Is it possible for anyone to not love Kirby? This little ball of joy has been with us since the NES, charming us with his cute design, lighthearted stories, and stress-free gameplay. Over the years Kirby has become one of Nintendo’s most beloved characters, nearly as recognizable as Mario or Link. He’s quietly amassed a dedicated audience of fans through the decades and is one of the few franchises to go on for so long with such a strong track record of games. Sure, some modern gamers may look at his titles and think they’re just for kids, but the joy of a Kirby game is one that people of all ages can enjoy.
Whether he’s in his natural form or made of yarn, 2D or 3D, Kirby has established a formula and tone for his games that make them reliably great. There are some more experimental titles in his mainline games, for better and for worse, but on the whole, there’s hardly any Kirby game you can pick up and not smile your way through from beginning to end. Looking at Kirby’s entire catalog of games is a little overwhelming, even when you cut out his spinoff titles, and deciding which are the best is even more difficult. Here’s our best attempt to go through all the best Kirby games and rank them from best to worst.
No offense to games like Kirby Air Ride or Kirby’s Dream Course, which are two fantastic games, but we’ve already got over a dozen games in the mainline series to rank, and we’d be here all day if we included spinoffs, so we’ll leave those for another day. We’ll also only count one version for each game if it was updated with a remake.
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It was way harder than we anticipated to pick a best Kirby game, but in the end, we had to land on Kirby Super Star Ultra. This game is just too packed with awesome content to ignore, plus it’s arguably the best Kirby has ever looked in sprite form. This SNES classic came packed with nine games, which might raise some red flags when you think of other “compilation” type games, but every single game in Kirby Super Star feels like a fully realized game. Then, years later on the DS, Kirby Super Star Ultra came out and nearly doubled the number of games to 16 and somehow maintained that same level of quality of the original nine.
Just putting this game on a handheld would’ve probably been enough to justify a second purchase, but all that extra content just pushes Kirby Super Star Ultra into a league of its own. This game has all the classics, like the Great Cave Offensive, Helper to Hero, and the more traditional adventure of Spring Breeze that acts as a kind of remake of Kirby’s Dreamland. This collection proves that Kirby’s ability to adapt goes beyond just his signature move of absorbing powers from enemies. There’s just nothing to complain about regarding this collection. It is everything we love about Kirby in one massive package.
While this may seem like an odd pick to have so high up on the ranking, the gimmick of Kirby piloting a mech turned out to be a fantastic idea. Kirby: Planet Robobot was a 3DS title that is a spiritual successor to Kirby: Tripple Deluxe (more on that game later), as well as to the 3D nature of the handheld incorporating movement between the foreground and background. What saves this game from straying too far from what makes Kirby, well, Kirby is the fact that his new robot armor doesn’t replace or remove his ability to copy abilities. Instead, it builds upon them by adding new functions to the robot.
Of all the Kirby games, few make you feel as unstoppable as you do in Kirby: Planet Robobot. The mech is borderline overpowered most of the time, which may be a negative to some, but that doesn’t diminish the creative and delightful levels you will explore or the surprisingly epic adventure Kirby is on. He’s on a mission to stop an evil corporation from draining a planet of its resources and transforming all native life into robots at once. This leads to some awesomely scaled and designed boss encounters that occasionally put a twist on some established formulas from the past. The game doesn’t overstay its welcome, and never lets up on giving you new things to do.
Another updated re-release, this time of Kirby’s debut on home consoles in Kirby’s Adventure. This NES classic was the first time we saw the pink puff ball on home consoles and learned that he was, in fact, pink. Building off the basic platforming adventure he began with on the original GameBoy, Kirby’s Adventure was the first time Kirby was shown off with his iconic ability to inhale and copy the powers of his enemies. Prior to this, he was only able to inhale and spit out his foes as projectiles, which was unique enough at the time, but this game was where Kirby really became who he is today.
Years later, the team once again saw a chance to update Kirby’s console adventure, only now bringing it full circle and back to handheld on the GBA. Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland remains one of the tightest, most pure platforming games on the market. For Kirby fans, all the best ideas are here, from iconic stages, enemies, and bosses that would become staples for decades. Plus, this updated release did more than just port the original and give it a bit of a graphical boost. It also added a co-op mode and alternate color options for your happy little hero. If you want the most pure, unfiltered Kirby experience, Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland is it, full stop.
