Game That Tune

Kirby

Puff Pieces

Music from the Kirby series might be more adorable than its hero.

By Derrick Sanskrit • October 4, 2012

Game music has the power to earworm its way into your heart long after you put the controller down. Each week in Game That Tune, we highlight a great tune from a great game (or a great tune from a just-okay game).

I once asked Andy Runton, creator of the hit series of “Owly” children’s graphic novels, how he manages to make his illustrations so unrelentingly cute. His response was that one simply needs to let go of their inhibitions, accept that cute is a good thing, and the rest will come naturally. I’ve never asked anybody at HAL Laboratory about their beloved Kirby series, but there simply has to be a similar philosophy at hand. How else could one explain the impossible cuteness that soaks through nearly every aspect of the pink puffball’s games?

This live medley of favorite tunes from the series’ history was released alongside Kirby Super Star Ultra a few years ago, but seems even more appropriate now that the series is celebrating its 20th anniversary. The classic melody of “Green Greens” is made all the peppier with the bright and lively woodwinds, as they counter the warm filtered fuzz of an alto melodica. The woodblock gets its moments of comic relief in “Peanut Plain.” The playful strums of the ukulele find “Grape Garden” even closer to the shoreline than it ever was in Kirby’s Adventure, as a quartet of flutes glitter like the sun’s reflection across the coastline. The mod-action horns of “Meta-Knight’s Revenge” are great, of course, but “Grape Garden” so effortlessly makes you want to lean back in a lawn chair, sipping a cool lemonade in the sun.

It’s no wonder Kirby’s such a bright shade of pink. I’d have an eternal sunburn too if I had such a pleasant soundtrack following me everywhere I went.

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  • ShrikeTheAvatar

    Great stuff.  Kirby is unfortunately a fairly large gap in my gaming resume.

    For a future piece, might I recommend the song “Stickerbrush Symphony” from Donkey Kong Country 2?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J67nkzoJ_2M

    All the music from that game is great, but this song in particular is beautiful.  I’m not sure whose idea it was to write such a mournful tune for a cartoony SNES game, but I love it.

    • WorldCivilizations

      I haven’t played any Kirby either (outside of Super Smash Bros), but based on this music, I think it’s time to emulate! That Grape Garden (1:50 in the video) is a pretty great groove. 

      • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

        “Grape Garden” is the fourth world in Kirby’s Adventure, one of the very late NES games, well after Nintendo was already pushing the Super Nintendo. In true Masahiro Sakurai fashion, they crammed just as much into that game as the NES could possibly process and maybe a little bit more. It felt a whole generation ahead of nearly any other NES game whose name wasn’t Super Mario Bros 3.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

         I have a hard time recommending where to start, except to suggest not starting at the beginning. Kirby’s Dream Land is a solid game and quite fun, but missing most of the mechanics that made the series truly stand out.
        Kirby’s Adventure, as Derrick said, is one of the best NES games ever made (if not for SMB3, it would be in serious running for THE best).
        Kirby SuperStar has a great variety of games, and the two-player co-op is awesome for playing with someone, especially a younger relative.
        Kirby 2 for Super Gameboy is really solid, and Kirby 3 for SNES has a lovely crayon/watercolor style, as well as super-forgiving co-op play that is, again, great for playing with someone younger or less experienced.
        Emulating SNES games with my little cousin made me realize how differently the Mario and Kirby games were designed. Superficially, they are both solid platformers, and you’d think that, broadly, playing one is much like playing the other. But my little cousin (maybe 4 or 5 at the time?) couldn’t navigate the jumps in Mario at all, or land successfully on enemies’ heads, whereas Kirby 3 was totally his speed.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          Except for Gamasutra focusing on mobile game blockbusters, there has been precious little attention to casual or easy games’ serious gameplay considerations, I feel.  Your last paragraph reminded me of how thoughtful or wonderous a lot of the environments are while also allowing for tons of platforming mistakes.  I’ve found that kids also love the 2 games with combining powers and the 2 games with multiple Kirbies.  They’re pretty well-designed around those exciting pieces of information (to kids).

