I’m Watch Da Birdie and this is the second installment of Underappreciated Video Game Characters, a reoccurring segment of my blog where I take a look at a minor character from a popular video game series who never got the love they deserve:
Today’s U.V.G.C. is Gooey from the Kirby series who made his debut in Kirby’s Dreamland 2 as a minor character followed by becoming the secondary player character in Kirby’s Dreamland 3 before disappearing off the face of the earth. Why did this happen? Well, this story involves two men that we have to talk about first…
This is Masahiro Sakurai, who probably needs no introduction—he’s the “Super Smash Bros. guy”, the man who’s either responsible for giving your favorite classic Nintendo character a boost in popularity or destroying their legacy. Sometimes he does this simultaneously, as could be argued for Captain Falcon’s portrayal post-Smash Bros. being heavily influenced by his fighting game role with his role as an F-Zero pilot basically serving as dressing for the memetic martial artist he’s become.
But before he became “the Super Smash Bros. guy” Sakurai was responsible for the creation of Kirby, one of Nintendo’s most memorable mascots. Despite being the creator of Kirby Sakurai isn’t as involved with the series as you might think, his only major contributions mainly occurring at the onset of the franchise as the director of the original Kirby’s Dream Land, the follow-up Kirby’s Adventure which established Kirby’s trademark pinkness and copy ability, Kirby Super Star, which many consider to be the height of the franchise, and the spin-off Kirby Air Ride, a game that ultimately led to Sakurai growing tired of the sequel-based industry and leaving HAL Laboratory. He contributed a bit to other Kirby games, such as lending his voice to Kirby 64 and helping direct the GBA remake of Kirby’s Adventure, but ultimately those first four games can be considered his career with Kirby.
And this is Shinichi Shimomura. He’s not as well known as Sakurai, but he’s just as important to the Kirby franchise as he served as the map designer for various games, Super Star included, before going on to direct the “Dark Matter Trilogy” of Kirby’s Dreamland 2, Kirby’s Dreamland 3, and Kirby 64. But I lied, because the Shinichi Shimomura pictured here is not OUR Shinichi Shimomura. He’s a different Shinichi Shimomura who opened up a company called PARK DESIGN in 2007. As far as I know there’s no picture of Nintendo’s Shinichi Shimomura anywhere online, and information on him is bizarrely sparse.
What happened to him? Well, for a while it was rumored he retired to become a park designer, the Shinichi Shimomura seen here, but the timeline doesn’t make sense as the online profile for this man lists his birth as 1976, meaning he would’ve been working for HAL Laboratory on Kirby’s Adventure when he was in High School. Unless this man has for some reason decided to completely hide any involvement with Kirby by lying about his date of birth, or he was secretly a child prodigy, this isn’t our Shinichi Shimomura.
The other popular rumor is that he died in 2003, explaining why he never was credited in any game ever again and everything he brought to the Kirby series—including Gooey—was more or less retired suddenly without any explanation. Speaking of which, what did Shinichi Shimomura bring to the table anyway? Well, let’s talk about the Kirby games he was mainly known for—the “Dark Matter Trilogy”.
The “Dark Matter Trilogy” is a fan moniker given to the trio of Kirby’s Dreamland 2, 3, and Kirby 64, all of which involve the dark space entity known as Dark Matter who repeatedly tries to take over Popstar, and later Ripple Star, by consuming it in darkness and possessing various characters such as King DeDeDe. Why it does this is unknown, its popularity probably stems from the fact it’s such an enigmatic villain and one could say it inspired future Kirby games to feature unsettling boss monsters in an otherwise saccharine series. Dark Matter itself hasn’t appeared since 64 in a major role, though other games have implied it may have lived on.
The first game in the series, Kirby’s Dreamland 2, was released for the Game Boy in 1995 and was Shimomura’s first role as Kirby’s director. From my understanding this title was an attempt to take Kirby back to his roots before re-inventing him for Super Star, and thus it’s a rather simple platformer with not a lot of flair. It’s not particularly difficult and Kirby only has seven primary Copy Abilities this time around to utilize. Furthermore said Copy Abilities only have one basic function as opposed to the movesets they’d later get in Super Star.
