While best loved for their cute and joyous platforming games, Kirby is no stranger to spin-offs. Early Gameboy titles such as 1993’s Kirby Pinball Land and 1995’s Kirby Block Ball demonstrated that the series was not above lending its characters to other genres. Kirby’s Dream Course came out in 1995 on the Super Nintendo, but its inclusion on the recent Snes Mini is where I suspect many people will get to try it for the first time. The game is essentially a strange variation on gold or mini-golf: Kirby is the ball, but before disappearing down the hole you need to roll through as many stars on the course as possible. Familiar Kirby enemies, and accompanying power-ups, are also in the mix. The single-player mode sees Kirby lose health with each shot, essentially limited your attempts unless you manage to recover health. Single player is a worthwhile and engaging challenge – and it can definitely be challenging – but the game is the most fun when playing the VS mode.
Screen shots are not a huge amount of help here – its not immediately clear what is going on. The game is played from an isometric perspective and changes in height play a significant factor in the gameplay. I found the plain checkerboard pattern and the general confusing appearance one of the most off-putting factors on the game. Like many of the most unique twists on sports games, though, the gameplay is something special. The different objectives of hitting each star, and turning it to the colour of your Kirby, and making it down the hole make things surprisingly frantic. A few skillful (or lucky) shots for your opponent and the stars you’d be spending the match nabbing can quickly become meaningless. It makes for surprising reversals, and keeps each match highly motivating – if you manage to grab all the stars and make it down the hole first you can get a decent lead, or recover a lot of lost ground.
It may sound like the type of game that can quickly become frustrating, and there may be some truth in that – it’s not a game I’d want to devote an entire evening to. That’s what’s so perfect about its inclusion on the Snes Mini: you can quickly duck into Dream Course and play a few rounds, before bouncing back on to Mario Kart, Street Fighter II or one-of the console’s other multiplayer gems. The game’s major asset though, and why it never quite stops being fun, is the same charm and polish that make Kirby’s platform outings so enjoyable. The distinctive cute graphics and the music make a strong contribution as to why this is one of the Snes Mini’s, and the Super Nintendo’s, lesser-known classics.