          I don’t know whether any of the staff has children to give them a control group, but I think they’d be great at re-examining these types of series in a serious way.

        • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

          Super Star for the SNES is one of my favorite games of all time. I was fascinated when it came out and had the couple additional boards in the cartridge for all the extra information (again, Sakurai just cramming as much as he possibly could into a package). I initially dismissed Super Star Ultra/Deluxe for the DS because the games felt easier, but the new games they added at the end were great. Super Star is also responsible for introducing the “Arena” mode that everyone loved so much in the Smash Bros games.

          The DS has just been wonderful for the pink puffball, from the lush and experimental Canvas Curse to the traditional and challenging Squeak Squad right on to the completely wild Mass Attack, which had unlockable mini-games that were easily worth the price of the cartridge all on their own.

        • WorldCivilizations

          Very helpful, thanks! I can definitely see how Kirby would be much more forgiving than Mario. His little float, along with double jumping, gliding, hovering (spyro), and the like are all mechanics that let you kinda fudge your platforming. Might be a drawback, since insane difficulty is usually a big plus for me (most fun platforming level: the hidden and merciless “hell” epilogue in Cave Story). 

    • double_hawk

      you can always emulate or if you have a wii they just released an anniversary collection . great games

      and that is a great DK2 song (that game had a ton of great ones) but fuck the stickerbrush levels!

      • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp David Dalrymple

        The anniversary collection is a steal at $40. And it has a soundtrack!

    • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

      I take no shame in admitting that Kirby is one of my absolute favorite franchises. The most beautiful part is the balancing. Because they’re targeted at young players, most Kirby games can be cleared with relative ease, but they almost all have special goals or collectibles hidden within the stages that are deviously challenging for hardcore platform enthusiasts.

      • HobbesMkii

        There’s something intrinsically charming about him, as well, besides just the undeniable “cute” factor. He’s like Yoshi mixed with Rogue from X-Men in dealing with the various enemies he faces–swallowing them and then absorbing their powers. Plus, the blowfish-aspect that allows him to fly just seems like the perfect little kid idea of how flight occurs: just inhale as much as possible, then flap your arms.

    • http://twitter.com/roundthewheel RTW

      Ohhh, I’m going to looooooove this feature. I fancy myself an amateur video game music curator, love listening to it even just for leisure.

      Some other great Kirby tunes:

      —Sand Canyon from Kirby’s Dream Land 3 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67MPxnPHBNk is pretty bouncy, and enjoyed a brief moment of memetic fame when people cut videos to the melody of it, like this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWT7l-JiKGU

      —Mint Breath (the invincibility theme) from the original Kirby’s Dream Land, which sounded like exercising music to me when I was a kid: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74TqfTxkP30

      —Big-Bean Vine http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGFic2e-uTEand Butter Building http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTZ8uhJ5hIEfrom Kirby’s Epic Yarn

      Also, for the exact opposite of cute in a Kirby game, try this on for size: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKXBNjvEGzo

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

        I feel bad that series is always posted when I’m away from my video game music hard drive.  I have every song (10 percent of the rips done by myself) from every canon game of my favorite, er, 270 franchises.  I know that Kirby Of The Star has some great deep cuts ever since they revivified the franchise’s creativity on the DS/Wii.  Tilt ‘N’ Tumble/Rolly is overlooked, if I recall, http://www.youtube.com/user/Laizorb/videos?query=tilt  .

        You had some nice picks, though.

        I will say that Yarn has the best arrangements of the series’ popular tunes by far.  I don’t mind serious takes on light music, but the Super/Great Melee Smash Brothers’ series arrangements were largely stodgy and not very creative.

