Kirby would become something of a lead mascot for Nintendo's portable systems, which were ideal for making his games more accessible to younger gamers and those looking for quicker, pick-up-and-play experiences. It would be Kirby's Adventure, however, that introduced the element that made a lasting icon. The ability to steal an enemy's powers wasn't introduced with Kirby - Mega Man was doing it years before. But whereas Mega Man's powers had limited use and were more for strategic purposes, HAL gave the player full reign over nearly every ability. It's a fun in-game element, but the true impact of this choice exists off the game screen.
Kirby games have often held hints of creative encouragement. Kirby's Adventure starts up with a song on how to draw Kirby, bosses have appeared as artists whose creations come to life and the truly unique Kirby's Canvas Curse for the DS had the player "painting" lines to navigate Kirby through a world turned to art. The puffball's simple design begs to be drawn, and adding unlimited versatility through his copy ability means artists can make Kirby into anything.
Matthew Taranto, creator of the webcomic "Brawl in the Family," started off doodling Kirby in the margins of course notes. That led to vignettes exploring the possibilities of Kirby's copy ability, which evolved into full strips starring Kirby with many other Nintendo and outside characters.
"Most of Nintendo's characters have an air of simplicity or mystery about them, and that makes it fun to sort of expound on their personalities in ways that still make sense to the character," Taranto said. "Kirby has barely spoken in the games, though, so what we can ascertain from him is pretty much solely from his actions and animations in the titles he's starred in."
That low level of definition with Kirby makes it relatively easy to treat him like a blank pink slate without defiling his personality. A quick online search shows people taking this freedom in all directions, largely turning Kirby into a one-puff tribute to gaming's best. He's already aped Mega Man's robot masters, and the number of adorable Sephiroth Kirbies out there borders on disturbing.
Kirby's versatility and approachability mesh well with the whims of gamers, which is an important element in the way we want to approach newcomers and our definitions of a worthwhile game. Many gamers, myself included, grew up with a title like Kirby as one of our first experiences; a game that was fundamentally fun and led us to draw doodles on our homework, daydreaming about what else could be made from the character and the world.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with challenge and maturity, but dismissing an otherwise good game for lacking them is like claiming Goodnight Moon is unmerited trash because you've mastered War and Peace. Luckily, it seems Kirby will be sticking around for 20 years and beyond, providing the perfect gateway for beginners and a classic oasis for veterans.
Tim Latshaw is certified master in 17 forms of Kirby dance. Follow him on Twitter @TLatshaw.