Nintendo can make any concept seem cute and appealing. They once tasked HAL Laboratory with creating, essentially, a tiny, pink cannibal. Nintendo asked for a character who eats the flesh of his enemies in order to gain power. In response, HAL created Kirby, one of the most beloved characters to ever appear on a Nintendo system.
Since debuting on the Game Boy in 1992, Kirby has become a mainstay of the Nintendo library. Numerous Kirby games have appeared on every Nintendo system since his debut. The series has also seen a lot of representation in the Super Smash Bros. series, as they share the same creator.
We are here today to look into the history of Nintendo’s most deceptively cute character. From Kirby’s dirty German adventures to his death battle with the hero of Hyrule.
Here are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Kirby!
15. The Disturbing German Kirby Comic
Nintendo Power was the premier gaming magazine for fans of Nintendo systems. After running for twenty-four years, Nintendo Power ceased publication in 2012. One of the things Nintendo Power was best known for was the comics they ran that were based on Nintendo franchises.
While Nintendo Power started with an American version, it would spawn its own foreign language editions. The German version of Nintendo Power has since become infamous for a comic based around Kirby, which was a lot raunchier and more violent than the Kirby video games.
The German version of Kirby is a sleazy detective, who sits in his office smoking cigarettes and reading dirty magazines. One day, a buxom blonde asks Kirby to solve the mystery of her murdered grandfather. When he meets the blonde again, she has been murdered in quite a gruesome way. It is up to Kirby to find the killer, while making jokes about the tropes of the film noir detective genre.
14. His Name Comes From The Man Who Saved Nintendo
If you want a Nintendo character to be named after you, then you best do something really heroic. We’re talking about something on the level of pulling Shigeru Miyamoto out of a burning car, or gathering the Dragon Balls and wishing Satoru Iwata back to life.
Kirby is named after a lawyer, called John Kirby. He was the man who represented Nintendo during a lawsuit that might have destroyed the company. In 1982, Universal Studios launched a lawsuit against Nintendo. They had determined that the character of Donkey Kong was infringing upon the likeness rights of King Kong, the movie property that they owned.
The case lasted for two years. John Kirby managed to prove that the similarities between Donkey Kong and King Kong were only superficial in nature. The courts ruled in favour of Nintendo, which led to a big payout for them. In gratitude for Kirby’s work, Nintendo gave him a boat, which was called “Donkey Kong”. They also named the main character of an upcoming platform game after him.
13. The American Boxart Makes Kirby Angry
It is common for the box art of video games to be different in each region. Before the anime and manga aesthetic became more mainstream in the late ’90s, there were many games that had their artwork changed in order to resemble Western comic books.
The Kirby series is an unusual case of the Japanese box art being retained but altered. A lot of the American versions of the Kirby games have given him angry eyes and a scowl on the box art. The reason for this is unknown, though it is thought to be an effort to tone down the “cuteness” of the character, in an attempt to appeal to young boys.
All of these changes to Kirby’s designs are pointless, as it doesn’t change the fact that he is still a jolly pink ball. What gamer is going to see one of these boxes and say “Aww man, Kirby is so pissed, I bet he is gonna mess someone up!”
12. There Are Numerous Cancelled Kirby Games
While Kirby has had a lot of games across all of the Nintendo systems since his creation, there have been a few Kirby titles that never saw the light of day.
The earliest cancelled Kirby games were intended to appear during the 16-bit era. Kid Kirby was a game planned for the Super Nintendo that was intended to use the SNES mouse. Due to the poor sales of the mouse (and Mario Paint), the game was canned. This means that very little information has been released about it. There was going to be a Kirby game for the Game Boy Color, called Kirby Family. This game was intended to connect to an embroidery machine, that would allow you to create patterns on cloth.
There was going to be several Kirby games on the GameCube. The first was Kirby Tilt ‘n’ Tumble 2, which was intended to use the Game Boy Advance as a controller. There were three Kirby platform games intended to be released for the system, but all were cancelled. Elements from each were added into Kirby’s Return to Dream Land.
One game that was almost cancelled was Kirby’s Air Ride. This game was originally planned for the Nintendo 64 but was ultimately canned in favour of Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards. The game would eventually be revived on the GameCube.