Kirby’s main console games had all taken some interesting twists in their design up until the Switch came out. Here, the team decided to go back to the winning formula and give us Kirby Star Allies. This game puts Kirby back in his classic art style, foregoes any gimmicks, and just tries to be a new version of Kirby’s most traditional adventures. And you know what? That turned out to be exactly what fans wanted. As it turned out, giving us a Kirby game with the best visuals we’d seen yet, a wide range of powers to copy and obliterate enemies, and even some parts of the environment with new co-op systems is all they needed to do.
Sure, some purists who play every Kirby game might find it a little too formulaic and easy, but Kirby Star Allies is undeniably a solid experience. There’s no way to argue that the majority of the game isn’t on the easy side, but there’s plenty of post-game content that does bump up the challenge and add a bunch of extra content to go through. The new ability to turn enemies into friends is a great way to keep more powers available to you as you play or bring in some real friends for multiplayer fun. All in all, Kirby Star Allies is a mostly relaxed game that, if you get into the groove with, is another joyful time with your smiling pink friend.
What if Kirby — but yarn? Whoever thought up that concept deserves some kind of award, because transforming Kirby, and the entire world around him, into yarn was a stroke of genius rivaling that of the steam engine. Now, let’s get one thing clear here. Kirby is cute. He’s, as we’ve called him many times already, just a puff ball of boy. Now, Kirby made of yarn is almost too adorable. Kirby’s Epic Yarn was the first of this hand-crafted art style that Nintendo would use a few more times, but they nailed it right from the start with this game. Never before has a game just oozed with such happiness and feelings of childlike wonder.
Kirby also uses this new yarn aesthetic in his gameplay. Instead of wearing new costumes to denote his new powers, Kirby’s body simply reshapes into new things like rocket ships and cars. He could also now manipulate the world just like a decorated set, scrunching up parts of the level for platforming and puzzle-solving. From the outside, Kirby always was a game for kids, and Kirby’s Epic Yarn was by no means going to change anyone’s mind about that — but that’s just not true. Yes, kids will love it, but anyone with a heart will be smitten by this game’s charm. Again, a challenge isn’t the draw here; it’s more about the adventure and the vibes.
Also released on the Wii, Kirby’s Return to Dream Land is intentionally meant to be reminiscent of, well, the Dream Land sub-series of Kirby games. This was kind of the equivalent of the New Super Mario Bros. titles for Mario, only for Kirby. By that, we mean it gave Kirby a decent graphical upgrade, at least as far as the Wii could push things, and added in up to four-player co-op, but was otherwise meant to be an iteration of Kirby’s original gameplay rather than a reinvention. Again, Kirby’s solid systems show that as long as the levels are appealing, the powers you can suck up are fun and different, and controls are polished, you’ll be in for a great time.
However, at this point in 2011, it was starting to become clear that Kirby wouldn’t be drawing in a ton of new fans just by sticking to his basics, as solid as those were. Fans would be glad to have another entry of Kirby doing what he does best, plus some co-op to extend the life of the game, but anyone on the outside probably just saw this as “another Kirby game” and brushed it off. But, just like Kirby himself, looks can be deceiving. There’s a lot of game here, plenty of creativity on display, and lots of throwbacks to the Dream Land games that fans will love discovering. Plus, being the first console Kirby game in over a decade, we were hungry for a big-scale adventure.
We all know Kirby is able to stretch his wings into new territory with his games and, so long as the core remains in tact, still hit the target for a great time. Kirby and the Amazing Mirror is an early example of just that for the GBA. While his adventures up to this point had been strictly linear adventures, Kirby and the Amazing Mirror decided to take a chance on becoming a light Metroidvania-style game in which you explore a single, massive world that is completely connected. You will even find points where you will want to go back to explored areas later on. The main flaw, though, is that unlike the best Metroidvania games, the map system here isn’t quite up to the task of making navigating easy.
As you explore, find new abilities, and unlock new sections of the map in Kirby’s quest to collect the broken pieces of a magical mirror, you will also get new content like mini-games and bonuses for your trouble. This game also encouraged co-op play but didn’t require it by any means. Again taking a cue from another Nintendo property, Kirby and the Amazing Mirror is somewhat like the co-op Zelda titles where four different colored Links can play together. This time, you have four Kirbys you can either team up with, or if you’re playing alone, simply swap between. Each Kirby has their own ability you’ll need, feeding into the Metroidvania style of game it’s going for.