        (Given that Good-Feel is mostly ex-Konami people, someone rightly said that they should revive Ganbare/Persevere, Goemon with the same attention to aesthetics and gameplay creativity as their earlier games, and now I can’t stop thinking about it.)

  • Effigy_Power

    I dare you to listen to this and not smile like a rube. Especially during the flute pieces.
    It’s crap, but it’s undeniably so cute and upbeat that it gives me diabeetus.
    Until it sounds a bit like the soundtrack for a 70s porn movie around 2:00… then I get a bit creeped out.

    • HobbesMkii

      Why don’t you slip into something a little more…comfortable? Like the one that turns you into a huge spikey ball.

      • Effigy_Power

        Yes, Mister pink, round, weirdly vacuuming pizza delivery pool cleaner guy.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          And then his friend shows up.  http://kirby.wikia.com/wiki/Gooey

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           @GhaleonQ:disqus : OW! My childhood!

          (I wasn’t even a child when Kirby 3 came out, but, no matter. Childhood definitely bruised through some transitive property of Kirby.)

        • Effigy_Power

          @GhaleonQ:disqus: You win. I’ve got nothing.
          One sucks and blows, one licks.

          My brain hurts.

  • DiscardedPostit

    I have nothing significant or otherwise important to add to this other than I remember playing Kirby, and by that I mean watching others play Kirby at a friends house and always wanting to join in the fun.  Now that I am “grown up” the Wii has more than fulfilled my childhood need to assume my enemies’ abilities via Hoover Face.

    Also, as a first time poster, Gameological, you have changed the way I put off or otherwise avoid work.  Thank you.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      Welcome! May I just say that you have one of the best avatars ever? I love that frowny face; it reminds me of the Mr. Sunshine theme song.

      On the subject of Kirby, I don’t think I’ve ever played any Kirby games – though they look like great fun – but he’s my character of choice whenever I play Super Smash Bros. That down+B attack is friggin’ lethal.

  • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp David Dalrymple

    Kirby also has the distinction of starring in the best Nintendo-derived cartoon. 2001 was a great year for cartoons.

  • EmperorNortonI

    Green Green, perhaps the same, perhaps different, is a band and chorus staple at Japanese public schools.  I like to imagine that it’s the same.  Unfortunately, I can’t remember it at all, because my mind sees the title, and Blue Hearts’ “Train Train” comes to mind instead.

    I first became aware of Kirby thanks to Super Smash Brothers.  He reminded me a lot of my favorite Pokemon, Likitongue, for his combination of cuteness with hideous wrongness.  Kirby consumes his enemies and steals their powers. Likitongue’s incapacitating saliva dulls their moves so it can smash their heads into a wall.  It’s almost Lovecraftian.

  • Deceleration Waltz

    That was a lovely Kirby medley! (I like how it was book-ended by one of the dramatic planet themes from Kirby 64.) I nominate the original Spyro trilogy for some soundtrack appreciation next time! Check out Stewart Copeland talking about the composition process here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Kc2gGycBXc

    My favorite piece is the soundtrack to Lofty Castle from the first game: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K5wc9h32tlI

    But honestly, there are so many phenomenal pieces from the whole trilogy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/OjiShachouJHOLICS Andi Oji Nuruljihad

    Most remember Kirby as that cute ball from the platformers or the pink blob from those cruddy CG cartoons.

    Kirby’s always been a mini-golf ball to me. That mini-golf game on SNES almost stopped me leaving the house at all back in grade school. Time to fire up the old emulator.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      I will put Dream Course/Bowl up as 1 of the greatest outside-of-the-original-genre spinoffs of all-time.  Have you watched TAS runs of it on YouTube, where there are eagles, birdies, and “nothing but the bottom of the cup”s constantly?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/F4HP4DTBQ2IBCTQU5TTBVXKJTY Andy

    I’d rather have have a bad-ass soundtrack than this cutsey crap. screw relaxing I wanna bust some heads goddamit!