Welcome back to the long awaited return of Games That Time Forgot, where we look at games that have been forgotten by time. So it's Kirby's 30th anniversary this year, and unlike other major franchises Nintendo has or is associated with, they actually remembered this one, and I'm not kidding. We got the excellent Kirby & The Forgotten Land this year, merchandise, a re-release of Kirby 64 on Nintendo Switch Online (okay, maybe I'm stretching a bit on that one), and a new orchestral concert this year, the second for the pink puffball, the first being for his 25th anniversary. So with all of that happening, let's take a look at one of his least mentioned games on the Super Nintendo, Kirby's Dream Land 3.
Yes, Kirby's Dream Land 3, the fifth Kirby game in the series (don't think about it too hard), the third game to use the Dream Land title, the second game in the "Dark Matter trilogy", and the last game Nintendo published for the Super Nintendo, at least until the Super Nintendo classic edition came out with Star Fox 2. Yeah, this one is kind of weird because while it's very easy to dismiss it as "well it was the last game for the Super Nintendo, of course it was forgotten", I feel like there has to be more than it's late launch, since there are a ton of other games that launched late in the SNES' life that are still beloved like the Donkey Kong Country trilogy, Earthbound etc., yet Dream Land 3 is still often ignored or not even mentioned when it comes to Kirby games. Even I have to admit that I didn't give Kirby's Dream Land 3 the attention when it first came out; sure I rented it when I was a kid, but it didn't click with me, and if I wanted to play 16 bit Kirby I would stick with Kirby Super Star. This wasn't even the first Kirby game I was thinking of looking at either; I was going to do Kirby's Avalanche but decided against it when it meant me just copying and pasting my Doctor Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine retrospective (review?). And while that would have made it easier on me and make it possible to get one of these out sooner, I like to think I'm not THAT lazy.
So as let's take a Kirby's Dream Land 3 and see whether it is a dream or a nightmare....in dream land. I'm sorry.
Kirby's Dream Land 3 was developed by HAL Laboratory and published by Nintendo. It was released on November 27th, 1997 in North America and March 27th, 1998 in Japan; North America getting this before Japan was a weird and surprising thing to find out, especially since the series is bigger in Japan than North America (at least now it is, don't know how it was in the late 90s). You may notice that Europe and Australia aren't in that inital release; the game was planned for those regions, but complications bringing the game over combined with the N64 being a year old at that point made bringing the game over to those regions less likely, though it did come out in those regions via the Virtual Console, albeit a modified version of the North American version. In any case, this also makes Kirby Dream Land 3 the last Super Nintendo game Nintendo officially released in North America, at least until Star Fox 2 was released, so in that regard it does have some importance to gaming history.....just not that much, especially when you considered the Nintendo 64 had been out for almost a year at that point, which makes the whole thing kind of pointless.
However, to talk about Kirby's Dream Land 3's development, we need to go back before the Super Nintendo to talk about one of the last games on original NES, Kirby's Adventure. After that game was released in 1993, developer HAL Laboratory decided to split the team into two groups: one lead by series creator Masahiro Sakurai and the other by map designer of Kirby's Adventure Shinichi Shimomura. Although he would be the map designer and a regular designer for a few of the smaller Kirby games like Kirby's Pinball Land & Kirby's Dream Course, Shimoura would make his directorial debut with Kirby's Dream Land 2, which released throughout 1995. I don't want to go over Kirby's Dream Land 2 because I don't like the game all that much, but it did serve as the first game in what was called by fans the "Dark Matter" trilogy, named so because the villain is the being Dark Matter, who showed up in Dream Land 2, this game, and Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards. Getting to back Shimomura for a bit, he pretty much was in charge of the series during the 90s, as Sakurai would go onto other things like Super Smash Bros. However, after working on Nightmare in Dream Land on the Game Boy Advance, Shimoura left the industry and was never heard from again. Seriously, no one has been able to find him and there are no records of him existing past 2002 or even a social media presence today. Was it because of this game? I highly doubt it, but it is quite a curious case.
