to be brought to the end, etc.), but the differences in each one’s details make most feel organic to their location. On top of that, each stage is laid out specifically to offer less challenge to those strictly interested in reaching the end while including design to its particular challenge. Good stage design isn’t exactly something that should come as a surprise from a first-party Nintendo game, but it bears stating just the same.
Beyond these things, Dream Land 3 is fairly standard Kirby: colorful, solid fun aimed more at younger audiences but with enough meat to give older platforming audiences some entertainment. I’m still not much of a fan of the occasionally sticky controls and slower pace that come with the games along the Dream Land development branch, but that doesn’t change this title’s status as a solid, enjoyable game for all ages.