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While Kirby has starred in a few Nintendo DS games as of late, not to mention his appearance in the Gamecube racing title Kirby Air Ride, it's been quite a while since the pink puff has graced us with his presence in a console-based platform game. In fact, his last turn in a true adventure-style title was way back in the Nintendo 64 days, in Kirby 64 - The Crystal Shards. While Kirby fans continue to wait and hope for an upcoming Wii title starring everyone's favorite little pink walking vacuum cleaner, Nintendo has at least thrown us a bone by re-releasing The Crystal Shards as a Virtual Console download, and the game is as enjoyable as ever.
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The once-peaceful fairy-inhabited planet of Ripple Star has been invaded by the sinister Dark Matter, and its precious guardian crystal has been shattered into fragments. It just so happens that one of the fairies and one of the crystal fragments have both wound up on Pop Star, Kirby's home planet. Being the cheerful, innocent, trusting and helpful sort, Kirby agrees to help the young fairy girl, whose name is Ribbon, retrieve the shards of the shattered crystal and stop Dark Matter. Along the ways, he must battle numerous foes, including eventual allies Waddle Dee, King Dedede and Adeline while all three are possessed by Dark Matter, and put his hunger powers to good use in order to save the day. There's no real writing to speak of in this game; nearly the entire story plays out via silent story sequences, which is especially good for younger gamers and not particularly bothersome for older ones as well. Assuming the developers intention was to go for cute, I'd say they definitely succeeded.
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Kirby 64 - The Crystal Shards is a side-scrolling adventure game with a generous portion of platforming thrown in for good measure. Most of the game is in 2D, though some of the boss fights take place in 3D. The controls are pretty simple, and gamers can opt to use either the Classic Controller or the Gamecube one to play the game. The control stick is used to move, one button is used to suck up enemies, another to jump and another to pop out an item or enemy you've already sucked up in order to throw it at another creature. Pushing down on the stick also causes you to swallow whatever you've inhaled. Nothing new there, since Kirby has always been able to suck up items to gain powers, but this title marked the first time he could combine two different types to create different effects. For example, combining fire and boomerang gets you a fire sword, mixing two rock powers turns you into a giant stone lumbering Kirby, while bomb and rock creates dynamite and ice and electricity turn you into a fridge, which can be used both as a weapon and to create healing food items. You'll need these powers to find all of the hidden crystal shards, which is the only way to gain access to the game's final level and the true final boss fight.
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Of course, Kirby isn't going it alone this time. His allies are sometimes there to lend a helping hand. In some levels, Kirby will ride on the back of King Dedede as the player controls him, attacking enemies and smashing obstacles with him hammer. Waddle Dee helps you along by using sleds and other vehicles, while Adeline the artist will paint 1ups or healing items for you to use, and will occasionally help out with solving a puzzle. At the end of each level, you wind up in a picnic area, where you need to make Kirby jump and land on an item, which could be a health-power up, an extra life, a special collector's card which shows you information about the enemies and bosses. On the whole, simply getting from the start of the levels to the end isn't all that difficult, though some of the boss fights can be challenging (the shark in the third level comes to mind). The real trick, however, is finding the right combination of Kirby powers to uncover all of the hidden shards, and managing to keep the right Kirby power until the right time, which means not getting killed. To top it all off, there are a trio of minigames for up to four players, including a 100-Yard Hop race and a game called Bumper Crop Bump where you must catch falling fruit in a basket. They're not the deepest diversions in the world, but they are mildly amusing.
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Graphics and Sound
The Virtual Console version of Kirby 64 - The Crystal Shards has definitely received an upgrade from the far grainier looking N64 original. That said, the N64 was never a graphics powerhouse. This game couldn't complete with high-end PS1 titles then and it can't now. It does, however, have a certain charm, thanks to the colorful and stylized graphics. Likewise, the sound isn't CD quality, but the sound effects and the extremely limited voice work fit nicely considering this is a game starring an adorable little pink puff with a voracious appetite. The music is cheery and bouncy, and definitely addictive. On more than one occasion I caught myself bobbing my head along with the boss fight music. On the whole, it's a pretty average effort, but it gets the job done.
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Kirby games aren’t the deepest, most epic or most visually impressive titles out there, and The Crystal Shards is no exception. Nonetheless, they do tend to be cute, simple, relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable, and once again, The Crystal Shards is no exception. It's a tad short and a little on the easy side, though finding all of the shards can become irritating at times. Still, considering it costs a mere 1000 points ($10.00) to download, and especially in light of the enhanced graphics found in the Virtual Console version, Kirby 64 - The Crystal Shards is an easy game to recommend to platform gaming fans, those with young children, and especially those eagerly anticipating the upcoming Kirby game for the Wii -- assuming those rumors are true, of course. We can only hope!