Best Kirby games

A tribute to gaming's suckiest (and blowiest) hero

Being Kirby kind of sucks. Even after two decades in the business, the pink puffball still gets second billing among the Marios, Sonics, and Samuses of the mascot world. That's about to change. With the arrival of Kirby's Dream Collection (aka Kirby's 20th Anniversary Collection) on Western shores, it's time we showed gaming's suckiest hero some love with a rundown of Kirby's career highlights...

10. Kirby's Block Ball

Kirby's never been shy when it comes to trying new genres, and in 1995 he proved he was just as comfortable in a brick-bashing skill game as he was in his trademark side-scrolling romps. Kirby's Block Ball's loosely knit premise saw Kirby flinging himself for a Breakout-style contest that challenged players to clear bricks from a series of levels using Kirby's body as a wrecking ball and the surrounding paddles as his controls. Special powers and perks could also be obtained by swallowing enemies in the pinkball's path, thereby sticking with Kirby tradition.

This breakout hit (see what we did?) introduced Kirby to a new Game Boy audience and gave him the support to headline future spin-offs. Kirby's Block Ball later resurfaced on the 3DS Virtual Console in 2011, adding some solid paddle and ball action to the handheld's retro library.

9. Kirby Mass Attack

What's better than one squishy ball of kickass? Try 10 squishy balls of kickass! Released for the Nintendo DS in 2011, Kirby Mass Attack applied the more is merrier approach to sequels by releasing a gaggle (pack? flock? murder?) of Kirbys in an innovative puzzle platformer. In it, players helped the Kirby swarm exact revenge upon the evil wizard Necrodeus by manipulating them, their enemies, and key level items using the DS's stylus and touchscreen controls.

Kirby Mass Attack accomplished two things for Nintendo. It demonstrated that Kirby's team still had the drive to try new ideas and it offered DS fans a game that made innovative use of the handheld's unique (at the time) touchscreen tech. It isn't the strongest entry on Kirby's resume, but it was a sign that the series hadn't lost its oddball edge.

Read our Kirby Mass Attack review.

8. Kirby & The Amazing Mirror

Kirby & The Amazing Mirror cemented the Kirby franchise as one of the most creative in Nintendo's stable. In it, Kirby finds himself split into four separately colored entities and given the job of reassembling the pieces of a magic mirror to save the inhabitants of Mirror World. In a refreshing twist on his usual side-scrolling format, Kirby & The Amazing Mirror played as a Metroidvania adventure that had players unlocking new areas with different abilities and discovering all the secrets, hidden pathways, mini-games, and bonuses within the title's nine worlds.

Adding to its appeal, Kirby & The Amazing Mirror featured the ability to call Kirby's other personas via cellphone to lend their unique skills and extra muscle to any given situation. How Kirby could operate a phone with no fingers (or pay for the long distance charges) were unclear, but the mechanic allowed other players to join the party. Kirby & The Amazing Mirror also gets points for being part of Nintendo's 3DS ambassador program.

7. Kirby's Dream Land 2

The success of Kirby's Adventure for the NES in 1993 earned Kirby enough gaming cred to branch out into two side projects: Kirby's Pinball Land and Kirby's Dream Course. By 1995, however, fans were itching for a return to Kirby's roots, and Nintendo delivered in spades with Kirby's Dream Land 2 for Game Boy.

Kirby's Dream Land 2 pushed the series forward with gameplay improvements, design tweaks, and some of the best 2D platforming the Game Boy had to offer. Old abilities were fine tuned, and new allies like Rick the Hamster, Kine the Ocean Sunfish, and Coo the Owl were introduced to lend a hand. HAL Laboratory's return to Dream Land was an all-round success, launching Kirby's Dream Land 2 into the Game Boy's top seller list and securing it a top spot in Best Game Boy games lists for all eternity.

6. Kirby 64: the Crystal Shards

Kirby's debut on the Nintendo 64 didn't rock the gaming world, but it did carry the Kirby flame forward in some new and innovative ways. Though still a "left-to-right" platformer at heart, Crystal Shards' 2.5D environments and illusion of Super Mario 64-esque freedom was a refreshing change of pace. What's more, the N64's beefier processing power gave the Kirbster a fresh, modern look compared to that of his Game Boy Advanced titles.

Over above the graphical improvements, Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards improved upon Kirby's traditional moves. In addition to inhaling and assuming his enemy's traits, Kirby was upgraded with the ability to combine different powers for various effects. Swallowing an electric enemy and a sword, for instance, created a lightsaber; while gobbling electricity and ice created a healing refrigerator. Granted, most combos were only good for a one-time oh, that's kind of cool effect, but the combo system provided Kirby followers with a little more substance to his 64-bit upgrade.

