Kirby's Dream Course
  • Genre:
    • Puzzle
  • Platform:
    • SNES
  • Developers:
    • HAL
    • Nintendo
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    • JP 09/21/1994
    • US 02/01/1995
    • UK 08/24/1995
Score: 75%

This review was published on 01/18/2015.

Kirby's Dream Course is a golf video game developed by HAL Laboratory and published by Nintendo for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It was released in Japan on September 21, 1994, North America on February 1, 1995, and Europe on August 24, 1995. Originally, this game was going to have nothing to do with Kirby. Instead, it was going to be titled Special Tee Shot and involve futuristic miniature golf. That specific version of the game did get released in Japan on the Satellaview add-on, but nowhere else. Halfway through the development of Special Tee Shot, Nintendo decided to alter the game to take on elements from the Kirby series and renamed it Kirby's Dream Course. As such, this game has little to do with the main Kirby series and is a spinoff. While this is technically a golf game, the rules are so radically different from traditional golf that it's basically its own thing. Kirby's Dream Course won't be everyone's bag, but it's one of the most refreshing takes on the golf genre there is.

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In Kirby's Dream Course, Kirby takes on the role of the golf ball. To get the ball rolling, you use the d-pad to plot the direction and height of the ball, then press the A button to access the power meter and press it a second time to launch the ball. Depending on how much power you applied to the ball, it will travel different amount of distances and bounce around the isometric environment. It's possible to cheat a little and give Kirby a slight boost even while he's rolling around by continuously pressing the A button at the right times. This game is deceptively complex; there are tons of difficult techniques to master, like applying spin to the ball, hitting it into the air, getting it to bounce on water, etc. The game does have a minimally invasive tutorial section for beginners, but there's so much to learn that it takes a while to get through. Despite its appearance, Kirby's Dream Course is not a beginner friendly game. The high learning curve will scare away many newcomers, but those that persevere are rewarded with an extremely in depth experience.

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The goal is, like real golf, to get the ball inside the hole in as few strokes as possible. Unlike actual golf, the hole isn't initially on the field. This is the main thing that separates Kirby's Dream Course from conventional golf. In order to get the hole to appear, the ball must be used to defeat enemies until a single one remains, and then, that last enemy transforms into the hole. Due to that, the location of the hole can differ depending on your approach. The challenge comes from Kirby's life meter, represented by tomatoes; Kirby loses one unit of life each time he launches himself and he dies once he runs out. Killing enemies restores Kirby's life, so the more foes trounced, the more chances you get to shoot the ball. The idea is to kill at least one enemy per shot, allowing you to break even as far as health is concerned. These rules make Kirby's Dream Course feel more like a puzzle game than a golf game, because every hole is like a puzzle waiting to be solved. The number of solutions is limited only by your imagination. Getting a hole-in-one is particularly satisfying.

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Many dreamy courses await your dreams in Kirby's Dream Course. There are eight holes per course, of course! The environment plays a big role in Kirby's Dream Course, seeing as how Kirby will be rolling around all over the place. Any slopes in the terrain will influence where the ball moves, and there are bottomless pits to watch out for, too. Sandy bunkers are also here to remind you that this is still a golf game. In addition to the shape and size of the environment, there are often various interactive objects littered throughout the courses. There are bouncy trampolines, whimsical warp panels, harmful spikes, and much more. The majority of objects will alter the ball's movement in some fashion, like how the trampolines bounce the ball extra high, or how arrow panels move the ball in the direction they point. Certain objects will also modify the environment in some way, like a switch that drains a nearby body of water. Learning what the different objects do and how to use them to your advantage is an important and fun part of the game.

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Similar to the main series, Kirby is able to copy the abilities of his enemies. Simply killing an enemy will have Kirby copy its ability, but this only works on certain enemies. You can tell which enemy has an ability to steal by whether it flashes or not; flashing enemies have abilities, static ones don't. There are a total of ten abilities and they are all super duper helpful. Generally, abilities are activated by pressing the B button while Kirby is on the move, and Kirby keeps them until he dies or completes a whole course. Some examples of cool abilities include one that lets Kirby perform a high jump, one that has Kirby pull out a parasol to float gently downwards, another that turns him into stone to stop the ball in its tracks, and an ice ability that freezes water solid. A few abilities even let you control Kirby momentarily using the d-pad, like the awesome UFO ability. The game will be kind enough to provide you with the necessary abilities, but having abilities on holes that don't require them can make life way easier. On top of adding to the game's fun factor, abilities help round out the game with even more depth.

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For the most part, Kirby can only activate his current ability once per shot. There are, however, ways to circumvent that limitation. Whenever Kirby annihilates a foe that has an ability, he gets to activate the acquired ability immediately afterwards. That means if you kill two fire enemies in a row, you'll be able to activate the fire ability twice in the same go, provided you time it correctly. This strategy even works for dissimilar abilities, so you can go from fire, jump, UFO, and stone all in the same session. Courses later in the game take advantage of this mechanic to form a Rube Goldberg machine of sorts. Many hole-in-ones require judicial use of this mechanic. When pulled off successfully, these chain reactions are the most enjoyable parts of the game. The trouble is, actually pulling one of these reactions off is extremely difficult. A few courses try to make this easy for you, but despite the game's best efforts, it's still no simple matter.

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A two player mode exists for those that wish to compete against a friend. There are four specialized two player mode courses with eight holes each, and before the game begins, the turn order is determined by a dice roll and both players agree on a handicap. Once the game begins, the two players will take turns shooting their Kirby balls to defeat enemies and see who can gather more points. Fallen foes leave behind stars, and whoever rolls into those stars is awarded points. This means players can steal points from each other by rolling into the opponent's stars. Two stars also float above the hole, waiting to be taken by whoever enters the hole. There's also a switch that, when pressed, swaps the player's stars. If somebody gets into the hole, both players will progress to the next hole, whether they like it or not. If a player loses all of their health, they'll lose a turn and be revived on the next turn. Also, players can directly attack each other in a nefarious attempt to gain the upper hand. The two player mode is a tad awkward to play, but amusing once you get into it.

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Additional content can be unlocked by acquiring medals. There are bronze, silver, and gold medals that can be won at the end of every course. What medal you get depends on how many shots it took to complete the course; fewer shots earn better medals. If you get a silver or gold medal on all of the normal courses, you will unlock the extra courses. Extra courses are structurally identical to the normal courses, but the enemies and objects have been modified to make things much more challenging. The two player mode also gets some extra courses. All the additional courses do add to the game's length, but they're just recycled content from the main game, so they're not particularly exciting. Obtaining medals on the extra courses themselves also unlocks other stuff, like a stage select and sound test. Gathering medals is excruciatingly difficult, and these rewards aren't terribly enticing. More content is better than no content, but these additional courses aren't worth the trouble.

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Kirby's Dream Course is like a full course meal. It's an interesting take on golf, featuring wacky mechanics that you aren't going to see on any real golf course. There are tons of courses, the graphics are reasonable, the tunes are catchy, and the game is deeper than the ocean. The two player mode is also good fun. However, Kirby's Dream Course is a bit too complicated for its own good, resulting in a game that's nowhere near as friendly as it looks. It's tough to learn, tough to master, and just tough all around. This game isn't for everyone. The only way to know if Kirby's Dream Course is for you is to give it a shot.

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