A way around this limited selection comes in the form of Animal Friends, which Kirby can ride. Each Animal Friend has its own passive ability, with Rick the Hamster running fast, Coo the Owl flying fast and allowing Kirby to inhale in the air, and Kine the Sunfish swimming fast and allowing Kirby to inhale in the water, thus making certain levels easier or harder depending on the Animal Friend you select. Furthermore when Kirby is riding an Animal Friend they change his currently Copy Ability to a different variation, and thus instead of seven measly Copy Abilities you technically have twenty-one.
Gooey makes his first appearance here though in an extremely minor role. If you already have the Animal Friend from a previous level that a room would normally give you, Gooey instead appears and heals you. Not much explanation is given about Gooey beyond the fact he’s a “good” piece of Dark Matter. On occasion a female Gooey will instead appear and give you a 1UP, but she’s not canon—she replaces a character from a Japanese-only game in the original.
The next game, Kirby Dreamland 3, wasn’t released till 1997 in American and then didn’t hit Japan till 1998—and everyone else didn’t get it till it was re-released on the Virtual Console in 2009. This game didn’t get a lot of love due to following up Super Star, and being released during the N64-era, and that’s a shame because it’s a very solid game and my personal favorite. It’s slower than Super Star, and isn’t as immediately as nice looking though graphically it’s pretty powerful for the Super Nintendo, plus it lacks the insane amount of Copy Abilities introduced in Super Star making it come across as a bit archaic.
On the other hand I enjoy the slower style a bit as I feel the game is a bit harder than Super Star, due to how Kirby is far more vulnerable and lacks the amount of tools available to him he had in Super Star, and going for the Heart Stars for 100% completion introduces a fair amount of challenge with some probably requiring a guide. I’m not a fan of the mini-games though, especially the one where you have to memorize a sound which I find extremely difficult, but otherwise I’d say give this game a shot if you have the Wii or Wii U.
Though Dreamland 3 only introduces one measly new power in the form of Clean involving Kirby using a broom—though to be honest I love this power and want it to return—there are three additional Animal Friends introduced in the form of Nago the Cat, Pitch the Bird, and Chuchu the Octopus(?). Nago can perform a triple-jump and rolls Kirby along like a ball, Pitch is a weak flyer but his small size leads to some pretty creative moves, and Chuchu sits atop Kirby like a hat and can hover as well as cling to ceilings. They’re just as fun as the original three and they introduce their own variations of Copy Abilities, giving the game a grand total of forty-eight variants. And many of them, while gimmicky, are quite fun to mess around with such as Pitch turning into an R.C. Plane and Chuchu flying on a broom like a witch.
The other big addition to Dreamland 3 is of course the topic of this post, Gooey! No longer a minor character Gooey was promoted to full-on playable status as either a CPU-controlled ally or Player 2. Gooey is near identical to Kirby except for the fact he can use his tongue instead of sucking in foes meaning he can eat enemies underwater unlike Kirby, though he can’t eat multiple foes. He has the same Copy Abilities as Kirby, and can pair up with Animal Friends, though with the latter only one character can at a time.
While the idea of Partners were introduced in Kirby Super Star, the gameplay was asymmetrical as the Partners didn’t have access to the same skills as Kirby and were ultimately under his control, able to be called away at an instant or changed into another form without their control. Gooey, on the other hand, introduces a neat form of symmetrical gameplay that feels like an early version of the co-op/competitive style that later Nintendo games would utilize where the second player can either be a helper or hindrance. He can summon himself from Kirby’s health, putting Kirby in a dangerous situation; he can steal Copy Abilities that Kirby was going after, or Animal Friends; he can ruin certain Heart Star objectives, and to call him back Kirby must chase him and devour him. There’s a certain amount of mischief to be have when playing as Gooey, and multiplayer in this game is a lot of fun. As I said before though the CPU can also control Gooey, but he comes across as a big hindrance most of the time and might not be worth it. You can repeatedly absorb him and summon him to keep your life bar at one bar infinitely as long as you don’t get hit while doing so, which is a fun little trick.
