: Kirby's Pinball Land
: Game Boy
: HAL Laboratories
: November 1993
Having launched a successful new character in 1992 with Kirby's Dream Land, Nintendo saw the potential for a franchise and started planning spin-offs. The obvious idea was to capitalise on Kirby's spherical form, and pinball was the perfect choice for a new perspective on Kirby's world (a Breakout clone and even a Golf game would follow soon enough).
Spin-offs combined with big-name developers often spell disappointment, but not with Kirby's Pinball Land. This is no mere cash-in, this is Nintendo. As easy as it would have been to sell the game on Kirby's dizzying popularity alone, HAL Laboratories has created something that's just as enjoyable as its platformer parents and a worthy addition to Kirby's repertoire.
However, the Game Boy's cosy screen posed a unique problem: how would a pinball game work in such a confined space? Scrolling would have been awful - instead HAL went for something new. Each of the three tables is split up into three screen-wide stages, stacked vertically. When certain objectives are met Kirby is blown, flown or thrown to the next plateau. At the top, Kirby has the chance to win a warp star to a boss encounter. Myriad obstacles and the possibility of lucky stage-skipping shots make sure the action stays up-tempo. The ultimate aim is to beat the bosses and eventually fight head-to-head with Kirby's old nemesis King Dedede. However, it is all too easy to forget yourself and just concentrate on racking up a monumental score. This is helped by a conventional bonus multiplier, which is added to your score when you die.
The three levels are Wispy, Kracko and Poppy, each branded with familiar characters and memorable music from Kirby's past. At the start of a game the player is presented with a cannonball and can fire Kirby into the table of their choice. They can be attempted in any order and Kirby can find warp stars to teleport back and choose a different level mid-game.
The level situations are varied and fun. In the middle section of the weather-themed Kracko table, for example, the player must repeatedly bash a cloud until it rains on an enlarged Kirby in protest. Big Kirby gets out his umbrella and if the player lands on it, Kirby is pushed up to the next stage, destroying the cloud in the process. Simple, but very satisfying. On the Wispy level, whose environment is styled after the woods level in Kirby's Dream Land, there's an interactive slot machine, while Poppy's top floor sees the player breaking open eggs to rescue chicks from the clutches of mischievous children. On top of all this colourful Nintendo eccentricity, there are three timed bonus stages to discover – soccer, breakout and the Kirby equivalent of a sushi-go-round (with the added lure of poisonous bombs).
When Kirby falls through the bottommost level, he lands on a thrusting springboard that gives the player one last chance to save his life; time it right and Kirby will be whisked away to the top floor, ready to start again. The next time Kirby meets the springboard the timing window will be smaller and the probability of screwing up significantly higher. It's a simple yet effective device that rewards the focused player and keeps the pressure on to the very end.
The one minor issue is control. The left flipper is left on the D-pad and the right flipper is the A button, which can cause some discomfort after a prolonged session (especially if you're playing on an old-style GBA). Thankfully, there is a save game feature, allowing the player to switch off and resume play later - particularly heartening considering some handheld games still don't have this necessity today. Right on the D-pad and B act as nudge buttons. These are quite responsive, allowing skilful players to steer Kirby in mid-air; however, the feature is not easy enough to exploit fully and so doesn't harm the game's playability at all.
Enjoyable for novices but challenging enough to keep experienced gamers more than busy, Kirby's Pinball Land is wonderfully addictive and recommended to all. Eleven years on from release I find it still spends a lot more time in my cartridge slot than some recent titles. The game is readily available through Amazon's marketplace service, eBay and other online sellers.