11. The Naked Lady Level
When you are creating the saccharine cuteness of the Kirby world, it must be hard not to slip in some inappropriate content. This was especially true in the old days of Nintendo when they were super strict on what was allowed into their games. During the SNES era, you weren’t allowed to use the word “Pub” on a building, due to the implications of possible alcohol use. The tiny sprite of a dancer in a bathing suit was considered too raunchy for Final Fantasy IV (known as II in America). This meant that if you wanted to include something rude into a Nintendo game, then you had to get creative.
It seems that the creators of Kirby’s Dream Land 2 wanted to include some lewdness into the game. They managed to do this in a very subtle way. If you can find the secret stage in level 5-5, then you will find an arrangement of blocks that resemble a very basic outline of a naked lady.
10. The Return Of Giygas!
The creators of the Kirby series are a company called HAL Laboratory. They have worked on numerous other games, such as the early Smash Bros. titles and some of the Pokémon spinoffs. HAL are also known for creating the Mother series (better known as EarthBound in the West).
While on the surface, the Mother/EarthBound games appear to be light-hearted RPGs set in an idealised version of ’50s America. In truth, they actually had very dark backstories. One of the scariest end bosses of all time appears in Mother 2/EarthBound on the Super Nintendo. The villain of the game is Giygas, who was once an alien with tremendous psychic abilities. He grew too strong and was driven mad by his own power. When you fight him at the end of the game, he is nothing more than a screaming red face on the background of the screen. Thanks to the Super Nintendo’s use of Mode 7, this background will ripple and distort in some horrifying ways.
In Kirby Canvas Curse for the Nintendo DS, the final boss is an evil sorceress named Drawcia. At one point during the battle against her, the background turns red & black and begins to ripple in the same manner as the fight against Giygas. As both games were made by HAL Laboratory, this shoutout was most likely intentional.
9. The Censored Kirby Anime
Nintendo has been very careful about using their properties in screen adaptations. It was likely the terrible Super Mario Bros. film that made them think twice about putting their iconic characters into shoddy projects. While there have been rumours of new movies and TV shows being set in the world of Zelda and Pokémon, there has yet to be concrete news of one actually being filmed.
One of the few exceptions to Nintendo’s caution is Kirby. There was an animated series that starred Kirby that ran from 2001-2003. It was called Kirby: Right Back at Ya! outside of Japan. Despite being set in the cutesy world of the Kirby games, the show had to be heavily censored in order to be broadcast in America.
Kirby: Right Back at Ya! was dubbed by 4Kids Entertainment. This is the company known for the controversial dubs of Pokémon and One Piece. Some of the changes include altering King DeDeDe’s chainsaw so that it had a laser blade (which really isn’t that much better than the original). There was an episode where Kirby fires an Uzi and almost kills the rest of the cast, followed by a scene of him making cocktails at a bar, both of which were removed. In the episode “Tooned Out”, a cartoon is made in-universe of the Kirby cast. A sexualised version of Tiff is one of the characters in the cartoon. Scenes of her breasts jiggling were removed from the dub.
8. Sakurai Takes Care Of His Boys
Masahiro Sakurai is an amazing creative mind. He is the brains behind the Kirby and the Smash Bros. series, as well as the revival of Kid Icarus on the 3DS. Sakurai has led many presentations for Nintendo and has become beloved by the fans due to his hard work and dedication (and for his apparent eternal youth).
Despite all of the many positive things you can say about Masahiro Sakurai, there is no doubt that the man is biased towards the series that he has worked on. As the creator of the Smash Bros. games, Sakurai has a lot of control over what characters are included and how strong they are. The fact that he included three characters each for the Kirby and Kid Icarus series is proof of this. The numerous Fire Emblem characters in the latest Smash Bros. game for 3DS/Wii U is also Sakurai’s work, as he is an admitted fan of that series. It was most likely due to Sakurai’s influence that Ness were included in Smash Bros. the first place, as the Mother/EarthBound games have never been big sellers.
When it comes to the Kirby characters in the Smash Bros. games, it is clear that Sakurai holds a special affection for them. In the original game on the Nintendo 64, Kirby was just behind Pikachu in terms of dominance (and this was at the time when Pokémon was a global phenomenon). Things got out of control when Brawl came along, as Meta Knight absolutely dominated the competitive scene, to the point where he needed his own individual tier. Meta Knight is so amazing in Brawl that he is still banned in many tournaments to this day.
7. The Eggerland Crossover
Two of the recurring characters in the Kirby series are Lololo and Lalala. In the video games, they usually act as bosses for Kirby to overcome. In Kirby: Right Back at Ya!, they actually befriended Kirby and helped him out in many episodes.
