First, you draw a circle. Then you dot the eyes. Add a great big smile, and presto, there’s Kirby! For a character with such a simple, no-thrills design, there are few characters as iconic as this round, pink creature. Next to Mario, Link, Donkey Kong, Pikachu, and other characters in Nintendo’s menagerie of characters, Kirby remains a testament to how simplicity is key in creating an endearing game protagonist.
So then, what exactly is it that makes Kirby so enduring? He turns twenty this year, and last year, we even saw a small period of Kirby craziness. 2011 saw two Kirby games in the same month, with Kirby Mass Attack and Kirby’s Return To Dreamland being released in the same launch window. Is it because he’s cute and pink? Partly. Is it because of his distinctive ability to suck enemies up, and ultimately, ‘copy’ their traits? Maybe that, too. Or is it something a little more than his cute widdle face? Let’s find out.
Let’s actually talk about his face. For such a simple one, Kirby’s face remains actually one of the most expressive ones. A small expression can instantly change how Kirby is feeling. For example, take Kirby’s smile. Just flip the mouth upside down for a bit, and he’s sad Kirby. Now, what happens when we flip his eyebrows down? It’s now angry Kirby. When Kirby looks, like, well, this, you don’t want to mess with him in this mood. Ever.
Moving away from Kirby himself for a bit (I promise, we’ll talk about him again shortly), the world in which this little pink ball inhabits also contributes to the appeal of the games. The world of Dream Land is a colourful, idyllic little world, with bright, artistic colours flowing everywhere. The series itself is consistently upbeat; filled with cheerful, memorable music, with an almost lullaby-like soundtrack in places. Remember Kirby 64? On top of all this though, the Kirby series is a stark reminder that not everything needs to be gritty and mature-rated to appeal to the masses. It can be just as colourful, merry and wholesome as you wish; as long as you have an instantly likeable character, and solid game play at your core, you have got the makings of a classic.
As much as we all love this little Dream Warrior, it’s sad to see Kirby not getting as much love as Nintendo’s other heavyweight brands. Whilst he is used frequently in Super Smash Bros Brawl as one of the titular heroes in the Subspace Emissary Mode, and the stock of the Kirby franchise has never gone down, he seems to still be playing second fiddle to other Nintendo characters. Although, not since Pac Man have we seen a video game character that proves this: the barest and simplest of designs can actually be the ones that leave a lasting impression.
To conclude, the appeal of Kirby only seems to be growing, and far from diminishing. As of December 2011, the Kirby franchise has sold over thirty million units worldwide. Who says being pink doesn’t sell? If anything though, it’s the simplistic, accessible platforming that makes this series come together. It’s beautifully designed, precise retro platforming, with a hugely appealing mixture of lighthearted aesthetics that is sure to please just about… anyone. Just because he’s cute and pink; doesn’t mean he’s not a true video game star. Happy 20th Birthday Kirby! Here’s to another twenty years of your copy abilities.