Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • Nintendo 64
  • Developer:
    • HAL
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    • JP 03/24/2000
    • US 06/26/2000
    • UK 06/22/2001
Score: 75%

This review was published on 03/21/2016.

Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards is a side-scrolling platform video game developed by HAL Laboratory and published by Nintendo for the Nintendo 64. It was originally released in Japan on March 24, 2000, North America on June 26, 2000, and Europe on June 22, 2001. Contrary to what the game's title may lead you to believe, this isn't the 64th Kirby game. This is the sequel to Kirby's Dream Land 3 on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and the sole game in the Kirby series released for the N64. That makes Kirby 64 the first game in the series to be rendered in 3-D polygons, though the game play itself remains the same as the previous 2-D Kirby games. Anyway, critical reception during Kirby 64's initial release was on the mediocre side, and honestly, the game deserved it. Outside of a single novel mechanic, nothing that this game does is particularly great. As a video game, Kirby 64 is average, but as a Kirby game, it's below average.

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Dark Matter, an evil alien force that tormented Kirby in many of his previous adventures, is back yet again. This time, the black entity has invaded Ripple Star, a planet that, despite its name, isn't a star at all. The forces of Ripple Star quickly fell to Dark Matter's assault, causing the situation itself to become a dark matter. You see, Ripple Star is completely inhabited by little fairy folk, so they didn't stand much of a chance. One of the fairies was named Ribbon, and she was the planet's last hope. Wielding Ripple Star's most sacred treasure, the great Crystal, Ribbon fled the horrific scene to seek aid. Unfortunately, three black blobs from Dark Matter's pulsating body pursued Ribbon and shattered the Crystal, spreading its broken shards across the galaxy. The kerfuffle caused Ribbon to fall onto Pop Star, the planet Kirby resides in. She asks Kirby to help her recover all the Crystal Shards and defeat Dark Matter, to which he agrees. Now the two travel throughout the galaxy in search of the lost Crystal Shards.

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Despite the 3-D visuals, the game still plays as if it were 2-D. The combination of 3-D visuals with 2-D mechanics is often referred to as 2.5-D nowadays. Sometimes the camera angles will pan around as you move, adding a cinematic touch to the proceedings. It's a neat effect that is reminiscent of Klonoa: Door to Phantomile on the Sony PlayStation. The game tries to mimic the graphical style of Kirby's Dream Land 3, but with polygons instead of sprites. While technologically more impressive, it doesn't look as good as that game. Everything has a pleasantly bright color palette, but the low polygon count detracts from that pleasantness. A lot of the polygons also either have no textures at all or extremely basic ones. On the bright side, the environments have a lot of background objects to look at, giving each area a nice bit of detail. Kirby 64 doesn't look bad for an N64 game, but there are definitely better looking games on the system. As for the music, it's all right.

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Like in most of his other games, Kirby can suck enemies into his mouth and then either swallow them or spit them back out at other baddies. Again like his other games, he can copy the abilities of certain enemies by swallowing them. He's also able to fly, but unlike pretty much the entire rest of the series, his flight capability is limited in this game. That means he can only stay up in the air for a limited amount of time. This was likely done by the developers in an attempt to better balance the game, but it doesn't really accomplish that. It's an unwarranted change that will no doubt frustrate stalwarts of the series, but the game is easy enough that it doesn't make much of a difference. Additionally, the controls are a little less responsive than usual in this game, and Kirby moves more sluggishly. The slower movement slows down the overall pacing of the game, resulting in less riveting game play. It's not outright terrible, but the controls could certainly do with some tightening up.

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Unique to this game is Kirby's ability to combine abilities. This is called a Power Combo. Once he has a copy ability, Kirby can remove the ability from his body and throw it at another enemy to combine the two abilities. He can also eat two enemies at the same time or simply spit one into another. This feature is the main highlight of the game, because there are a huge number of combinations. For example, combining the fire and cutter abilities will give Kirby a fiery sword, whereas mixing stone and ice will transform him into a hockey puck. You can even combine the same ability into itself, like spike plus spike, which turns Kirby into a giant Swiss Army Knife. The tradeoff is that the game has far fewer regular abilities, as the brunt of abilities are made up of Power Combos. Sadly, many of the combined abilities are completely useless. Also, an annoying thing about this system is that it's very easy to accidentally kill the enemies whose abilities you want to combine. This is a cool concept, but it's a bit convoluted and the execution is clumsy.

