Kirby's Star Stacker
  • Genre:
    • Puzzle
  • Platform:
    • Game Boy
  • Developer:
    • HAL
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    • JP 06/04/1997
    • US 07/14/1997
    • UK 10/25/1997
Score: 70%

This review was published on 01/21/2015.

Kirby's Star Stacker is a puzzle video game developed by HAL Laboratory and published by Nintendo for the original Game Boy. It was released in Japan on June 4, 1997, North America on July 14, 1997, and Europe on October 25, 1997. Anyone that knows anything about Kirby will know that this is a spinoff, as the Kirby series is typically known for its side-scrolling platform games. This isn't the first puzzle game featuring Kirby, but it is the first one that isn't a clone of some other puzzler. Kirby's Star Stacker later got a remade version released for the Super Famicom in Japan, but that version never got released anywhere else. Anyway, Kirby's Star Stacker is a puzzle game in the same vein as Tetris or its many imitators, in that it involves falling blocks that must be matched in some fashion. It's not quite as good as other competent puzzle games like Tetris, but Kirby's Star Stacker is still capable of providing some entertainment.

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Three kinds of blocks will fall from above and they resemble Kirby's animal friends from Kirby's Dream Land 2; Rick the Hamster, Coo the Owl, and Kine the Fish. You control the falling blocks and can match two or more of the same block to eliminate them. The twist is that, in addition to furry animal blocks, there are also stars. Your true objective isn't merely to clear the screen of junk, but to do so while getting as many stars as possible. In order to acquire the stars, you must sandwich the stars in between two blocks of the same type. Doing this will not only clear the two blocks, but also clear all the stars in between them, adding to your star score. The matching is really flexible, so you can do this process with more than two of the same block, and blocks can be matched from various sides. Chains can be constructed to get bonus points, too. Like Tetris, you lose if too many blocks fill the screen. Kirby's Star Stacker has an interesting gimmick, but it's a little too easy to randomly match stuff, and there's not much more to it besides that one gimmick.

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Besides the animal and star blocks, there are a couple of other block types. The first one is the bomb block, which is a helpful block that destroys everything in the same row. Many chain reactions can be caused by the bomb block, though it can sometimes ruin any chains you were carefully planning. Another block you'll sometimes encounter is the metallic block. Metal blocks can be broken into star blocks by sandwiching them between animal blocks, and then those star blocks must be broken a second time to get the stars. Essentially, metal blocks are kind of like the garbage blocks from other puzzle games, like Tetris Attack. Blocks made of metal show up more frequently on the higher difficulties, but are generally absent from the easier difficulty modes. And that's it. When compared to similar puzzle games, Kirby's Star Stacker doesn't have a large variety of blocks. While that does make the game far simpler, the lack of variety results in a more tepid experience.

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Round Clear is the closest thing you're going to get to a story mode in Kirby's Star Stacker. You start off with four difficulty levels, each one sporting a different visual and musical theme, and a fifth one is unlocked once you beat the first four. Each difficulty consists of several rounds, and the objective of each round is to get a certain amount of stars. There are more rounds to clear in the higher difficulties, on top of the rounds being much harder to complete. The first few difficulties are ridiculously easy, but the last few are insanely hard. In fact, the last difficulty is aptly called "insane." Because of that, you'll blow through most of Round Clear rather quickly, but then spend an inordinate amount of time on the final part. The clearly outlined objectives help make this mode more motivating than the rest, but there's not too much else going for it other than that.

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Challenge mode is your typical endless setting. Your goal is to clear as many blocks and collect as many stars before losing, all in a vain attempt to achieve the highest score possible. Like Round Clear, there are multiple difficulties to choose from. However, even if you start on the lowest difficulty, Challenge mode will get progressively harder the longer you last. It's possible to slowly work your way up to the highest difficulty from the lowest one if your puzzle skills are good enough. So in that sense, the difficulty you choose is merely what difficulty you start on. The music will change on higher difficulties, which is a nice touch. If you manage to get a thousand stars, you'll unlock the insane difficulty for Challenge mode. Getting a thousand stars is insane, though. Challenge mode is probably where you'll be spending most of your time once you're done with Round Clear.

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Time Attack is, as its name implies, a timed mode in which attacks occur. Well, not really; there's no actual attacking, but the timed part is true. This mode is about getting as many stars as possible in the span of three minutes. Why three minutes? I don't know. The strange thing about this mode is that three minutes is your only option. There are multiple difficulties like in all the other modes, but no way to change the time limit. It's a bit limiting. If you're able to get a hundred stars in less than three minutes, you'll unlock insane for Time Attack, just like everything else. Unlike the thousand stars in Challenge mode, this feat isn't too difficult to accomplish. Time Attack isn't a bad mode, but the lack of options holds it back. This is really just a glorified Challenge mode with a three minute time limit.

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Two friends can link their Game Boys up to challenge each other in a match of matching blocks. The two first agree on the rules, such as the difficulty and number of rounds, and then the match begins. Player one controls Kirby and the less fortunate player two controls Waddle Dee. Both players will control falling blocks and match them as they would in the regular game, but the objective this time is to make the opponent lose. This is accomplished by forming chains; the longer the chain, the better. Every time a long chain is formed, the opposing player's play area will get filled up with tons of blocks, increasing the chances that they'll lose. Having loads of blocks makes it easier to form chains, though, so players can counterattack chains with even bigger chains of their own if they're skilled enough. The two player mode is fun, but the likelihood you'll find someone to play this with you nowadays is basically zero. That's a shame, really, because this is arguably the best feature of the game.

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Kirby's Star Stacker is fun in short periods, but loses its appeal quickly. The concept behind the game, while unique, doesn't hold up too well. It's just way too easy to match a million things on accident. You can get pretty far in this game without even understanding how it works. As a result of that, chaining a bunch of stuff isn't as satisfying as it should be, since a lot of it is mere happenstance. Kirby's Star Stacker lacks the depth to stack up against the better puzzle games out there, but it's fine if you just want something quick and easy to pass the time.

Word Count: 1,287