Complicated Recollections of Kirby 64

As a small festive gift for myself, I decided to purchase the expansion pass to my Nintendo Online subscription. I already had the only DLC in the pack for a game I own, thanks to my hefty playtime on Animal Crossing, but I was excited by the idea of playing a bunch of my favorite Nintendo 64 games without needing to do my usual amount of coaxing, constant saving, and sacrificing to the Nintengods required to use my old, dusty, beat-up N64. I haven’t looked at it the same since that time I was playing through Paper Mario, got all the way through a save-less dungeon and boss fight combo, and then had the game crash/N64 shut off AS I WAS OPENING THE SAVE SCREEN TO SELECT A FILE TO SAVE TO. Definitely not still mad about that one. The only classic the expansion pass is missing that I feel a hankering to replay is Donkey Kong 64 and I’m used to ignoring that one since my old copy of the game doesn’t seem to work very well.

I started playing Majora’s Mask, thanks to the piece I wrote a couple weeks ago about my previously most-played Legend of Zelda title, and plan to also play through Paper Mario and Banjo-Kazooie when that’s done or the mood strikes me, but I knew about all three of those games going in. What I didn’t realize was included in the expansion pack was Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards. While I played a lot of Kirby games was I was younger, thanks to their adaption to the Gameboy line of systems, there was a significant Kirby gap in my life when all of my old GB and GBC games went missing one day (one of them turned up in a heat duct years later, when my family was doing some work on the house, so I expect they somehow made their way from my dresser to the heat duct when no one but my elder brother was around). That, combined with my parents making me throw out all my Harry Potter stuff around the same time because I was “creating a false idol” meant that I stopped displaying any level of excitement about specific properties outside of a few things that they deemed safe (apparently the Legend of Zelda was fine, for whatever reason, as was Star Wars).

After that, most of my exposure to new games was through rentals or the occasional birthday or Christmas request, carefully spaced out so I wouldn’t seem too attached or overeager for something in case they decided, suddenly, that I was creating a “false idol” again. Luckily for me, though, being friends with the people who worked at the local video and video game store (as much as a 10-14 year-old kid can be friends with older teens and college age adults) meant that they knew I got to rent one game a week for 3 days (the rental period for video games at my local rental store) and that I rented my game every Friday. It made it pretty easy to play through an entire game like Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards when the staff at the store made sure you picked up the same copy of the game every week (or at least warned you when the copy you were playing was loaned out already so you could pick something else).

All of which is to explain that my memories of this Kirby game are warped by time and circumstance in a way that few other of my gaming memories are. Most games, I eventually bought or got given as gifts and played all the way through. The rest, I eventually picked up in college and the years after. The only one I never went to buy, since I’d beaten the whole thing myself, one weekend at a time, was this Kirby 64 game. Eventually, I wound up with a copy that belonged to a friend that he kept forgetting to take home until he told me just to keep it, but I still never replayed it. I remembered it as this huge, sprawling game with a bunch of fun power combination mechanics that allowed me to create some pretty interesting special powers (like explosive ninja stars, fireworks, and a double-bladed beam saber), and I wasn’t sure I wanted to do anything to that memory, especially since it was the last major Kirby game I played until Kirby: Star Allies on the Switch back in 2020.

After I played Kirby and the Forgotten Land, and with Kirby’s Return to Dreamland Deluxe due out next month, I knew it was time to revisit this game. I expected it to be smaller than I remembered, more restrictive, after the expansive world of The Forgotten Land, but not how much smaller. Sure, I have to run through levels ago to break barriers that require specific color-coded power combos, but it feels so rudimentary and small now. I understand that I’m almost two decades older than the last time I played it and things that seemed challenging then are incredibly easy now (like tying my shoelaces without using the “bunny ears” method), but I got through about a quarter of the game in an hour. An hour that included me losing focus for about then minutes at one in the morning to restlessly adjust my ambient temperature due to the deep, settling chill of that night.

I think one more sit-down will be all it takes to finish the game. It is pretty small, after all. Sure, there’s a lot of fun minigames to play, but those are mostly intended for multiplayer experiences and I’m just a single player these days. I don’t think the game will hold much for me once I’ve finished the core single-player campaign. It is still fun to experiment with power combinations, since all I really need is a fun way to get through each level. The bright, colorful worlds are still enjoyable to run through. The upbeat, cheerful music is just as good as I remember it. But there is a massive, expansive world that exists in my mind but that isn’t reflected in the game I’m playing. It feels even smaller than a lot of the old NES Kirby games I’ve played, though that might just be a result of how much easier it is to play Kirby 64 (the controls fight me less).

It can be tough to revisit something you loved in your childhood only to discover part of the reason you’ve loved it all this time was an illusion created by some of the more emotionally difficult parts of your childhood. It’s not that this realization makes me feel bad about the game or my memories associated with it. It just makes me feel a lot more emotions that I expected. I have a lot to sort through as I play this game again. Luckily, I can always play Kirby and the Forgotten Land again if I want something positive. Or even Kirby Star Allies. After all, I remember those games very well and I can get all the bright nostalgia off them that I could ever want.

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