Sundry Sunday is our weekly feature of fun gaming culture finds and videos, from across the years and even decades.
The Youtube channel Animist did a stop-motion recreation of the famous Kirby victory dance a couple of years ago. (Well, one version of it, there’s many.) Most of the 9 1/2-minute video depicts the making of, including showing off the toys that were used, so if you just want to get to the finished version use this link. Here it is in full:
Pringus McDingus’ recent video “Kirb” makes me hope he’s okay. It’s a more realistic take on Kirby, but not in the sense of showing us their skeleton, figuring out their digestive system works or giving them human feet. You’ll see.
I’m working on something big for you all, but it’ll take some time to get ready. So to free up time for working on that, here’s something I’ve been saving, a Youtube video exploring manga based on Nintendo characters, from the account of S Class Anime. Enjoy!
DragonCon has had a variety of gaming options going back at least a decade.
They used to have, for a surprisingly long time really, a set of networked Battletech pods that some people would dutifully bring every year, with N64-level graphics, that had a dedicated following. The pods were made up in an immersive fashion, in a way that suggested perhaps a connection to the old Battletech Centers, which appear to still be in operation. I hear those stopped coming to DragonCon due to COVID and have yet to return. Weirdly, the pen-and-paper version of Battletech itself, which was almost dead for a long while, made it to DragonCon this year in huge fashion.
They have a board game area where for a $10 fee you can check out a game to play for a while. Sadly I found that area completely unusable this year, despite bringing two of my own board games (Le Havre and Caylus) to play there: its proximity to the music arcade game area (post forthcoming on that) made it impossible to be heard except by almost shouting. There were other tables, but also a lot of competition between Magic, dexterity games, demos, figure painting, Warhammer, Battletech, and a big area devoted to “US Army E-sports,” a phrase that fills me with sadness to type.
Also on the gaming floor was an area where one could check out PC and console games and systems and play them. I found their selection a bit lacking; I have a few personal systems I had emailed them about bringing, but as in the past when I’ve reached out about such things, I never got a response. I suppose that’s understandable, but it’d have been nice to let people play Dreamcast or Saturn games from my own collection.
The console gaming group ran three “challenge run” tournaments where you could try to complete objectives on NES games for prizes. I entered all three (finish all the levels in Super Mario Bros 3 World 1, finish any five levels of Mega Man 2, and a Link to the Past randomizer) but despite playing fairly well, by my standards at least, didn’t win any of them. Pretty good game players among DragonCon’s visitors this year!
Somewhere at the convention was a setup for Artemis Bridge Simulator, which could be thought of as a more elaborate and serious-minded version of Spaceteam. Its location didn’t lie tangent to my con travels this year, but it was mentioned in the con materials. (I suspect it was upstairs somewhere in the Westin.)
I had thought to bring my 2DS and see if I could get some Street Passes, with big conventions like DragonCon being one of the few places left that one could hope to get significant activity, but the odds that more than a handful had thought to both bring their 3DS-type systems and have them on their persons and in sleep mode through the con seem to be slim in 2023. Anyway, I didn’t bring mine.
So now we come to the Gamecube “panels,” which were actually just a bunch of Gamecubes and Wiis set up with classic Gamecube games, along with some entertaining display decoration. No speakers, no podiums, just a bunch of seats, systems, players, and some staff.
There were four of these this year, each late at night in the Westin Augusta ballroom, themed after multiplayer, Super Mario, Zelda and Smash Bros, in order. Really though, they all were primarily multiplayer themed. I showed up for two nights, the first and Zelda ones, and on Zelda night I mostly spent the time showing people how to finish NES The Legend of Zelda, giving directions for getting through the overworld and dungeons from memory. The people there expressed concern over the game’s difficulty, and how many of them couldn’t complete it, as a kid or even now; evidently they don’t watch many speedrunners.
There were the predictable Melee players, of course. Super Smash Bros Melee’s influence on the series, and on gaming as a whole, is unmistakable. After all, each Nintendo console since then has had to have support for Gamecube controllers, in some way, just to allow Melee masters to have their favorite playstyles, and Nintendo keeps making (or at least licensing) the production of new Gamecube-compatible controllers specifically for that scene.
But my favorite game at the Gamecube panels had to have been Kirby Air Ride, in City Trial mode. I’ve mentioned my fondness for this game here before, but to give a brief refresher: multiple Kirbys zoom around on Warp Stars, whose speeds rival those of the cars in F-Zero, through a large (though not too large) city area, searching for powerups, and boxes that contain more powerups. Players can interact with each other, and can change vehicles. Random events occur. After a set time, they’re all thrown into a random event (from a large selection) with the customized vehicle they made during the game. It’s a surprising amount of fun, and I was pleased to find other players there at least as fanatical about City Trial as I was. I think it’s one of the best multiplayer games on the system.
I had brought a few multiplayer Gamecube games of my own, including Wario Ware: Mega Party Games ($900 on Amazon!) and Ribbit King ($362), but as with the console group they were uninterested. Understandable of course, I brought them along only in the off chance. Just, slightly sad.
