The Super Nintendo Entertainment System was on its last legs by 1997. The Nintendo 64 had been released, and overall interest in any new 16-bit title was diminishing. This did not stop Nintendo from creating one last game for their venerable machine. They decided to place Kirby, the pink, marshmallow-like creature with the ability to suck up enemies and swipe their abilities, one more 16-bit adventure. The result was Kirby’s Dream Land 3, a sequel to a pair of Game Boy titles which was released in late 1997. It was hopeful that the SNES could go out with a bang with this title. Unfortunately, some flaws prevented it from being all that it could be.
The black creature known as Dark Matter had once again invaded Dream Land, and it was up to Kirby to explore five levels of six stages each to save the day. He was not alone, however, as he had seven companions who could give him assistance throughout his journey. Rick the hamster could climb up walls, Coo the owl could carry him through the air quickly, Kine the fish could swim swiftly underwater and avoid currents, Pitch the bird could run and fly fast, Nago the cat would jump three times in a row, ChuChu the octopus could stick onto the ceiling, and Gooey, a small black creature, could fight alongside Kirby at any time. The first six friends were found in rooms throughout the game, while Gooey could be summoned by pressing the A button. Unfortunately, calling him would reduce Kirby’s hit points from ten to eight.
The game play is typical of Kirby games: getting through stages divided into multiple areas, sucking up enemies with Kirby’s vacuum breath, and collecting items such as tomatoes and extra lives to stay in the fight. One problem is with the abilities: there are only eight of them in total, as opposed to the twenty or so found in Kirby Super Star, which was released just the year before. They are not particularly interesting, either, and the broom power in particular may be the most boring ability in any Kirby game. You can combine these powers with the animal companions to create new ones, which comes in handy at some points, but the overall lack of abilities is still a disappointment.
Every stage has a special mission which, when completed, will reward you with a heart. These quests range from completing mini games to completing the stage with a specific friend to collecting items for another character. Some of these challenges can be difficult, particularly the mini games, as you need to beat all three levels of them to succeed, and the third level is always incredibly fast. At the very least, they add to the game’s difficulty and can be fun at times. One must collect all thirty hearts to access the final boss and see the true ending, giving the player an incentive to find them all.
As with many other Kirby games, the challenge level is on the easy side, though the quest of grabbing every last heart makes it a bit harder. Having animal companions along for the ride is a mixed bag: on the one hand, they add more depth to the experience with their varied abilities, and they do not run off if they are hit. On the other hand, most of their powers are not all that special, and if you lose a life, you will also lose your buddy. At times when you need them to complete one of the missions, this could mean starting the stage over, adding some frustration. On top of this, the game feels several steps back from Kirby Super Star, making one wonder why Nintendo and Hal Laboratory did not bother to add to the latter game’s experience.
Whereas the graphics of Kirby Super Star were very bright and colorful, the graphics here look dull and uninspiring. They look to be out of a coloring book, fitting because of Kirby’s appeal to younger audiences, but it pails in comparison to earlier Kirby games. Games released late in the SNES’ life should theoretically appear to have their graphics be among the best ever seen on the system, but the result here is rather disappointing. In terms of sound, there are some nice, bouncy tunes, including a few that would reappear in Kirby 64. However, one song, a remix of the Gourmet Race theme from Kirby Super Star, has been somewhat butchered. Not a bad soundtrack and appropriate for Kirby, but it could have been improved, as well.
Overall, Kirby’s Dream Land 3 is not terrible, but it has flaws that keep it from surpassing Kirby Super Star as the best SNES Kirby title. From uninspiring abilities and mediocre animal powers to drab-looking graphics, it gives one the impression that Nintendo simply rushed the game out just to give the SNES one final hit before retiring the system for good. Even so, Kirby fans should at least give it a try once…it is now available for download on the Wii Shop Channel. Just don’t expect it to be one of Kirby’s finest titles. For better Kirby games, I suggest you try the aforementioned Kirby Super Star, or maybe Kirby’s Adventure or even Kirby 64. Kirby’s Dream Land 3 is a nice attempt, but it could have easily been a heck of a lot better.