Review: Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards

It was more than a disappointing decade ago when Nintendo unleashed Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards onto the masses — a game most have since described as “mediocre,” “not Kirby’s best,” “too easy,” and “only meant for kids.” How delightful! These same thoughts echoed through my mind while playing the Virtual Console re-release in early 2008. It just felt dull — Kirby appeared to move about two miles an hour in what seemed like overly simplistic environments. I made it halfway through world two and promptly called it quits before nearly falling into a deep coma.

Alas, slow ass Kirby and I were destined to meet again. The hilariously sad nature of my checking account has resigned me to actually playing through the dozens of old games I already own via the oft neglected Virtual Console but had never finished. Which accounts for probably, oh, 90% of them.

Thanks to the recent Return to Dreamland haunting my brain with glowing praise from many a Nintendo fanboy, I found the second (or third or fourth) best Kirby related thing I could play: this here goofy title. After pushing myself through the first two worlds and reaching the third (only three years later), SURPRISE SURPRISE! I realized I was having a pretty great time!

One caveat: you must accept the easygoing, carefree nature of the Kirby world before playing. Kirby is not just meant for eight year olds — it is also for those who want to have simple, lighthearted fun. Who doesn’t want that? Except like, a lot of people apparently?

Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards is a 2.5-D platformer, and that is where most of my enjoyment comes from. The 1/2 is a totally superficial bullet point regarding its presentation, but there is some odd magic derived from this. (Basically, your character moves on a 2D plane — left and right — in environments that are actually three dimensional.) These types of games are rarely made anymore; most developers creating a platformer now settle for a more “classic,” flat look established in the 16-bit era. This is of course fine, but the fake 3D in these forgotten titles is a rather cool distraction. (Game series like Pandemonium and Klonoa fit the bill quite nice.)

As with most Kirby platformers, the pink puff of happiness has the ability to suck up different enemies and mimic their powers. A swiftly moving ball of flames will give you “fire,” a tiny volcano will give you “rock,” etc. These powers are humorous and rather simple by themselves, but unique to this entry is the option of combining two powers — be it the same two ones, like fire and fire (which just amplifies the original power up), or two different ones, like bomb and fire (which transforms Kirby into instant, screen-destroying fireworks).

Every level also contains about three Crystal Shards, thus the title. Of course, there is a general Nintendo-like non-story about collecting all of these to rid Dreamland of evil (which is manifested in black orbs with a creepy eye in the middle), but this will easily be ignored and merely looked upon as The Actual Challenge For Those Who Want It, a transparent feature experienced in all modern Nintendo platformers. The challenge is not finding them per se, although locating some in the later worlds will be difficult — it is more about experimenting with different combinations of powers to obtain the titular objects.

The amount of levels you get is not that many (three/four in each of the six worlds), but collecting all 100 Crystal Shards will take at least a good seven or so hours. The more you play, the more enjoyable the game gets as well; the level design gets tighter and the graphics become kind of pretty — if only in that hilarious N64/PSX way I will always be nostalgic about.

The Crystal Shards is also an anomaly in a couple of ways; while the recent landslide of Nintendo developed 2D platformers has rendered its specialness quite moot, it was absolutely rare in the N64 era — an honest to goodness 2D platformer devoid of those three dimensions and all the awkwardness they used to entail (sluggish camera controls, mostly). The simple nature of this game turned off many a nerd back then, as it almost seemed reductive to just be moving — slowly, too — left, right, and nowhere else.

Another noteworthy thing for useless fact junkies like me, is that it is also one of the only (to my knowledge) 2.5-D platformers Nintendo has ever made.

It is an easy game in hindsight. Once you get past the sections that kill you a few times and grab that shard, there is little reason to go back again (other than for some simple fun, something not many people seem to enjoy). But, hey, I had a lot of fun despite its few shortcomings. It was worth the $10 I spent three and a half years ago, and it is worth your $10, too.

+ A very charming game
+ Simple, relaxing fun
+ New combinations of power ups are always gratifying
+ Great graphics for the N64

– A little too simple and easy
– The music is mostly forgettable late 90s “techno”
– Kirby moves really slow, which makes it hard to get into at first (hint — press the d-pad twice in the direction you want to go)

Percentage of game complete: 100%, about 6 or so hours

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