kirby’s dream land

In Honor of Satoru Iwata, Not Consumerist Fantasy

by Jed Pressgrove

Nintendo President Satoru Iwata is dead. When you look at his history as a developer, executive, and, most importantly, a joyful man, it’s no surprise that perfect strangers have felt intense sadness in the days after his death.

Both Iwata’s amiability and cause of death (cancer) make it difficult to be critical in assessing his impact on video games. Yet it’s important to celebrate what Iwata did versus what some people want him to represent as part of a consumerist fantasy.

Iwata’s passing presents an opportunity to reflect on the role of his enthusiasm and vision in Kirby’s Dream Land, often dismissed as too simple by critics who overlook the elation and originality in the game’s marriage of platforming and storybook appeal. Unfortunately, this artistic milestone hasn’t received as much attention as Iwata’s supposed creation of a “gamer” world. While I have no problem with the term “gamer” by itself, the word has been and will continue to be used to patronize audiences, as in Chris Kohler’s article “Thanks to Nintendo’s Satoru Iwata, We’re All Gamers Now.” Kohler describes Iwata’s legacy as “bringing them [games] to everyone” within the last decade, yet he can only support this notion with a nonexistent scenario: “[T]he perception that games as a medium are not ‘for’ any particular gender or age of person is gone, thanks in great part to Iwata’s pursuit of game hardware that would weaken such barriers and software that would tear them down entirely.”

The suggestion that video games no longer have any possible negative connotations in terms of gender and age is ludicrous, but the bigger problem lies in dollar-sign logic. Intentionally or not, the basis of Kohler’s eulogy has more to do with his belief in Nintendo product than it does with Iwata’s influence. Overstating the effects of Nintendo marketing is different than acknowledging Iwata’s vision for an inclusive gaming mainstream.

Iwata used “gamer” in a context much more articulate than unofficial members of the conservative and progressive gaming parties are likely to admit: “On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer.” Iwata’s comment is remarkable not only in its admittance of his privilege but also in its separation of the corporate and the personal. His perspective should inspire us to reconsider “gamer” as an internal conviction rather than as a marker of consumptive standing. If we can’t see the humanity in Iwata’s phrasing or in Kirby’s Dream Land and EarthBound, what’s the point of remembering him?

Kirby’s Dream Land: A Review on Joy and Entitlement

In an era when people expect franchise games to overflow with content and mechanics (especially before downloadable content), Kirby’s Dream Land is an enigma. Critics have held and may continue to hold the game’s simplicity against it. As a certified gaming mascot, Kirby is expected to gain powers from his enemies, so Kirby’s Dream Land is often deemed a prototype, too basic. But this line of thinking denies the revelation of original creative design. From a historical standpoint, the Game Boy title is, quite frankly, stunning.

A game like Kirby’s Dream Land should be taken in slowly, as it is a delicacy whose every facet was designed with precision, care, and what appears to be joy. A normal playthrough is indeed short and easy, but the game presents immaculate creations with the enemy design, the level variety, the little cartoons between levels, the cheerful music, and the shockingly beautiful ending that ranks above almost any other in gaming.

Ideally, game critics would recognize Dream Land as a standard (not as a relic), but many of them are too busy brainwashing gamers with marketing slogans. Some critics excuse their own lack of conviction by preaching against “gamer entitlement,” a toothless euphemism that leaves critics sitting innocent as they continue to encourage outlandish expectations through their fixation on console wars, powerful graphics, features, mechanics, and superfluous Game of the Year awards.

Critics and gamers should try breezing through the Extra Mode in Kirby’s Dream Land and reconsider their default stances. In Extra Mode, the game sets you up for destruction, forcing you to master the deceptively simple mechanics. Kirby’s lack of speed and special powers requires you to be cunning and skillful, especially as you get deeper into the challenges you had already overcome. (The superior art and mood of Kirby’s Dream Land make the second quests in Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda look downright pointless.)

Kirby’s Dream Land is the rare game that seamlessly blends artistry and design in a way that can appeal to gamers of numerous backgrounds. Its place in video game history deserves to be cemented, if not for the sake of its greatness, then for the sake of the gaming community’s sanity as consumers: unlike countless games after it, Kirby’s Dream Land has zero fluff despite the appearance of its hero.