Posted By Robert H. about 10 months, 1 week ago
While the Nintendo 64 is known for a great many features, one of the most conspicuous is the extensive library of well-designed platformers the system accumulated over the years. From the classic Super Mario 64 to the immensely fun Banjo-Tooie, the console was never lacking in that particular department. However, due to the large amount of options to choose from, it was almost inevitable that some deserving games were glossed over in favor of higher profile works. I believe one such game to be Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, the pink puffball’s only adventure on the N64. While not the most challenging or well-designed game I’ve found in the genre, Kirby 64 definitely deserves more accolades than it has received, at least from what I’ve seen. Most worlds could give an adequate demonstration of the aspects that make the game good, but I find the best example, and, indeed, the level that outshines all the others, to be Shiver Star.
From the name alone, it’s easy to see the basic idea for this particular set of levels. However, despite the obvious mechanic at play, the usage of a mostly ice-based area was a good choice from a gameplay perspective. To defeat the numerous enemies that stand in the way, Kirby has to use his signature copy ability to take whatever powers he needs. However, considering the power combination aspect of Kirby 64, the amount of options was much higher than normal as any two powers could be smashed together to make a new one. Trying out the different fusions was entertaining on its own and the designers placed a varied gamut of baddies in Kirby’s path to give the player a chance to try out a good majority of them, except for those that involved Ice.
Due to barely any of the environments beforehand being particularly suitable for snow or ice, enemies of that type were quite rare. Shiver Star gave the designers an opportunity to throw in as many ice-based enemies as needed; an advantage they used to the fullest. Enemies of all types mixed in with copious amounts of ice-powered adversaries gave the player the capability to test every combination possible involving the rare power. While not every power including the element was particularly spectacular, the designers made sure that the player had the opportunity to discover and judge every power for themselves, using Shiver Star to cover the most likely gaps.
Despite the ice theme the planet has, the levels, like those of the other stars, are not all based on the same gimmick. While one level is the classic snowy expanse full of enemies, frozen lakes, and other expected environments, the others don’t follow the same convention. Instead, there is a level in the clouds, a trek through a mall, and a delve into a factory. Even with these differences, the planet still maintains a good sense of cohesion and the varying stages flow into one another naturally. While the snowfield, cloudy climb, and mall are good stages in their own right, I’d like to bring special attention to the last of the bunch for its especially excellent design.
The factory has a very offbeat tone compared to the rest of the game up to this point. Whereas most stages give off the generally cheerful theme of the Kirby series, the factory feels far darker and more serious than any before it. Being one of the longer levels, it accordingly has a greater opportunity to present itself to the player, and does so very clearly. From the mechanical sounding theme that begins drumming from the first step inside to the odd creatures kept in tubes seen in the backgrounds of a couple sections, the contrasting nature of the factory is displayed prominently, invoking interest. The numerous memorable traps throughout also bolster the impact the stage imparts as, again, no other area is arranged quite like this one. For example, the standard rising and falling ceiling can be used to far greater effect than normal due to its dislocated context in a Kirby game, although the designers still manage to make it fit. All in all, while Shiver Star may be my favorite group of levels, I would pinpoint the factory as my number one of the bunch.