When it comes to retro gaming, sometimes it's about relieving childhood memories or exploring games you knew about but never played, or in some cases discovering something that's new to you entirely. Then there's games that you revisit to see if there's something you missed: "What was it I wasn't getting about it?" After a bad first impression, you dismiss the game, but your curiosity draws you back in years later. I've had this with Final Fantasy 7 and Ocarina of Time, two games that thought were "overrated" and well, they kind of are, but the point is that they took me years to appreciate.
Today, instead of revisiting a AAA title from the past, we'll instead focusing on a smaller scale game: Kirby's Dream Course (Kirby Bowl in Japan) for the Super NES. This is one game that I changed my mind about tremendously. Originally planned to be released as "Special Tee Shot" (which itself was broadcast on Satellaview) , the game was re-worked into a Kirby game, probably to make it more marketable. Even though he was only two-years old at the time, he was already a Nintendo icon.
As a small child, I hated Kirby's Dream Course because I didn't know what the hell it was! The demo that plays when the title screen idles is vague and shows off how to play the game inefficiently. I thought it was some weird bowling game, or a Marble Madness clone, or something like Sonic 3D Blast; I was straight-up confused about the game. Without any kind of manual or outside source, it took me YEEEARS to understand that it was a miniature golf game! I didn't even get the hint with the windmills in the background! Jeez!
One of my friends LOVED this game when I was younger and convinced me for years to give it another shot. I've had a change of heart. I think if I knew what I was doing, this would have been right up my alley!
Here's how the game works: there are no clubs and Kirby's the golf ball! Before a stroke, you change Kirby's direction using dotted lines called the Guide (you can also curve your shots as well) or do a fly shot by pressing Up on the directional pad before you're going to apply power to your shot. Every stroke using up a point of Kirby's vitality (a tomato). To restore a vitality point, you need to defeat an enemy or get the ball in a hole. The tricky part of Kirby's Dream Course is that none of the courses have fixed holes: the last enemy in each course becomes the "cup". Getting a Hole-in-One shot yearns you an extra life (a ball). Going out of bounds instantly loses you a ball, so be careful!
Not being a "wait and see what happens in between shots" golf game, you have a certain degree of control of Kirby once you do a stroke: you can press "a" to bounce off of the checkerboard surfaces, or with good timing some of the hazards in the courses, the classic golf pitfalls: water and sand traps, or if you have a Copy ability, you can press B to use them while Kirby is in motion. Yes, even in a Kirby sports game: a lot of his classic powers are here: Freeze, Fireball, Spark, Wheel, UFO, Parasol...
There's 8 worlds, with 8 holes each each, bringing the game to a total of 64 levels. The demo mode under neath the 2nd player option in the main menu is extremely helpful, and I'd highly recommend going through all the demos first before trying the main campaign.
Other SNES golf games at the time like Harakanara Augusta, HAL's Hole-in-One Golf and Palm Beach Golf Links were fairly flat looking. Kirby's Dream Course is the most dynamic golf game on the SNES. The courses have a feeling of elevation to them that wouldn't see anywhere else at the time. Some of the slops look like a skate park! My childhood self might have been on to something with the Marble Madness comparisons: the checkerboard look of the game, combined with the isometric graphics and the depth that the elevation provides to the courses owes a lot to the arcade classic! Taking all of this trajectory and ball height into consideration... it's like doing trigonometry with Kirby!
In general, Kirby games have a reputation for being easy and aimed at younger players or people may not necessarily play video games as a hobby. Dream Course subverts that expectation. You have to be prepared for how uneven the difficulty of Kirby's Dream Course is: sometimes the last hole in a course is painfully easy, but a few holes earlier, you're were asking yourself "how can I POSSIBLY do this in less than 3 shots?" The game demands ludicrous precision at times. World 3 in particular is much harder than Courses 1 and 2; you'll need to start utilizing all of your different tools in order to get those coveted Hole-in-One shots. Putting your trust in Power Shots won’t cut it. Kirby's Dream Course is not for complacent gamers.
In that regard, this is perhaps the most esoteric Kirby game; it certainly requires dedication. Mastery requires trail-and-error and a deep understanding of the game's physics and courses. The solution to some courses requires you to be observant, timely and consider a whole lot of moving parts before you trigger a Rube Goldberg-esque reaction. If golf or sports games don't appeal to you, approach Kirby's Dream Course from the mindset of a puzzle game.
I'll tell you from experience, that getting stuck in this game is not fun and can feel debilitating. The game is not for everyone one and I can understand why some folks would dismiss it. But when the ball gets rolling, and you put in the work, you'll feel like Arnold Palmer in a candy-colored fantasy land.
Kirby was fairly new character at this point, with two platformer games and pinball game in his portfolio; now his trademark copy abilities and his ball-like features were ingeniously implemented in a great golf game. Besides that, the game designers found brilliant ways to retool the Kirby characters into mini-golf props and hazards.
Kirby's Dream Course is a wild n' wacky golf game unlike any other, one that I think is worth revisiting. It was re-released on the Wii and Wii U Virtual Consoles, 3DS and was a pre-installed game on Super NES Classic/Mini.