Ah, Kirby. Though simple in design, this little pink puffball has become one of Nintendo’s most iconic characters, appearing in tons of games since his debut in 1992. For the most part, these games are simple but fun side-scrollers. Rarely challenging in any sense of the word, these games have nonetheless gained legions of fans for their charming presentation, solid game feel, and catchy music.
Not all of the Kirby games fit into the same mold, though. Kirby stars in numerous spinoff titles, from an Arkanoid clone to a racing game. Oftentimes, these games were intended to be seperate titles that later had Kirby slapped onto them to make them sell better. After all, what would you be more likely to buy… some generic pinball game, or Kirby’s Pinball Land?
These games were typically fun, but pretty generic. However, there’s one that’s always stood out to me… one that I used to play all the time as a kid, and still enjoy to this day.
Originally intended to be a mini-golf game entitled Special Tee Shot, Kirby’s Dream Course was released on the SNES in 1995. These days it’s often overlooked, and even when it came out not too many people seemed to know about it. It’s an oddity to be sure; essentially a golf-like game where Kirby serves as the ball. But compared to many of the other Kirby spin-offs out there, this one is damn solid. So let’s take a look.
Like many games, Kirby’s Dream Course has a name entry feature, so you can save your progress. What’s unique about it, however, is that instead of simply putting in your initials or something, you need to draw an icon. Or attempt to, at any rate… Mario Paint this ain’t.
After you create your icon, the game starts. There are 8 courses, each course having 8 holes. Basically, this translates to 8 worlds with 8 stages each. So, there’s essentially 64 stages.
The game makes use of an isometric view, and Kirby has a marker to give you an idea of where he will go when launched, sort of like Peggle. Left and right on the D-Pad control the direction of your shot, while up and down toggles the type of shot.
Kirby is launched via a power meter… the higher the meter, the more powerful the shot. This sort of thing is the norm in golf games. You can also control the angle, which can launch Kirby in a curve, or give him spin in an air shot. The goal is to kill the enemies by rolling into them; when one enemy is left, he turns into the hole and Kirby needs to be launched into it to clear the stage. You can’t be careless, though… the Tomato icons represent your health. You lose one for each shot you take, but regain one for killing an enemy or making it into the hole. So you need to plan your shots well, or you’ll end up wasting your health and losing a life. And if you lose, you need to start from the beginning of the course.
Of course, what would a Kirby game be without powers? Killing a flashing enemy will give you their ability, activated via the B button. There’s various types, but all are useful in the right situation.
By the way, you can fall off the edges, too. The green lines are bumpers, but it is possible to get carried away and launch over them. Not only do you lose a life, but you lose your powers, too! It’s how the game punishes you for being a dumb shit.
Once you clear all 8 holes, Kirby blasts off into space, splits into 3, and does a little dance. It sure tries to make you feel proud of yourself for clearing the first damn course of the game. As you can see, my score leaves a lot to be desired too, so really it feels more like the game is taunting me than congratulating me. Asshole.
Of course, things only get harder from here. From flying enemies to lightning clouds to conveyor belts, the stages get downright merciless as you go on. It may very well be the hardest Kirby game out there, but it maintains that delicate balance between frustration and fun. It’s hard enough to piss you off, but just lenient enough for you to feel like you can do it next time.
And that’s Kirby’s Dream Course in a nutshell. I recommend it… track it down if you’ve still got a SNES, because this one’s a keeper. It has a great multiplayer mode too, but maybe I’ll get into that some other time.
You know though… there’s something strangely familiar about the game. That isometric perspective, that checkerboard motif… I just can’t put my finger on i-