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How much do you love Kirby? If your response lies anywhere above "a little, I guess," then Super Star Ultra is a must buy, period. None of its 16 minigames would fair well alone, but as part of an all-Kirby-all-the-time package, they create a cutesy compilation too robust to miss. Most of the bundled games follow the typical Kirby setup (bound through easygoing levels while chowing down on enemies, gaining their powers in the process) though each manages to tweak one crucial aspect that changes gameplay just enough to keep you interested; nothing feels tacked on just so they can say "16 games in 1!" on the box.
The best way to illustrate this point is to break down each game. Note we didn't say "minigame" again, because most of these simply don't qualify, as they're somewhere in between the latter and full-blown game. Plus, in these shadowy days of the Wii and DS Minigame Avalanche, we’d like to avoid that word as much as possible.
A super-easy introductory course to Kirby’s power-stealing ways. Float through a set of way-lax levels, fight a boss at the end of each and watch the credits roll by. It's a prettier take on the very first Game Boy title, from way back in 1992, which is a nice way of saying it’s extremely basic in every sense, from level design to boss battles. The irresistible cuteness and inherent fun of stealing enemy abilities wards off any major complaints though.
Spring Breeze is the only main game unlocked and ready to play right from the start, and chances are that's the only time you'll bother.
More linear running and jumping that's quite easy for anyone with two functional hands. Ultra's 3D cutscenes, added just for the DS version, factor in a bit more here than in Spring Breeze, but the surprisingly small view window had us skipping them just to get back to the gameplay.
There’s no real difference between Dyna Blade and Spring Breeze save a slightly increased difficulty, so these could probably have been one larger entry.
A three-level race to the finish line with DeDeDe, the series' main villain and recent Smash Bros. co-star. Fun in an old-school, 16-bit Sonic the Hedgehog kind of way, but two-player races would have been better (and more appropriate, given the platform). Biggest claim to fame has to be the music, which led to this Snoop Dogg mashup.
THE GREAT CAVE OFFENSIVE
Probably the most robust, almost-a-whole-game idea in the set. Take Kirby through a vast underground labyrinth in search of treasures, most of which are deviously obscured by confusing hallways and power-specific puzzles. This is the only game where you really have to pick and choose which abilities you need for a given area, as well as which helper buddy you should bring along. See, some of the puzzles require you to release your swallowed power, turning it into a helpful ally that can use his power in places you can't. Example: Kirby can't use his fire attack underwater, but if you regurgitate your fire power into a fire helper, he can set things ablaze you normally couldn’t.
Like we said, it's a good idea, but with no real map and only 60 treasures that don't do a damn thing except sit there and look pretty, it's hard to keep your attention focused on one game when several others are on the same cart. With a bit more substance this could have been a full release, a fun mix of Metroid/Castlevania adventure and saccharine Kirby cuteness. As it is... close, but mildly frustrating due to lack of map and no incentive to keep going.
REVENGE OF META KNIGHT
Smash Bros. newest Kirby character becomes the main villain in this traditionally minded side scroller. There's a timer that's ticking away the entire game, trying to convey a sense of urgency, but everything's still so easy there's little chance you won't make it all the way through to Meta Knight for the final showdown. We'll give it credit for the presentation though, with lots of dialogue between Meta Knight and his crew freaking out as Kirby slowly destroys their flying fortress. More of the same, but competently put together.
MILKY WAY WISHES
Eight more levels of just about the same stuff, though this time you can't steal powers from regular enemies - you have to find their "essences" hidden in each world. Once you find them, you can call upon them at any time, as many times as you like. Initially we were entranced with the idea of finding each essence (three per world), but again the game's so easy all we needed were two decent powers and the rest of the game fell in line. Collecting them all is sort of fun, but what's the point when there's no reward and all these powers are freely available on any of the other games?
Battle 20 bosses from the main game, back to back with health breaks in between. It is what it is. Beating this unlocks Megaton Punch.
REVENGE OF THE KING
A harder, longer version of Spring Breeze with new enemies and reworked boss battles. A great mix of something we already had with just enough challenging new material for seasoned players to chew through. Also nice to see a Kirby outing that isn't a total cakewalk.
META KNIGHTMARE ULTRA
Replay the events of Spring Breeze, Dyna Blade, Cave Offensive, Revenge and Milky Way Wishes as Meta Knight. Sir Knight can't absorb enemies like Kirby, so instead he collects magic points from each enemy he kills, then channels the points into one of four attacks on the touch screen.
Given Knight's popularity after Brawl, we're a little surprised they didn't try to push this out as its own game. The scary thing is that it works pretty damn well, and if we found out tomorrow that Nintendo had a full-grown Meta Knight game on the way, we'd be down. His varied attacks, nimble sword swinging and aerial controls would easily support an entire adventure with just a tad more substance. Completing this game will unlock the other SNES holdout, Samurai Kirby.
HELPER TO HERO
Same as The Arena, but now you play as one of the actual enemies Kirby steals powers from - they come to be known as "Helpers" after you spit them back out as mentioned in the Great Cave Offensive blurb. Very difficult, but a nice bonus for people who play this far. Plus it's genuinely neat to have 20 new playable characters.
THE TRUE ARENA
Battle all the harder, reworked bosses from Revenge of the King plus loads of other really tough crap that proves Kirby can be just as hard as Mega Man 9 if he has to be. Have to admit our desire for another boss gauntlet is waning, especially after plowing through them in all the above games plus Arena and Helper to Hero. Solely here to taunt those who want 100% completion.
SAMURAI KIRBY/MEGATON PUNCH
Two “Nostalgic” games from the 1997 SNES version that are simple quick-draw button presses. They’re the very definition of minigame, and are joined by a trio of DS-only games listed below.
KIRBY CARD SWIPE/ON THE DRAW/SNACK TRACKS
Three touch-only minigames that can be played solo or locally with four other people. Nothing special, thankfully made accessible via one cart. They're not the reason you're buying this - the other umpteen cool ass games are.
Despite all those kind words, we have a little bit of Nintendo fanboy rage building up because of Ultra. See, it's a port of an 11-year-old SNES game. Kirby's first DS appearance, the groundbreaking, system-defining Canvas Curse, proved platforming still had room to grow and Nintendo hadn't lost its mind by making a touch screen handheld. After that came the back-to-basics Squeak Squad, and now here we are with a re-issue of a game that's three generations old. We still recommend Ultra, but wouldn't this have made more sense as a $10 WiiWare update? Do they not know what to do with Kirby? Seems that way sometimes, especially here where seven of the 16 games play almost identically.
Super Star's been widely held as the best Kirby game ever, so with everything it had plus seven more games, Ultra becomes the new top pick. This is indeed Kirby at his best, so even those who've yet to sample the Mega Man meets Mario gameplay should give it a try.
Oct 7, 2008