Here are pictures I took of the Gamecube event:
Next time, a look at the many music games they had this year. I think that’s the extent of my game-related pictures, so please be patient a little longer!
One of the best Kirby games isn’t a traditional Kirby game at all. Long before Kirby and the Forgotten Land finally worked out how the game should work in three dimensions, there was Kirby Air Ride, a Gamecube racing game that’s so weird. Kirby tools around on the Warp Stars that are his trademark ride through a number of courses at speeds usually only seen in an F-Zero game. There’s a variety of stars that can be ridden, more to unlock, it was the second game in which Meta Knight was fully playable, and the first where King Dedede was (unless you count short sequences in Kirby 64).
Kirby Air Ride had three modes, but they all felt a bit half-baked except for one. The standard Air Ride mode wasn’t bad, but could only be played one course at a time, with no overarching mode that connected them. That’s right, it didn’t have a “Grand Prix” mode. And the other competitors were only differently-colored Kirbys (Kirbies?) anyway. The courses were pretty good, but it didn’t give you much to keep you playing except for its checklist (which we’ll get to).
There was also a special racing mode that took place from an overhead view, on special one-screen courses, like Atari’s Sprint games, which felt even less substantive than the standard racing mode.
But the reason Kirby Air Ride is special, and the reason I still have my copy of the game after all these years, is City Trial, which is one of the most engaging racing game experiences I’ve ever seen. It’s really good. Not because it has any overarching structure the other modes lack (other than its checkbox screen). But because it’s so novel; no other game I can think of provides the kind of gameplay that City Trial does, unless you count Smash Run from the 3DS version of Super Smash Bros., which was also made by Masahiro Sakauri. But even it isn’t really the same thing, because you can’t interact with the other players during it!
City Trial puts from one to four players, either human-played or computer-controlled, in a free-roaming city area. It’s not really a “race” at all. While the city is, spatially, quite large, the players’ warp stars are so fast that it only takes about 20 or so seconds from one end to the other, and the game also keeps you appraised of where the other Kirbys are with on-screen indicators and a map in the corner. Over a period of between three to seven minutes, you zoom around trying to collect powerups for your star. They come in a variety of types: Top Speed, Acceleration, Charge, Turning, Gliding, Weight and more, all taking the form of 2D icons scattered randomly around the city.
As you collect icons, each provides a small permanent (for the duration of the match) improvement in that one area of your star’s performance. Some are in boxes, which must be broken apart either by colliding with them repeatedly or spin attacks. Some of them are gray-colored, which are permanent power-downs.
Throughout the time limit, you seek out and collect as many as you can. If there is a maximum stat you can reach I’ve never seen it; I think it can go at least as high as 20 icon’s worth, but it’s nearly impossible to get that high. It’s gratifying to feel your default “Compact Star” get steadily better and better as you snatch powerups. But also, there are other vehicles throughout the city, and you can get off your default star at any time by holding down on the control stick and the A button and board another one. All of the varied stars from Air Ride mode (some of which aren’t really stars at all) are present, and they all control really differently from each other. Some even have special properties, it’s not a case at all of them just having different stats. When you switch stars, you get to take all of your collected powerups with you, though if you have a lot you’ll drop some, and have to spend a few seconds picking them back up again.
The amount of care that went into this one mode is almost shocking. You can attack other players and steal their powerups! You can even destroy their warp star, and force them to wander around on foot to find a replacement! Some of the traditional Kirby copy abilities can be found and used against the other players! There’s random events, with a lot of variety, that can happen, providing different dangers, or opportunities. You can sail out over the ocean on your hovering star. If you get enough height, you can fly over the invisible border wall and explore even more ocean.
You can also collect Legendary Machine parts, which are hidden in some of the boxes. The Hydra, from the more recent Super Smash Bros. games, is a direct reference to this. If you manage to find all three parts, to either the Hydra (the green one) or the Dragoon (the red one), you get to ride it. They’re both ludicrously overpowered, although they can also be difficult to control.
The real mark of genius in this mode is what happens when time runs out. The game shows a chart with everyone’s vehicle stats on it, then throws all the players into a random event. Your vehicle’s stats may make this event easy or hard! If you end up in an event where you have to attack enemies or aim to collide with targets, you might find yourself wishing you had laid off getting all those speed-ups, but plenty of the events are races too, including all of the race courses from Air Ride mode. How do you know what kind of event it coming up? There are two ways: sometimes, during the City Trial portion, the game will drop you a text hint as a message. (Hilariously, once in a great while it lies.) Or else, if you don’t like the randomness, you can choose broadly what kind of event will happen in the game settings.
Whichever player comes out on top in the event, the victory is short-lived. There is no huge victory celebration, no advantage to be gained. The game doesn’t even save player profiles. But City Trial mode is entertaining enough that we don’t really end up caring much? It’s even fun to play against computer opponents.