The DS won’t be the last time we see a Kirby game held back by a controller gimmick, but it also isn’t the worst. Kirby: Canvas Curse is all about using the stylus to draw pathways for a legless Kirby to roll along to reach the end of each stage. This idea could’ve so easily turned out to be a disaster, or even just a disappointingly shallow experience, but thanks to an abundance of ways you can use the rainbow paths you draw, it still manages to be a fun game. While it is somewhat frustrating that you can’t actually control Kirby directly, you aren’t so limited, and the challenge is never too taxing that it actually gets annoying.
Your rainbow ramps could do more than just provide Kirby a slope to roll down, but also go up, loop, and even protect him from enemies. Unfortunately, while this game was novel when it came out since both the DS and touchscreen controls, in general, were relatively new, it doesn’t hold up so well in modern times. Even the art style isn’t all that special, going for something that is between Kirby’s traditional look and a water-colored aesthetic that, while by no means bad, just isn’t all that unique.
Moving up to the 3DS, the new gimmick that needed showing off was the 3D aspect of the system. So, what did Nintendo do? They called in Kirby to show off this new layer of depth in Kirby: Triple Deluxe. The majority of the game was as you’d hope, with Kirby doing his usual platforming, collectible hunting, ability copying, and boss fighting, only with the inclusion of a new ability to jump between the foreground and background. The main issues with this game stem from that new power. It’s just too strong in a game that’s already easier than most Kirby games. Knowing how easy the franchise is in general, getting more ways to dispatch enemies without tuning the game for it is just too much.
That’s kind of Kirby: Triple Deluxe summed up. It’s too easy, to the point of being boring. Nothing pushes back on you, not even if you’re hunting down all the collectibles. Switching between layers just wipes out almost any enemy unlucky enough to be on screen, and the levels themselves aren’t anything new or even creative takes on things we’ve seen before. It just kind of happens and then it’s over. Unless it’s your first Kirby game, Kirby: Triple Deluxe just won’t draw you to play more Kirby. It isn’t bad, but compared to the rest of his games, an average Kirby game feels like a disappointment.
Going all the way back to our little pink pal’s first adventure, we have this Game Boy classic to thank for bringing this ball of joy to the world. Kirby’s Dreamland set the tone for all Kirby games to follow, as well as many locals, characters, and mechanics that are still used today. This is where we first set foot in Green Greens and heard that amazing tune that has become synonymous with the series, and where we first fought a giant tree with a face called Whispy Woods. But, like every first iteration on a new character, this is Kirby at his most basic.
For an original Game Boy title, Kirby’s Dreamland had to be a pretty simple adventure. Perhaps that’s to thank for Kirby games adopting a more casual playstyle, but here he wasn’t even able to utilize his ability to copy enemy abilities just yet. Still, for a handheld game, the simple designs looked amazing for the time, though color is really the major component missing. You can blow through the game’s five stages in an afternoon if you know what you’re doing, though the hard mode is a welcome reason to play again. In the end, there’s not much reason to return to Dreamland (get it?) if you don’t have any nostalgia for it. Kirby has only evolved from this humble handheld origin game.
Can you guess which console Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards came out on? Yes, this was Kirby’s only entry on the N64 but was the first time we saw him in full 3D glory outside of Smash Bros. Still, the team didn’t try and completely reinvent Kirby just because they had the new hardware to do it, as Nintendo did with Mario 64. Instead, Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards utilized full 3D models but kept the gameplay running on a 2D plane, though with far more dynamic paths and camera angles. The levels on display covered a full solar system of variety, with brand new music tracks and a story to create a fresh experience.
What Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards did to really incentivize gamers to play and replay this title was to double down, literally, on Kirby’s copy ability. In this game, you could not only copy any enemy’s power but also combine them with either the same or any other power for new effects. You could, for example, combine the Cutter and Burner abilities to make Sword of Fire, or combine Spark and Needle for Lighting Rod. The number of options felt endless and made experimentation so satisfying. It’s just a shame the levels themselves didn’t really require much thought, and there wasn’t really much more calling you back to play through the adventure more than once.
This game is one of those odd cases of a new game coming out for a system after the next generation of consoles has already released. In this case, Kirby’s Dream Land 3 was put out on the SNES when the N64 was already out and showing off all those sharp (literally) 3D models. That probably led to many people never playing this third adventure through Dream Land, which is somewhat of a shame, but also not the biggest loss. On one hand, it is a beautiful game, and arguably the best Kirby has ever looked in a pixel art style. On the other, it is almost too faithful to the Kirby formula that was established.