5. Kirby's Return to Dream Land

They say you can never really go home, but in 2011 HAL Laboratory took a shot anyways and wound up producing one of the Wii's most colorful titles. Kirby's Return to Dream Land brought the cream puff back to his roots, offering a 2.5D platforming game reminiscent of Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards in both visual style and gameplay mechanics. This was partly due to the fact that production on Kirby's Return to Dream Land actually began immediately after Kirby 64, but took HAL and Nintendo nearly 11 years to bang it into shape for a Wii release.

And the investment paid off. Kirby's Return to Dream Land reminded fans why they fell for the little puffball that could. Nintendo put a pause on innovating the series to put out a solid platforming adventure featuring Kirby doing what he does best: sucking up foes, spitting them out, and occasionally copying their style. New features like super abilities and drop-in cooperative multiplayer only added to the fun. Kirby's return may have taken place on an alien planet, but it felt close to home.

Read our Kirby's Return to Dream Land review.

4. Kirby's Dream Land 3

Sequels don't always need to break the mould. Sometimes, the best way to keep a hit franchise on the tracks is with a solid entry and a few new faces. Kirby's Dream Land 3 understood this, keeping Kirby's core mechanics intact while introducing partners Chuchu, Nago, and Pitch to keep things interesting. Kirby's Dream Land 3 also employed the SNES' pseudo high resolution tech to create a soft, pastel color style that separated it further from Dream Land 2.

Kirby's Dream Land 3 was the very definition of if it 'aint broke, don't fix it; and while some look back on it as a half-measure between Dream Land 2 and Kirby 64, we remember it for being a consistently fun and charming step along Kirby's journey.

3. Kirby Canvas Curse

When Drawcia invaded Dream Land in 2005, the troublesome paint-witch not only gave the Kirby franchise a makeover, but it supplied the DS with one its most unique and DS-specific titles. Kirby Canvas Curse cast players as omnipotent artists tasked with using the handheld's stylus and touchscreen to whisk Kirby through eight stylishly painted worlds by drawing paths, interacting with environmental objects, and indirectly controlling Kirby in battle. In removing the ability to control Kirby directly, Kirby Canvas Curse forced players to tap into their creative sides, and the addition of hidden collectibles and level rankings provided motivation to perfect their Kirby-rolling craft.

Kirby Canvas Curse demonstrated HAL Laboratory's desire to keep the series fresh. The new direction in visuals and gameplay were a gamble, but the payoff gave the franchise legs and paved the way for future Kirby experiments like...

Read our Kirby's Canvas Curse review.

2. Kirby's Epic Yarn

Good-Feel and HAL Laboratory boosted more than Kirby's visual appeal with this stylish take on the series. Kirby's Epic Yarn took full advantage of its unique look, incorporating the game's arts-and-crafts aesthetics into every aspect of gameplay. Items crinkled, backgrounds folded, and enemies fell apart as if they were put together by felt, string, and glue sticks. Gone were Kirby's standard moves, and in their place the ability to reshape his yarn body into whatever vehicle or device the situation demanded. It was a refreshing twist on an aging formula, and though some faulted it for skewing to the casual crowd, even the most hardcore fans couldn't resist the game's epic charm.

Kirby's Epic Yarn put Kirby back into the public spotlight. For the first time in years, Nintendo's pink warrior was being mentioned in the same breath as his Mario and Zelda brethren. It proved Kirby still had the magic, and it made fans excited to see where he was heading next.

Read our Kirby's Epic Yarn review.

1. Kirby Super Star Ultra

1996's Kirby Super Star for SNES was an all-you-can-eat buffet of awesome, offering eight meaty Kirby games in one delicious cartridge. It was the first Kirby game to introduce co-op helpers and one of the only X games in 1 title that didn't feel like a cheap cash-in. It was the ultimate Kirby feast; that is, until Kirby Super Star Ultra for the Nintendo DS blew it out of the water twelve years later.

Packed with sixteen games, Kirby Super Star Ultra is the definitive Kirby title. In an age of lazy mini-game collections and lacklustre shovelware, every one of its sixteen offerings feels like a polished, standalone entry. Whether its spelunking in the Great Cave Offensive, rising through the ranks in Helper to Hero, or going back to basics in Spring Breeze, there's very little that feels tacked on to increase the remake's game count. Dripping with fan service, Kirby Super Star Ultra reminds us why we've grown to love Nintendo's puff-ball over the years, and that alone is enough to make it number one. Your move, Kirby's Dream Collection...

Read our Kirby Super Star Ultra review.

What's next for Kirby?

Kirby has a way of showing up where we least expect him, so we're sure there's plenty more Dream Land tales to come. While we wait for the next big announcement, tell us what direction you'd like the series to take, and if we overlooked your favorite Kirby game.

Want to see how Kirby's friends stack up? Read our Best Sonic games, Best Mario games, and our look at Why every Zelda game is the best AND worst in the series.