Each of the three modes in Kirby Air Ride has a “checklist,” a grid of squares, each representing some accomplishment, or at least occurrence, that can happen in its game. This is the closest thing Air Ride has to progression. If you’ve seen the Challenges in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, this is the same kind of thing. All of the challenges are hidden at first, but when you unlock one, the requirements for the ones around it are revealed to you. Some of the boxes unlock things, like new events, being able to play as Meta Knight or Dedede in the practice mode, or more Kirby colors. But mostly it’s just something to give obsessive players (like myself) something to work for. In a racing game without even a Grand Prix mode (seriously what is up with that?), I’ll take what I can get.
One more cool thing? Until fairly recently (and ignoring that non-canonical anime series), City Trial was our only glimpse into what day-to-day life was like in Dream Land. This city is evidently where Kirby and his friends live and play (I don’t think any of them have a job). There’s skyscrapers, a river, an ocean, an underground region, mass transit rails, a golf course (overseen by Wispy Woods), a castle and a volcano, and even “dilapidated houses,” which the players can demolish with their vehicles. I guess even Planet Popstar has a seedy part of its towns.
Apparently, day-to-day life in Kirbyland is spent in endless vehicular combat sessions. I’d like to say that I’m surprised, but for some reason, I’m not.
If you’d like to see how this works out in play, here’s an hour and 54 minutes of City Trial play, without commentary, on Youtube:
Painter Seap has done a number of very short Kirby cartoons that use the sound from bits of Aqua Teen Hunger Force as the soundtrack. It’s surprising how natural Master Shake’s voice seems coming from out the mouth of King Dedede! Here is a couple as embeds:
Just about everyone respects Masahiro Sakurai! I’m no different! He’s made some wonderful games, and even his more obscure works are really cool and fun!
I’ve linked to his series on game design before, released on Youtube with Nintendo’s help. It’s really popular! We try not to link too frequently to the same series or blog, instead waiting to find something in it that connects with me personally, in the hopes that whatever it is will be something that connects with my readers as well, and that’s why I’m linking to him talking a bit about Kirby Air Ride.
Like The Speed Rumbler, I feel like I have to say something really specific and detailed about KAR. (What a cool and appropriate acronym, both in the context of Kirby and Speed Rumbler!) Especially City Trial, which I think is just waiting for some interested party to revisit an expand. In the meantime though, enjoy Sakurai talking about what may be the most unique Kirby game, even in a series containing Star Stacker, Pinball Land and Tilt ‘n Tumble.
On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.
Kirby’s first adventure was, famously, a Gameboy game. Since that system is black and white, it’s been heard that Shigeru Miyamoto didn’t know Kirby was supposed to be pink until his second major game, Kirby’s Adventure, was released as a swan song for the Famicom/NES. The last main world in Kirby’s Adventure, as a nod to its Gameboy roots, is monochrome.
Kirby games tend to have distinctive graphics, and Dream Land is no exception even if it is monochrome. But what would they look like if they were in color? Well we don’t have to wonder any longer, because of a romhack constructed by GreenAndACat. It ports the game to the Gameboy Color hardware, and it looks pretty darn great! They resisted the urge to make it too fancy, instead giving background elements broad swaths of primary color that look great when applied to the game’s simple yet iconic graphics. Have a look:
A lot of the gaming web has been fawning over Kirby and Smash Bros. creator Masahiro Sakurai’s design videos. I haven’t had the chance to look at them yet, but they look interesting at least. They’ve been coming out at a good clip, like one every two days.
Sakurai’s star is so high right now, that it’s worth noting that (going by memory) he left Nintendo with a bit of a cloud over his head, after Kirby Air Ride was seen as something of a failure. Nowadays KAR (nice acronym!) is seen as an underrated classic, and I have put many hours into its City Trial mode, which is terrific, a tiny open-world high-speed racing/party game. More people should have the chance to play it; it is unique, which is something I can’t say about many other games. While the 3DS version of Smash Bros. has a mode inspired by it, in versus mode human players cannot interact with each other during the exploratory portion of the game, which harms it somewhat.
At the height of his abilities, Sakurai can make really interesting and new kinds of games, like Smash Bros. was, and like Kirby Air Ride and (the sadly neglected these days) Meteos are. It’s a shame that Smash is so popular, one of Nintendo’s biggest tentpoles, enough to crowd out his other work. I’m really interested to see what the next crazy idea he comes up with will be!
In the past for limited times Nintendo has authorized the setting up of Kirby Cafes, charming little representations of the affable pink blob’s world and its inhabitants. Two of them are currently open, in Tokyo and Hakata, Japan. These have really gone the extra mile to create an atmosphere of Kirbiness, from their menus to having large plush Waddle Dees to set into a chair opposite yours if you should come to one alone.
The embedded video is over an hour and a half of background music from these cafes. It appears to be a rip of a pair of official CDs. SiliconEra reports on some current dishes being served there as tie-ins to the new 3D Kirby game for Switch, Kirby and the Forgotten Land. The cafes have an official website and Twitter feed.