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Kirby's Pinball Land - 3DS VC Review

Game Info
Kirby's Pinball Land

3DS Virtual Console | Nintendo / HAL Laboratory | 1 Player | Out Now | $3.99 / £2.70
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30th July 2012; By KnucklesSonic8

You'd think that with all the side adventures Kirby has taken that he was being coerced into doing something productive by some behind-the-scenes mentor. But no, Kirby just likes to keep his hands busy, and I admire that about him. Mind you, I might think less of him if he starts to take up anything sewage-related, but for now, those sentiments of admiration continue going into Kirby's Pinball Land. In what is by no means an outlandish take on traditional pinball systems, this is a fine spin-off that will service your pinball needs and perhaps even make you smile along the way.

    In true series format, Kirby sets out to save his happy-go-lucky world from the clutches of some familiar villains, but under a bouncier, less comfortable premise (for him, that is). In what could be confused as an excuse to unwind, the adaptable fellow transforms himself into a ball and prepares to be ricocheted to and fro at the hands of the player. He's certainly built for such a role given his existing size, but bigger than that, the entire idea of bringing Kirby to a pinball mold is one that works naturally even though it's not explored to a certain breadth. Rest-assured, all the mannerisms that normally go along with the presence of delicious food treats is indeed consistent with Kirby's usual behaviours.

    The same degree of curiousity players would have in searching every nook and cranny of Dream Land is carried over here, albeit to a lesser extent due to the nature of the more limiting setup. Kirby's Pinball Land features three tables, each starring a different boss character who resides in a separate room away from the main space. To get to it, you must slowly make your way to the very top of the table and complete a task of some sort to make a Warp Star appear. This will then lead to the boss encounter you desire -- an all-or-nothing fight where the risk of getting sent back to where you came from is omnipresent. But as I've hinted, there is a tiered system in place, so before you can even think about being the hero, you'll first have some navigating to do.

There are a number of sub-divisions put in place to split up the scope of each table's structure, and as such, a series of obstacles and objectives await you every step of the way to test your ability to control the environment as best you can. What this often means is that in order to climb to higher areas, you'll have to do one of two things. The first, most obvious thing to do is tackle the main task in the area you find yourself in, and these are often presented in an almost mini-game-like format. Starting from the bottom, you'll first have to attack floating enemies numerous times so as to light up all of the background letters and trigger a timed launch effect on the element in the very center. As you work your way up, other tasks will include manipulating a slot machine to work in your favor, cracking open the eggs of baby hatchlings whilst also protecting them from mischievous Poppy Bros. Jrs., as well as clearing a field of stars set to a changing sky backdrop. Some work better than others in holding your attention, but every area is guaranteed to be at least mildly amusing on your initial visit. 

    Now, in some cases, you can choose to forego the accomplishing of these tasks and take an easier way out -- at least, in theory. This will involve more skill on your part in terms of how you time the movements of the flippers to the positioning of certain elements, but nothing is truly impossible. As one example, when coming off the speed of a flipper launch, a well-timed bounce off a bumper or minor enemy can be used to provide just enough leverage to arrive near the next set of flippers up above. You can certainly appreciate that this does have an understandable level of luck attached to it. Related to this are times when the ball gets shot upwards purely by chance, requiring some quick thinking for the following step of keeping one flipper in the upper area raised so the ball can bounce in.

Even though it takes up more than half of the frame, luck is only one part of the picture. There are tricks you can employ to make your experience a more controlled one. The most reliable strategy is to aim for the secondary Warp Star, which will either lead you back to the menu for table selection or send you off to do a bonus game. These activities consist of actual mini-games that grant you the opportunity to add to your total score. Shooting the ball towards food on an invisible conveyer isn't as fun as trying to score goals in penalty kick fashion, but these short diversions aren't bad at all and they can be an asset towards getting to the top of the table.

    With the game being the way that it is on a structural level, those who can catch on quick will have a more enjoyable time than an individual who has a harder time getting the ball to go into the right socket or opening. Some of this comes with practice, some of it relies on your reflexes, but in either case, you'll be glad for the overall spirit of forgiveness that characterizes the game's mechanics. Vertical drops from the very top of the table right down to the lowest point can be upsetting under normal circumstances, but it's made a less frustrating affair because of the multiple opportunities that exist in the second-to-last area to propel yourself forward. And because it all happens at a fairly quick pace, you don't have a whole lot of time to concentrate on a perceived loss in progress.

    The consistently helpful usage of the Maxim Tomato in this game plays its own role in all of this. These items will block the opening that lies between the two flippers at each table section, giving you not only time to consider a strategy, but also providing the opportunity to roll across to the other end, as it were, without having to bounce off something else to do it. So long as you put forth a bit of effort, these items are always within reach and is an appreciated element for that reason. Though the game is not always lenient when it comes to allowing enough time for you to get to a time-sensitive trigger, its overall forgiving nature does make it easier for players have a fairly steady stream of positive feelings towards the game.

As far as presentation, Kirby's Pinball Land has some simple yet effective touches that should not be unfamiliar to those who have played any other game in the series. While there aren't many special effects that stand out, it's always great to hear those traditionally cheery tunes in the midst of a compact approach to layout. And with any fall from grace on a gameplay level already being softened by elements just described, the entire atmosphere has a subdued magic to it that adds a level of comfort to what's presented.

    Three tables may not seem like a lot of content, but trying to clear all bosses in one session does extend the experience further, as does aiming for new records and sharing these accomplishments with friends for bragging rights. Admittedly, some of the bosses can be annoying at times due to the aforementioned risk of getting sent back to square one, but those who are determined to complete the game in full will feel motivated to push through it nevertheless. While I would not say the game is really, really enjoyable, it certainly is replayable, and when you couple that with the few nice touches put towards the distancing of frustration, the elements put into it do make the game worth looking into.

    Kirby's Pinball Land may not be coated with layers of delectable goodness, but it's still a nice treat all the same. The overall design treats pinball mechanics with a sense of responsibility whilst adding a blend of Kirby magic and forgiveness to make for an inviting arcade pick-up that's easy to come back to over the long-term. If you're in the market for a retro title that you can quickly get into with ease, then by all means give this a go.

21/30 - Good

Gameplay 7/10 - A standard set of features and mechanics, elements make for a forgiving atmosphere, amusing table areas, bosses can be a tad annoying 
Presentation 7/10 - Relatively simple with a compact feel, cheery and familiar soundtrack, appeal isn't strong but adds a level of comfort to the game
Enjoyment 3/5 - Forgiving nature allows players to concentrate on reflexes more than luck, Maxim Tomatoes and Warp Stars help minimize frustration
Extra Content 4/5 - Quite replayable and easy to come back to, motivation to defeat all bosses and set new records, good value overall

Equivalent to a score of 70% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System

Review by KnucklesSonic8

Kirby's Pinball Land
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