My Return To Kirby’s Dream Land

One of the latest Nintendo Online subscription perks added after the latest Nintendo Direct in February is a collection of Game Boy and Game Boy Color games. As someone who first got their start on a good old Game Boy Pocket, I was looking forward to indulging in a bit of nostalgia, especially because the games are all fairly short and quick to play (by today’s standards, especially). Opening it up after it finished download was like finding my collection of Game Boy games that vanished when I was nine or ten. All of my earliest gaming memories, save Pokémon, were staring back at me from my TV. I had a difficult time picking what to play first but eventually settled on Kirby’s Dream Land. As I launched the game and started playing pretty much immediately, I felt a level of familiarity I hadn’t expected. After all, it has been over two decades since I last played the game.

Despite all the time that had passed, I remembered every jump, every enemy flying in from off screen, every beat of the music. It took me a moment to get my hands in the right position for the controls and a bit longer to get past the feeling that my hands should be closer together, but eventually I was playing through the game just as seamlessly as I used to when I was much younger. I even remembered the exact spot to tap the jump button to get the maximum height in the post-level bonus mini-game without consciously thinking about it (the instant I realized what I was doing, though, I began messing it up). I wound up playing through a few levels in quick succession before I was supposed to stop for the night (I started it pretty late in the evening) and found myself more resistant than usual to stopping so I could get ready for bed. It was difficult to argue against the idea since, if I stopped, I would have to start all over again because the game didn’t support saving and I was already so close to the end of the game. AS I mulled over this argument in my head, I quickly remembered that I was playing on the Switch and could create a Save State that I could return to whenever I wanted. This wasn’t a Game Boy after all. I could just save the game and shut the console off for the night (which I promptly did).

Overall, it really was a great experience. The music brought me back in a way most reproductions of the track never do. Most people reproducing the track recreate in higher quality, do a chiptune remix of it, or sometimes a fully reorchestration. This game, though, had the same exact sound as the Game Boy game (albeit much louder) and that, combined with the familiar visuals, took me back to my childhood in a way that nothing else ever has. I could feel the Game Boy in my hands, booted up for the first time with my first game as I looked at the little red light on the side and admired the bright, plasticy green of it. I had just made a joke to my mother that it was silly to call it a Game Boy pocket because it didn’t fit in my pockets. I was, of course, five years old at the time and almost nothing fit in my pockets. She showed my brother’s original Game Boy, that he’d gotten a year earlier, and said it was just smaller, not necessarily pocket-sized.

It was a brilliant flash of memory. The first time, I think, that I’ve had such a strong flashback that wasn’t about my trauma or childhood pain in some way. I could remember where I stood, the way the room was set up, why I was standing where I was, and how the carpet felt on my bare feet as I stood there, playing with my new toy. I think it was years before I ever beat the game, though. Since I couldn’t save and didn’t really have the time, patience, or parental leave to play something for long enough to beat the game, I never cleared it until I got into my “playing Game Boy while hidden under my blankets” phase. I had a much better time playing through Super Mario Land 2 and Wario Land, since those games saved and I could keep playing after I needed to stop because my gaming time was done or I had to deal with something going on with my brother or parents. I always thought it was odd that my parents, who introduced me to video games, never quite grasped (or never quite cared) that some games didn’t allow you to save and you had to play for longer than thirty minutes at a time if you wanted to ever beat the game.

Now, I’ve beaten the game twice over in the past few days. It’s a little laborious at times, since the controls feel very stiff and the game seems to struggle with input lag when I’m playing on my TV (the conrols run much more smoothly when I’m using my Switch in handheld mode for some reason), but I still enjoy it. I have few enough happy memories from my childhood that I’m doing my best to enjoy this one since it isn’t tainted by association with my parents or brother, like most of my other happier childhood memories. It’s nice to actually enjoy a nostalgia this old for once.

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