Nintendo recently celebrated 20 years of Kirby adventures with a Wii compilation that features his main conquests through Dream Land. Kirby’s gaming catalog extends far past his canonical platformers and these ancillary games could fill their own compilation disc. He’s been the headliner in multiple puzzle games, a pinball title and a Breakout-style block-busting game. Kirby has had a racing spin-off and has dueled with his Nintendo peers in the Super Smash Bros. series. Even though Kirby has clearly been able to handle yielding a sword or spear in his own games, he has never been invited to one of Mario’s golf or tennis outings. Despite his multi-genre flexibility, the pink puffball has only had one appearance in a sports-themed game. When King Dedede stole all the stars in Dream Land, Kirby shook off his non-sporty stereotype to do mini-golf battle in Kirby’s Dream Course for the Super Nintendo.
Released in 1995, Kirby’s Dream Course is miniature golf with billiards physics on an isometric checkerboard. Think Marble Madness meets putt-putt with the use of parasols and the ability to blow up enemies. Over eight courses, you control Kirby as a pink ball, aiming and powering shots to knock off enemies with the goal of finishing each hole in the least amount of shots possible. After you’ve completed all eight holes on each course, you face off with your antagonist in a final boss battle. While the premise seems basic, there is a surprising amount of depth to the gameplay, which leads to a nice learning curve and substantial replay value. To top things off, there is a separate multi-player mode with unique courses and a completely different scoring system.
The scoring mechanics of the single player campaign are very familiar to those that follow golf. You start the game with four Maxim tomatoes (a regular Kirby power-up) representing golf strokes and three Kirby balls representing your lives. Each time you take a shot you lose a tomato but gain one back immediately if you hit an enemy with said shot. Once you have destroyed all but the last enemy on-screen, the final bad guy turns into the cup you need to aim to in order to advance to the next hole. Miss one of the enemy targets that needs to be destroyed or a shot to finish the hole and you lose a tomato. Once you’re out of tomatoes you lose a ball and once your lives are exhausted, the dream course closes for the night. You have a scorecard that tracks how many shots it takes to complete each hole, with lower numbers rewarding players with different medals attached to their game profile.
There are guidelines for each shot that allow you to either roll Kirby or flick him in the air (dubbed a flying shot) with spin corresponding to how you manage the spin bar. The guidelines shows you where your shot should land, depending on how much power you apply. You’re not done once you execute the power bar either. The A button can be tapped or held down post-shot to bounce or roll a little further. You can also time your bounces off water, a must-have move in your repertoire. In your path to finishing each hole are a number of environmental obstacles like arrow buttons, warp squares and spinning tiles. If that isn’t enough to manage there are also power-ups to attain and use to your advantage. You’re not swallowing enemies to take their powers in Kirby’s Dream Course, you need only run into special baddies to play out the familiar Kirby trope of copying abilities. These copied powers can be executed after you take your shot using the B button and includes favorites like the parasol, spark, high jump, tornado and fireball. There really is something to bouncing off multiple walls as a pink tornado of destruction. While each hole may have slightly different paths to completion, the player is empowered to use all of their resources to improvise and figure out the best solution.
The multi-player in Kirby’s Dream Course features four new courses for Kirby and his doppelganger, yellow Kirby to square off on. You each start with six tomatoes instead of four and pick up points in the way of stars for each enemy destroyed. You can steal from your opponent’s star count by hitting stars they have already earned (in their color) and can cost your opponent a tomato by hitting them with your ball as well as cost them a life by knocking them completely off the course. Making contact with your opponent while they (or both of you) have a special will result in an exchange of power-ups also. When someone’s tomatoes are exhausted, the other player gets to shoot again, which can be a big momentum swing as you try to finish each hole with the most points. To promote action, the maps are a bit more compact and the power-ups are plentiful. The action and scoring is fast, furious and completely unpredictable at times.
Kirby’s Dream Course is part puzzler and strategy game and requires considerably more thought than your average sports titles. The sheer number of power-ups and obstacles creates a learning curve and sense of accomplishment with each course you unlock. The courses are short enough to promote replaying to better your score and the stroke mechanic with the tomatoes is very fair. If the single player narrative wasn’t enough, the multi-player courses are a ton of fun. A physical copy of the game can run you $10-$15 for just the cart and the game is also available on the Wii Virtual Console. Kirby’s Dream Course is certainly not your typical sports outing and in true Kirby fashion creates a unique gaming experience worth exploring.