The new features are very minimal here. There’s a two-player mode featuring Gooey back from Kirby’s Dream Land 2, as well as around twice as many animal companions as that last game. Of course, there are always going to be a few new abilities Kirby can copy, but in terms of mechanics, this is pure Kirby. And yeah, that’s about the harshest criticism anyone can give this game. It is by no means bad, in fact even this far down the list it’s still really good, and yet when pitted against his other, more ambitious entries, Kirby’s Dream Land 3 just doesn’t stick out for much more than being a beautiful, solid Kirby game.
Poor old Kirby’s Dream Land 2 deserved better. Similar to Kirby’s Dream Land 3, this game came out very late in the Game Boy’s life, which on one hand is a benefit since they were able to squeeze just about as much out of the machine as possible, but more detrimental considering how little power there is in the first place. Plus, we already saw Kirby on a full-scale home console game, so jumping back to an underpowered handheld title felt like a big downgrade for our pink pal. If it had come out right after Kirby’s Dream Land, or if you were just comparing the two in a vacuum, Kirby’s Dream Land 2 is a clear winner. In context, however, it just can’t shake off the limitations of the hardware.
Aside from incorporating everything the NES game gave him, Kirby’s Dream Land 2 also introduced the concept of animal friends who could also use Kirby’s powers in different ways as well. You got Rick the hamster to ride, Coo the owl to introduce new flying levels, and even Kine the fish for underwater stages. The level design is another high mark for this game. It was the first game to introduce multiple exits for more replay value. We just wish this had been given more power than the Game Boy, but considering it’s one of the bestselling games for the system, maybe we’re being too harsh.
Following up on Kirby: Canvas Curse, the WiiU was poised to improve upon that gameplay formula with Kirby and the Rainbow Curse. It didn’t. Instead, this new gimmicky style Kirby game just doubled down on what was the least special about Kirby: Canvas Curse but added in the awkward utilization of playing on the touchpad and the TV simultaneously. What’s possibly worse, though, is that unlike in Canvas Curse, Kirby can’t even copy abilities in Kirby and the Rainbow Curse. That extra step removed from actually having some type of control or mode of interaction aside from just drawing lines really hurt this title.
On the positive side, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse does look really nice. The game takes a different approach to the style Nintendo had been experimenting with ever since Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Yoshi’s Woolie World, but this time trying out a more clay model art style. The result is, as expected, an instantly pleasing and inviting game to look at. Had this style been used for another game that played like a traditional Kirby, we’d be all for it. As it is, though, this console title feels way too much like a handheld experience. This game just doesn’t give us what we want from a Kirby game.
On paper, more Kirbys would just equal more fun, right? Well, unfortunately, Kirby Mass Attack proved that idea wrong when it divided our lovable hero up into 10 pieces. You will be charged with somehow managing to control this near dozen pack of pink platformers with the DS’ stylus and controls all at once. The result is another game, somewhat like Kirby: Canvas Curse and Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, where you’re not as much in control of Kirby as you are trying to herd this mass of chaos in the right direction. What’s worse, is that if you happen to lose track of too many Kirbys before the end of the stage, which is easier than you think, you will have to go back and collect them before you can actually move forward.
Combat here can be interesting but again feels more like a different game like one of the Pikmin titles. Using the stylus, you fling Kirbys towards enemies to attack rather than taking direct control. This sometimes works well, but is too easily imprecise and becomes a chore to corral your Kirbys where you want them and when. It also makes much of the platforming a drag and doesn’t lead to enough creative uses that make you think or strategize all that much. Another interesting, and on paper potentially charming, idea for Kirby, but one we’re glad wasn’t revisited.
Finally, we come to our pick for the weakest of the mainline Kirby games. Kirby Squeak Squad is yet another outing on the DS for Kirby, and this time developed by Capcom, Natsume, and Flagship. Along with the primary series developer, HAL, this many cooks probably spoiled the broth on this adventure. Kirby Squeak Squad has probably the most disappointing amount of abilities to copy, which made the added feature of being able to store copied abilities for later, something that we’d love to see in more feature-rich titles, underwhelming. The levels were linear and posed almost no pushback on the player.
We’ve called plenty of Kirby games up to this point “more of the same” in terms of just being solid titles, but Kirby Squeak Squad is almost a step backward. It would fall into that camp of being a middling Kirby game, but the lack of powers, variety, or challenge in levels, and just general lack of imagination, makes it a disappointment. It might seem like we’re being hypocritical because of how low we ranked the Kirby games that used gimmicks, but this DS entry didn’t even take advantage of the second screen for anything interesting. Kirby Squeak Squad is probably the most forgettable entry in the series, and with nothing in it worth revisiting it for, we’re fine with it fading away.
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