It's also one of the most interesting things about the game sadly. So let's get to it.
Kirby's Dream Land 3 came out in the worst time it could have, and I don't just mean that it released long after the Super Nintendo was done with, though that didn't help on some level. No what I mean is that it came out a year after Kirby Super Star, a game that, while it isn't the best game in the series (especially since the DS remake is superior), is still not only a solid game but also a game that had a major influence on the series going forward. I'll try my best not to talk about Super Star that much, but it's hard not to think about it while talking about Dream Land 3, especially since the latter feels in some ways inferior to the former.
Kirby's Dream Land 3 takes place on Popstar again, and deals with Dark Matter coming back. Not content with getting its ass kicked in Dream Land 2, Dark Matter returns and covers Dream Land with darkness and possess a bunch of its denizens. It's up to Kirby and his friends to save the day once again. To do this, Kirby must explore five worlds consisting of six stages and a boss to find the Heart Stars, which will let him get the Love-Love Stick (make of that what you will) to vanquish Dark Matter once and for all......until Kirby 64, but let's not talk about that right now. To get the Heart Stars, you need to accomplish a task in each level to get it. It's nothing too laboring, since it is a Kirby game after all, but it's just they're more bland. Basically, all the levels in the world follow a set mission structure but with some slight alterations; for example in the first leve of every world, you have to do something related to flowers. You may have to avoid stepping on them in one level, you may have to water them in the next, or maybe even step on certain ones in another. Every level follows a format, and while there are one or two times that they make things interesting, like getting your animal friend Kine the fish to the end of a level that has no water sections or helping Samus from Metroid freeze some Metroids, the levels and gameplay of Dream Land 3 feel so undercooked and boring thanks to how repetive the mission structure is, made worse by the fact that if you miss up a mission, which can be easy to do if you aren't careful, you can't go back and fix your mistake without leaving the level or rewinding if you're playing it on NSO. I feel like if they had given each stage a unique mission, it would have helped a little bit with level variety, though I imagine that isn't something they could do even if they wanted to due to how little priority the game had on Nintendo's docket. Besides, it's not the boring levels and missions that bring down Kirby's Dream Land 3, though it admittedly doesn't help.
No, the animal friends do that all by themselves.
Yes, don't let their cute apperances throw you off: Kirby's animal friends are what ultimately make Kirby's Dream Land 3 not work. Much like the last Dream Land game, Kirby has animal friends to help out on his quest, but unlike Kirby's Dream Land 2, there are now six animal friends to help Kirby. Returning from Dream Land 2 are Coo, an owl that can fly well in the air and can fly against strong winds but sucks on land and water, Rick, a hamster that can run fast, not slip on ice and climb walls (that last one is really important in his level), and the previously mentioned Kine, a fish who isn't very good on land, but is great in the water and can swim across strong currents. They're joined by three newcomers: ChuChu the octopus, who can grab enemies with her tentacles and can hang from ceilings, Nago the cat, who rolls Kirby like a ball, runs as fast as Rick, and can triple jump, and Pitch the bird, who can......uh.....you know what? I don't even know what Pitch's big thing is. I seriously looked it up, did a couple of playthroughs, and can't figure out what he brings to this adventure. He can't fly as high or as fast as Coo, he doesn't run as fast as Rick or Nago can, and most of the copy abilities with him are more flashy than actually useful (I'll talk about that in a bit). And after playing this game, I still don't get what Pitch can do. But even if I could figure out Pitch's deal, it doesn't take away from the biggest problem with the animal friends: in order for them to work, Kirby himself has to be nerfed.