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Level design in Kirby 64 is lacking. A vast majority of areas in the game are just a flat stretch of land littered with enemies to barrel through, not offering much in the way of variety. The fancy camera angles try to hide this, but I'm not fooled that easily. The whole game feels like nothing more than a testing ground for the many abilities Kirby can concoct, which is fun for a while, but quickly loses its appeal. During certain short segments of the game, Kirby will hitch a ride atop King Dedede's back, allowing you to play as him. Basically, controlling Dedede is like having the hammer ability from previous Kirby games, except you don't lose it when getting hit. This changes things up a little, but not by enough to be too interesting. The game is also obscenely short, as there are only six worlds with three or four tiny stages each. You'll be done before you know it. The bland stages and short game length are two of Kirby 64's biggest problems.

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Bosses in Kirby 64 are boring. Some of the bosses are stupidly easy, dying after only a few hits. Many of the mini-bosses don't even last more than a few seconds. This is especially true if you come in equipped with a powerful ability. A lot of bosses will have multiple life bars, but it doesn't matter much, because each bar can usually be reduced to zero in a matter of seconds. The boss battles later on do take long enough to count as proper fights, but sometimes they go overboard. For instance, there's this one boss that begins the battle with an incredibly long attack sequence, and you can't do anything until it's done. The main challenge here is to not fall asleep from all the waiting you have to do. Attack patterns tend to be overly simplistic and repetitive, too. It feels like there's absolutely no effort put into most of the bosses. The last few bosses are kind of cool, though. One's a giant robot that transforms into a hover car that then chases you down a futuristic highway. If only the rest of the boss fights were that good.

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Even though gathering Crystal Shards is the main point of the plot, you don't have to get them all to beat the game. Doing so lets you face an extra boss and see the best ending, but it's still possible to finish the game without them. In that sense, they're technically an optional collectible. Every normal level in the game has three Crystal Shards to collect. Some of them are right out in the open or obtained from mandatory boss battles, but some are hidden in ways that may lead to frustration. Many of the Crystal Shards are hidden inside colored blocks that can only be broken with certain copy abilities or Power Combos. These tend to be the most frustrating ones to collect, as you're sometimes forced to bring abilities from one stage to another in order to break the obstruction, and it's also not always obvious which abilities or combination of abilities you'll need. Considering how short the game is, though, you'll have to go for the Crystals if you want your money's worth.

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After completing a stage, you'll get to play a short bonus game. Well, calling this a bonus game is pushing it, but I don't know what else to call it. In the bonus game, Kirby and friends stop for a picnic. There are countless goodies laid out on the picnic cloth, and you're rewarded with whatever you can make Kirby jump onto. The goodies include things like stars that grant 1ups when enough are collected, food that restores health, and actual 1ups. One of the items is a mysterious card. These cards will fill up an enemy picture gallery you have access to in the game's main menu. You can beat the same stage over and over to get all the cards, if you're the obsessive compulsive type. As to the point of all this, there is none. This serves no purpose other than to torment completionists.

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For some reason, there are three mini-games accessible from the game's main menu. They have nothing to do with the rest of the game, but they're there. Whereas the main game is restricted to single player, all three mini-games can be played with up to four players. Each player is able to pick a character, such as Kirby, Waddle Dee, Adeleine, and King Dedede. The mini-games are 100-Yard Hop, Bumper Crop Bump, and Checkerboard Chase. 100-Yard Hop is a race in which players must hop over obstacles like ponds and banana peels. Bumper Crop Bump tasks players with gathering falling fruits using baskets. Finally, Checkerboard Chase has players attempting to defeat each other by dropping the blocks from beneath their opponents. The mini-games can be fun for a couple of minutes, but they lack substance and there's too few of them. Still, their presence doesn't hurt anything.

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Everything in Kirby 64 is a huge step backwards for the series. The pacing is slow, the controls aren't tight, the stage design lacks punch, the bosses are weak, and the ability combining mechanic is cool in concept, but not in practice. The game does look and sound nice, though. Kirby 64 is still palatable, but it won't blow your taste buds away, especially if you've played the previous games in the series, like Kirby Super Star. On its own, Kirby 64 is okay, but when compared to the rest of the series, it's disappointing.

Word Count: 1,819

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