There have been some great pinball games over the years, and like a lot of other retro gamers, I started with the likes of Pinball Dreams and Pinball Fantasies on the Amiga 1200 / 500. The tables looked good, the physics felt right, and the game wasn’t easy so there was always the feeling that you were always able to improve your play. Today, we have Pinball FX2 which pretty much fulfils all pinball fans dreams with the awesome attention to detail that comes with that title and the mass of tables it offers.
I don’t want to talk about these more realistic titles though. I want to talk Kirby.
That little pink ball of loveliness, who emanates from Dream Land of the planet Pop Star, is more famously known for his exploits in his platforming titles, and of course for being one of the mainstays in the Smash Bros. series. However, my first exposure to him came in Kirby’s Pinball Land, which was released back in 1993. I never had a NES, so didn’t get to experience the fantastic Dream Land and Adventure releases, but somehow I came across this despite not even knowing the character at this point.
The game features our titular hero who is effectively the pinball which you’ll be flipping round the tables, of which there are 3. At its heart, it’s pinball through and through; rack up the points, build up a multiplier, avoid the pits and get a high score! However, there are so many facets to the title that make it unique, and unlike nearly every other pinball game out there.
For starters, each table features 3 different screens which each operate as their own miniature pinball table. They’ll each include their own little goal with their own enemies to defeat and no layout is ever the same. You naturally move upwards screen by screen, ultimately making your way toward the top where if you complete the task presented, you’ll be given the opportunity to take on the tables boss.
Graphically, the game looks like a pinball game, but it also looks like a Kirby game. All the important characters which had been featured in the NES titles can be found here and it all lends well to making the game feel like its own world away from the ‘Dream Land’ locale. There’s a massive amount of charm in the game, whether it’s Kirby’s cheeky face as he triumphs in overcoming a certain obstacle in one level which puts him up a screen, or the chicks you need to release from their eggs so you can meet the Poppy Bros. boss, it’s all so cute and fun, but doesn’t feel childish. Games have lost a lot of this innocence today and it’s great to go back and experience genuine ‘fun’ like this.
The bosses are popular Kirby enemies, such as Whispy Woods the tree, the bomb throwing Poppy Bros., and Kracko the lightning cloud. They each have their own mechanic to prevent Kirby from ‘winning’ the table and moving on to the next one, and it’s a welcome diversion from the point racking up that you’ll have been doing up to this point. If you can triumph over all 3, you will be given the chance to take on King Dedede, Kirby’s legendary arch-nemesis, in his own one-screen table. He’s a challenge too, but is worth the wait after the effort you put in to getting to this point. Complete the game and instead of being given a ‘GAME OVER’, you simply get plopped back down on to the table select screen, ready to carry on from worth you left off points-wise.
Where points are concerned, multipliers are earned through repetition of certain tasks, and the middle screen of each table allows you the opportunity to transport Kirby to a bonus stage which lets you boost your multipliers massively. The bonus stages are a hell of a lot fun, but the football stage really stands out. Simply put, you’ve got your flippers and 2 Kirby balls, and there’s a goal at the top of the screen being goal-tended by a Squishy enemy. All you have to do, is get them balls in the back of the net as many times as possible in 30 seconds, and the moment it starts, all hell breaks loose as you try and make the most of that time, slamming poor Kirby left right and centre trying to beat the goalie. They’re great diversions from the main heart of the game and, if you want to reach a big score at the end of the game, you need to take advantage of them!
The music is very infectious, if a little repetitive, but I’ve genuinely never gotten bored of it. I say repetitive because my mother definitely used to keep the volume down when playing it, and hated it when I didn’t! You can expect the usual sound effects from the average pinball table, with bumpers making their usual dull thuds when being hit and bonus markers giving off high beeps and bops. It’s not the most sophisticated audio in a game, but it’s right for the game at hand and does the job well.
The plunger… there is no traditional pinball plunger. Instead of shooting Kirby on to the table as you would with most pinball tables, you find him sitting on a tiny platform which keeps rising before dropping suddenly, over and over. Until you press the B button, the poor fella will continue to go through this process, but you don’t just want to do it randomly. Timing is key here as when the B button is pressed, Kirby will go shooting up the table, and how high he rises is all dependant on where he was when you pressed it. This isn’t such a bad mechanic, until you find out that it is the same mechanic used when Kirby drops through the drain at the bottom of the table. I swear, this part is rigged, and no matter how often I thought I had hit the ‘sweet spot’ of that fall, half the time it just wouldn’t take and I’d find myself losing a life.
I’m not going to go all cliché and talk about how it was like heaven the first time I played the game because honestly, I don’t remember it at all. I do remember my mum playing it a hell of a lot and, as the game would save high scores, we used to have some real battles against each other with it. I do remember getting so wrapped up in it that I could play it for absolutely ages while trying to rack up as big a score as possible. Granted, it’s a relatively short game once you master it, but it’s so addictive while it’s there. I mean, take me for instance. I’ve been playing the title for 20 years now, and I’m sure I’ll be playing it for another 20 more!
I’ve never met anyone who’s played this game outside of my family, and as a result, I’ve got to imagine there’s LOADS of gamers out there who’ve missed out on this. You can grab it on the 3DS Nintendo store. You can get it for less than a tenner on ebay, complete with box and manual. Play it on the SNES using the Super Game Boy so you can experience the alternate palette which adds a neat touch to the game. Just play it. There’s no harm and you’ll find yourself enjoying one of the Game Boy’s lesser appreciated titles.
Kirby’s Pinball Land can be played on the Retron 5, which is available to purchase at www.funstockretro.co.uk
Follow Carl on Twitter: @auto2112