Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Kirby's Block Ball (GB) Retro Review

Kirby's Block Ball released not too long ago on the North American 3DS eShop. Of course, it had been everywhere else for one's digital consumption for quite a while. That said, here is my brisk review of Kirby's Block Ball for the original Game Boy.

Kirby's "Breakout" Role

Kirby is one of Nintendo's most flexible characters. He extends his services far beyond the field of the typical platformer and into such genres as racing (Kirby Air Ride), golf (Kirby's Dream Course), and yes, even arcade-like experiences (Kirby's Pinball Land). He even forgoes the traditional platformer archetype with games like Kirby Canvas Curse and Kirby Mass Attack. In 1996, the pink puffball returned to his adventures outside the platforming realm with Kirby's Block Ball, a Breakout/Arkanoid-inspired take on the franchise.

The stage selection screen of Kirby's Block Ball
The concept of Kirby's Block Ball is quite simple in theory: you must use your paddle (or in some levels paddles) to send Kirby sailing into destructible blocks with the hopes of clearing them all in order to advance to the next level. There are a total of eleven stages consisting of five levels each in total in Block Ball. The levels get progressively more difficult with every time Kirby gets hit by a spike-- caused by missing the pink puffball with a paddle-- a life is lost. Lose all your lives and you must start back at level one of the stage you were on. Thankfully, when a life is lost you can easily pick up your progress from where you left off.

Arkanoid-- Kirby style.
Kirby's Block Ball can be immensely challenging as you need quick reflexes. One of my problems with the game stems from when you have more than one paddle to deal with. Most levels later on have you controlling four paddles at once. Not only is it confusing to control them all (using the up and down portions of the d-pad to move the paddles on the left and right section of screen and using the left and right portions of the d-pad to move the paddles on the up and down section of screen), but the speed at which Kirby bounces around-- especially if you press A as Kirby hits the paddle to send him flying at the blocks with more power-- makes for some small doses of frustration when you simply can't keep up with the action.

Some blocks need more hits than others.
Like a standard Kirby game, Kirby's Block Ball has powers for Kirby to absorb and copy. Most enemies when defeated just drop food of varying point values for Kirby to gobble up, but some transform him into one of four forms: Spark, Stone, Needle, and Fireball. Each power allows Kirby to destroy blocks and enemies more easily. If Kirby gets hit by a spike, he loses his current ability.

Every fourth and fifth levels in each stage is a pre-boss and boss fight respectively. The pre-boss battle has you collect star blocks which will serve as a temporary safety net and cover the spikes in the following boss battle. The boss battles have Kirby beating on one of many familiar adversaries of Kirby's past. Some bosses just move around the arena, waiting for Kirby to smack them a dozen times or so until they are defeated, while others can grab Kirby and send him flying into danger's way. While the boss fights aren't generally particularly challenging, they do offer a nice change of pace and some well earned variety.

Battle bosses big and small.
In some levels there are hidden warp stars that can take Kirby to the bonus area, resting in the middle of the stage selection map. There are four to choose from including Up Down which has you attempting to hit four different blocks which change the picture shown each time they are struck. The goal is to have all four blocks show the same picture to earn 1-ups. Another bonus game is Star Catcher where you control four paddles to collect stars while avoiding the bombs being thrown from the center. If one of your paddles gets bombed, your bonus game session is over. Then there's Air Hockey which pits you against a UFO creature in a best-of-three series of the titular sport. Finally, you have Up Cloud where three clouds-- each with a different 1-up amount on them-- rest and hitting them with the ball sends them upwards toward the goal. The first cloud to reach the goal gives Kirby a helpful prize. The bonus games are enjoyable and are paramount if one is having trouble in later levels of Block Ball.

One of the four bonus games-- Up Cloud.
Kirby's Block Ball is a decent enough looking game. You can easily tell enemies apart from blocks, and Kirby animates rather well. As with most Game Boy games in the viewpoint of today, there isn't really much to write home about visually. The game runs at a steady clip which is a must for a game where one needs their wits about them to move the paddle(s) to bounce Kirby around safely. The music is standard fare for a Kirby game-- some catchy tunes and saccharine sweet melodies. Kirby's Block Ball does its performance duties to a satisfactory level.

Kirby's Block Ball is a heavily inspired take on Arkanoid (or Breakout if you're much older) with a kooky Kirby coating to make things seem more original than they are. Gunning for the high score of each stage will last players a while (and it's the only way to unlock Stage 11) and the game is perfect in short bursts. Managing four paddles at once in later levels might be too tasking for some players such as myself, but if you stick with it, you'll find yet another wonderful gameplay experiment featuring everyone's favorite pink blob Kirby.

[SuperPhillip Says: 7.75/10]

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