Kirby is an odd character. No, we don't mean by the way he looks (though applicable), but he seems to be that second tier Nintendo character that is often overlooked. Well, overlooked is not the best choice of word perhaps, but compared to the love frenzy generated by Mario or Link, the little guy sits out of the direct spotlight. Unfortunately these days he's sitting out far too often, never being able to hit a gaming stride past the 16-bit era. Apart from the Super Smash Bros. series, an upcoming Wii title that might bring him back to form and many spin-off titles, Kirby has been relegated to continuing his main platforming existence on the hand-held market, amusingly where he was first born on the Gameboy in 1992.
But we were excited when we heard a new Kirby was on the way for the DS; the perfect place to live out golden 2D gameplay of the past in new ways. However, it's not entirely a fresh adventure because Kirby Super Star Ultra is a port of the Super NES title by the same name (minus the Ultra). Being the pinnacle platforming Kirby experience over some 10 years ago, Super Star was good for its time, but is now more an enjoyable romp, not standing nearly as strong as it did those years back.
Firstly, the game isn't a port, but more of a remake. Developers Hal Laboratory have to be at least commended on this because Ultra includes extra bonuses, new CGI cut scenes and the biggest of all, revamped visuals. It would of been easier to just directly port the 1996 title, but the extra effort on generating a new presentation on the DS is appreciated. Not much else has really changed though and you'll start with a collection of smaller games, unlocking more as you progress. Each one has it's own levels, storyline and a few changes in concept, but they all follow the basic fundamentals of Kirby who has the ability to steal enemy powers and use them against them.
And there are plenty of powers to steal here, more so than other Kirby titles. There's a great mixture to play with and they help keep things interesting. The popular 'create a helper' feature is back as expected in the remake, allowing the computer or second player to control allied minions to fight along side Kirby. This essentially allows for full two player co-op. They can be crafted from any of the powers absorbed, helping the main player through the series of games included in the package.
In total, there are five main games making the bulk of the content with a few extras here and there to play through. You start of with the easiest 'Spring Breeze,' a remake of the original Kirby's Dream Land game and as the name suggests, any seasoned gamer will find it a cake walk. Indeed in typical Kirby fashion, Ultra is quite easy, with only the occasional boss fight providing any real challenge. Kirby himself can take quite a beating and there is always an abundance of healing snacks littered around the levels. Even as you unlock the later games such as 'MetaKnight's Revenge,' which sees Kirby assaulting arch-rival MetaKnight aboard his flying airship, unless you are new to 2D sidescrolling gameplay you will blow through the levels in Ultra quite fast. In saying that, it is harder than last DS title Squeak Squad, but you get the obvious feeling the game makes a better match difficulty wise with younger children or the girlfriend.
Don't completely fret if you believe you are a particularly skilled gamer. There are still a few elements which help prolong both the game and challenge. Indiana Jones inspired game 'The Great Cave Offensive' has up to 60 hidden treasure chests to find, some which are quite devious to locate or require some fast reflexes. Then there's the unlockable 'Arena,' which forces Kirby through continuous boss battles requiring some skill. It's frustrating at times that Ultra has no difficulty settings, made more so that it would of been a nice extra being a remake and given it something to stand out from the past series titles. Frustration continues when you unlock a few additional levels only found in this DS version, which are generally harder than the original content, teasing you briefly in how something like a hard setting could of been implemented.
The key problem although is Ultra has a very 'been there, done that' type feeling, which is only accentuated by the fact that it's a remake of one of the more popular Kirby titles. Even if you haven't but have dabbled in the previous DS title or the Gameboy Advance ones, you'll feel that sense of deja vu as you play because their gameplay is modelled of Super Star's structure, albeit with prettier graphics.
Yet despite its ease of difficulty or treading familiar ground, Ultra is just is still just plain enjoyable, whether you're a gaming novice or a pro. It's easy to subconsciously overlook the game's minor flaws as you play because of the excellent overall presentation of the title and just have fun. This is helped by the new visuals which are beautiful to see in motion and really makes everything colourful and vibrant, making it stand out. The CGI cut scenes are a nice addition introducing each new game and the game controls very easily on the DS. The multiple game package also suits its self well on the DS, having a good 'play on the run' feel. All this combines to a fun package that is hard to put down at times.
Also included in the DS remake are a few touch based mini games which allow you to take a break from the pace of the main adventures, some allowing to be played with multiple people. For the most part they are tacked on, but do give you something and others to preoccupy yourselves with. To play the through the game cooperatively with another player as mentioned before will require two copies of the game, however you can play through the entire 'Spring Breeze' segment sharing just one cart, which is a nice touch and will help kill some time with a buddy.
Kirby Super Star Ultra is a bittersweet game. While much of the enjoyment still remains as being one of the most comprehensive Kirby titles ever, the fact that all this time later it's still the best is a little disappointing. Despite how good it is to be able to play Super Star on the run, you can't but wonder what they could of produced instead, perhaps even finally an entirely new title that could stood along the Super NES game. Overall it's a great package despite a few issues and is the best 2D Kirby available for your DS even after 10 years. Unfortunately this is also the same problem, when you ask yourself why it hasn't been replaced with something that could not only match its caliber but also improve upon it.