Okay, maybe not completely nerfed, but there are a fair number of things that Kirby can do in previous games that are different here. For example, while he isn't the fastest character or anything, Kirby was able to run at pretty decent speeds in most games, specifically Kirby Super Star. Here, while he runs at a decent speed, is nothing compared to other games; why? Because if he did, then Rick and Nago would be redudnant because they run at the speed that Kirby normally runs. Kirby's ability to fly is nerfed too because Coo needs to be useful too, so Kirby doesn't fly that fast, as are Kirby's default Copy abilities, as they are slow and basic without an animal friend there, though I will admit the animation for them are pretty great. In fact, going back to Kirby's abilities, when Kirby has an animal friend, he can't fly or inhale enemies, and I have no idea why. Why take away his abilities to fly with certain animal friends and inhale enemies, aka the things Kirby is known for? I get that for Rick, since you ride him like Yoshi, but why can't I fly with ChuChu, who is literally sitting on Kriby's head? I mean, you can technically fly with ChuChu, but only if you have the Fire ability, which lets Kirby fly her like a hot air balloon. She does have the ability to hang on celilings, but outside of using it in one level (ironically the one where I have to get her to the end), it doesn't serve a purpose. And that's my overall biggest problem with Kirby's animal friends: they don't bring anything new to the table, and actively make the game worse.
To illustrate what I mean, imagine Yoshi from Super Mario World and the Animal Buddies from the Donkey Kong Country games. In both cases, Yoshi and the Animal Buddies each have their own unique abilites that they can use in levels that also don't take away from what the main characters can do. Like sure, there are some things you can't do while riding Yoshi, such as shooting fireballs or grabbing shells, but you can still run, jump on enemies, fly, and even defend yourself with Yoshi's tongue and what he can do with Koopa shells. Same goes with the Kongs and the Animal Buddies, who each offer unique abilities and may be needed to make the level easier (like Enguarde in the underwater sections), and may even be needed to in some cases to fully complete the game, but you can still get by without having to use them. You don't have that with Kirby's Dreamland 3: the animal friends are required to do just about anything in the game. They're needed to complete objectives, they're needed for basica traversal, and they're needed to make Kirby's Copy abilites (of which there are nine this time, and you only use one of them in the final fight) better to use. And the abilities they do bring to the game don't add anything; gee thanks Nago for giving me a triple jump! That's totally more useful than flying forever!
So yeah to put it bluntly, I didn't like Kirby's Dream Land 3. Not because of the reliance on Kirby's animal friends, but because what they do bring to the table either make the game less or they're required to do things that Kirby could do naturally in previous and future games. Sure, there have been other games in the series that limit his move set in some way, but they also added some new gameplay mechanics that make up for that in some way, like combing powers in Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards (which in my opinion is the superior game), the mech in Planet Robobot or even just being able to upgrade your copy abilites in The Forgotten Land. And while there are some things about the game that do I actually like, such as some of the music and the graphics, it all feels kind of limp compared to later games. While I do like some of the music for example, like the first level theme, the rest of it feels so generic and forgetable that I couldn't remember most of it. While the game does look nice when compared to other Super Nintendo games, some of that admiration is taken away when you realize that a lot of the animations were just recycled from Kirby's Dream Land 2. And yes, I know that this is the first game where Kirby had to deal with some really dark things, specifically fighting a bleeding eye sperm at the end of the game. And while it is disturbing and dark, especially compared to a lot of other final encounters in the series, it's not enough to really put it that high on the list of Kirby games. Especially since Marx from Kirby Super Star was scarier.
I'm not mad at Kirby's Dream Land 3, but I am disappointed. There could have been a good game to send off the Super Nintendo, but what we got was something with pieces that just couldn't fit. But let's see what other people thought!
So surprise surpise, not many outlets reviewed this game at launch, and the few people who did were mixed on it. Nintendo Power supposedly gave it at 6.5/10, though I say supposedly because I can't seem to find the original issue that review was given. Nintendo Life did give it 6/10 when they reviewed in 2009, saying "Kirby's Dream Land 3 could've easily been a great game - It mostly relies on exactly the same things that made the previous Kirby games so good, but for some reason HAL decided to drastically change the gameplay by making it too slow and too easy", going so far as calling it one of the worst Kirby games alongside Kirby 64, which I personally disagree with on all accounts. IGN however did give it a 7/10 in their review of it when it came out on the Virtual Console though, saying "Kirby's Dream Land 3 really is a quaint and capable little Kirby adventure that is pretty enjoyable to play". There aren't really any sales numbers either, because again, this was a game that was released a year after the Nintendo 64 launched. The game wasn't really talked about all that much afterwards, though it did get a couple of re-releases on the Wii, both through the Virtual Console and the Kirby Anniversary Collection, as well as the Wii U Virtual Console and Nintendo Switch Online.