Oh, and there’s also Ado, the only humanoid character introduced like ever in the Kirby series and a fan favorite despite her (or his?) limited appearances. In Dreamland 3 he appears as a possessed boss who summons various enemies, some new, some classic, for Kirby to fight. Though this character only makes one more major appearance, the style of her fight would be re-used in other Kirby games with different bosses.
And finally the Dark Matter Trilogy ended with Kirby 64, Shimomura’s penultimate game (he was involved with the remake of Kirby’s Adventure for the GBA alongside Sakurai as co-director, but the full extent of his contribution is unclear) before seemingly disappearing off the face of the earth. Like Dreamland 3 it’s a slower and simpler game than Super Star, and only features seven Copy Abilities with one basic move apiece. Thankfully Kirby can now combine each power with another, doubling one power included, for a total of forty-nine variants and many of them are pretty creative such as “Darth Maul Kirby” and “Golem Kirby”, though with many of them being gimmicky.
I don’t like 64 as much as Dreamland 3, and once more it came out pretty late in its console’s life-cycle that it felt archaic, but it’s a solid game that every Kirby fan should try out once. Though the game does feature the return of Dark Matter, the Animal Friends were exorcised (since they basically are made redundant by the Fused Copy Abilities) as was poor Gooey with no multi-player mode outside of various mini-games which is a shame. You do get to “ride” on DeDeDe at certain parts of the game which is pretty fun, and Waddle Dee lends a hand as well, but I miss the extended cast from Dreamland 3.
One oddity though is that there’s a seemingly new painter introduced named Adeleine who may or may not be Ado—they’re virtually the same character bar some visual differences, though all the characters have a slight re-design here, and many speculate that “Ado” is a translation issue due to limited text space in 3 and that her name was always intended to be Adeleine (“Ado” coming from the Japanese pronunciation) and they’re the same character. Others view Ado as a guy, and Adeleine as his female counterpart. Adeleine is the only character referenced nowadays in official sources so it seems they are one-in-the-same, though this is still a source of much controversy among Kirby fans.
After the Dark Matter Trilogy Kirby suffered a bit of growing pains as the series relied on spin-offs and “lesser” handheld titles as all the 3D games planned ended up in development hell for one reason or another. It was during this time Shimomura “died” and with him most of his original characters were written off, possibly out of respect or simply because they didn’t fit the canon the series began to establish. In recent years there’s been a slow revival of various elements of the Dark Matter Trilogy, such as the original three Animal Friends making cameos alongside Adeleine, but poor Gooey hasn’t been heard of since Super Smash Bros. Melee included him as a trophy and a recent appearance as a sticker in Planet Robobot.
And that’s unfortunate because while I thought Return to Dreamland had a fun concept for multiplayer, the lack of Gooey was quite disappointing to me since he was a fun little counterpart to Kirby. The Luigi/Diddy Kong of the Kirby series basically, and while I have nothing against DeDeDe, Waddle Dee, or Meta Knight none of them have the same charm as Gooey to me. I’ve heard that he was a requested character for Smash Bros. back during the 64-era and I think it’d be amazing if Sakurai included him as a “clone” of Kirby, though I’ve heard rumors he’s apparently disdainful of anything introduced to Kirby that he wasn’t involved with. I don’t know if this is true or not, but it sounds plausible since Kirby’s representation in Smash Brothers is heavily weighed towards the games he was involved with, Smash 4 notably lacking a Kirby stage inspired by any of the new mainline games that have been released.
So, I’ll end this post by saying I hate Super Star. But that’s another lie because it’s an amazing game and could be considered Sakurai’s magnum opus. I hate though how it’s become the only Kirby game that matters, the game that all the new mainline games borrow from. The crazy movesets and multitude of Copy Abilities have gotten stale after four games (if you count Super Star Ultra) in a row and I’d love to see a return to the slower style of Dream Land with a smaller selection of powers paired with a unique combination system, preferably the return of the Animal Friends. And, of course, a haphazardly fun multiplayer mode featuring the return of Gooey.