Though they were going to show up in the next game Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, the animal friends never showed up in a mainline Kirby game outside of cameos until Kirby Star Allies, where the original trio of Coo, Kine, and Rick were playable, along with Gooey. The other three, Pitch, ChuChu, and Nago, all make cameos when Kirby uses the Clean ability in Star Allies, so that's cool. The music from this game also showed up in later games as well, specifically the music from the first stage being used in Kirby 64, and the music used in one of the Sand Canyon levels has gotten a few remixes as well, with one showing up in Planet Robobot, which I feel was a much better version. And while it has been surpassed by other games' final bosses, I will admit that this game's final boss did have a huge and obvious impact on the rest of the series, both in terms of lore and in giving us all nightmares, so that's something this game has going for it.
Yet, despite that, as well as having a decent music and looking pretty good, Kirby's Dream Land 3 is still often forgotten by a lot of fans, and is often compared unfavorably to Kirby Super Star, something that I think is incredibly unfair, as hypocritical as that may sound coming from a guy who just ragged on this game. So why is that? Honestly, while I think it's easy to just say it came out late in the Super Nintendo's life, I don't think it's entirely that.
Like yes, it being released a full year after the Nintendo 64 launched didn't help, but I would argue that there were other games that came out before, around or after a system launched, such as the StarTropics games for the NES, or Yoshi's Island and even Kirby Super Star a year before Kirby's Dream Land 3 on the Super Nintendo. Heck, both Kirby 64 and the original Paper Mario came out before the Gamecube launched and those are considered some of the best games on the Nintendo 64. My point is that it's not the time that it was released that caused the game to fall into the ether, so then what could it be? Honestly, I think it's a combination of it being released late into the system's life and it coming out after Kirby Super Star, as well as compared to the rest of the series.
I know I just said earlier that it was unfair to compare Super Star to Dream Land 3, mostly because they were done by two different teams and were going for very different things.....having said that, it's really hard not to talk about the former just because of how influential it was to the rest of the series, like including directional inputs that lead to complex gameplay if people want to get into it but don't necessarily have to, kind of like Super Smash Bros. And yes, while that gameplay style may not be for everybody, there's no denying that the game had a huge impact on the rest of the series in ways that are still being felt today. But suppose you don't like the Super Star style, which is totally fair, and want something in the vein of Dream Land 3? Well, you don't have much to work with except Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, but considering how amazing that game is and does its concept a lot better than Dream Land 3, I feel that's the one I would find myself recommending more.
It's not like Kirby's Dream Land 3 doesn't have any merit, but compared to the rest of the series, it does feel like an overall step back compared to a lot of games in the series, which shows that even franchises like Kirby still have a few bumps on the road and that not every game is perfect.
.....I think it's safe to say I wasn't the biggest fan of Kirby's Dream Land 3, so the answer to the first question is a resounding no. As for whether it deserves better? As much as I didn't like it, part of me still wants to say yes......but I'm ultimately going to say no.
Kirby's Dream Land 3 isn't a terrible, god awful game or anything. In fact, it's not the worst game I covered on here or plan to cover, and of all the "bad" games I've played over the years, it's one of the better ones, for what it's worth. But even with all of that, and some of the things that it did do for the series, I can't imagine a timeline where Kirby's Dream Land 3 isn't at best a high D grade. The animal friends don't work, the levels are boring with uninteresting and repetitive missions, and a lot of what made Kirby work in past games is either gone or neutured. I remember wanting to own this game as a kid when I rented it once, but after playing through it a few times, I seriously don't know why I did. Not the worst thing in the world, but I'd say stick to Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards if you're a fan of this gameplay.
So yeah, this took a lot longer to do than I wanted (2022 has been busy for me), but it does feel good to be back. Hopefully, the next one I look at it is a lot better than this.