Lololo and Lalala did not actually originate in the Kirby series. HAL Laboratory actually made games for a few non-Nintendo companies in the old days. One of these was Eggerland Mystery, which was released on the MSX in 1985. The game starred Lolo, as he journeys to save the kidnapped princess Lala. The two of them appeared in several Eggerland/Adventures of Lolo games that were released across several different platforms. The games themselves were top-down puzzle titles, in a manner that resembles the Bomberman series.
The Eggerland games were released sporadically until the year 2001. Lololo and Lalala were incorporated into the Kirby games as villains and have become associated more with that series than their own.
6. The Kirby Colour
The Game Boy line of handheld consoles is Nintendo’s 2nd biggest selling system of all time (after the DS). It was home to games like Tetris and saw the birth of the Pokémon franchise. The Kirby series also got its start on the Game Boy, with Kirby’s Dream Land being his first ever game.
When the series was brought over to America, there was some confusion over what exactly Kirby was supposed to look like. As the Game Boy had a monochrome scheme, the localizers were unsure of what colour Kirby was supposed to be. This was never an issue with the Pokémon games, due to the sheer amount of adaptations that the series received. With the first Kirby game, there was nothing to go on.
The box art for the American version of Kirby’s Dream Land depicted Kirby with white skin. This was despite the fact that the Japanese box art of the game showed him with pink skin. Since then, there have been white variants of Kirby in other games (like in Smash Bros. and Kirby: Triple Deluxe).
5. The Blood Of Zero
While Nintendo was incredibly strict over its content in the past, there were a few occasions when someone must have been asleep at the wheel. This was the case when Kirby’s Dream Land 3 was released on the Super Nintendo. The final boss of the game was called 0 (also known as Zero) and he had one of the most gruesome attacks of any Nintendo villain.
When you reach the final battle of Kirby’s Dream Land 3, you must first defeat the villain known as Dark Matter. Then Zero will enter the battlefield. Zero is a giant white ball with a single bloodshot eyeball. As the battle progresses, Zero will tear holes into his own flesh and fire out bolts of blood. The eyeball will rend itself from the rest of the body in a bloody mess, leaving Kirby to fight the last part of Zero.
Despite Kirby’s Dream Land 3 coming out after the formation of the ESRB, the game received a universal age rating across the world. It wasn’t until the game was included in Kirby’s Dream Collection: Special Edition that it affected the rating. The Zero battle bumped the game up to an E+10 age rating.
4. The Reference Attacks
One of the most interesting parts of the Kirby series is the main character’s ability to devour his foes in order to use their powers. This gives the Kirby games a lot of replayability, as can you attempt to finish the game with any of the many abilities that is available to him. Some of these powers include references to characters from other series.
The Sword ability gives Kirby a sword and a green hat. This is a reference to Link from The Legend of Zelda series. Along with the sword itself, Kirby can fire sword beams (when at full health) and perform a spin slash attack.
When Kirby copies the Fighter ability, he gains a range of abilities that are similar to Ryu from the Street Fighter series. Fighter Kirby can perform similar moves to the Hadoken, Shoryuken and Tatsumaki Senpukyaku. In order for Kirby to use his Instant Mega Blast attack in Kirby’s Return to Dream Land, tthe player must perform the same button combination as the Hadoken.
Kirby has two abilities that are a shoutout to Ness from EarthBound. The first is the Yo-Yo ability, which gives Kirby a cap and the ability to use a yo-yo as a weapon. The second is the ESP ability from Kirby: Planet Robobot, which retains the cap and allows Kirby to use several psychic powers (named “PK” attacks). In EarthBound, Ness is a cap-wearing kid, who fights with yo-yos and psychic attacks.
3. The Genderless Japanese Kirby
The Japanese language does not necessitate the use of gender pronouns in the same way that English does. If you couple this with the fact that the Japanese love to use androgynous looking figures in their media, then you are left with localizers who have to guess at the gender of certain characters. An example of this could be seen when Naruto was first being published. There were many fans who didn’t know whether the character of Deidara was a male or female for a long time. This was due to the fact that his body was hidden behind robes. All they had to go on was his androgynous looking head.
When it comes to Kirby, he is referred to with genderless pronouns in Japan. As this would be trickier to accomplish in other languages, he is always referred to as a male in other regions. Nintendo has never refuted this, so most fans consider it to be true.
2. The Original Name Of Kirby
Kirby has one of the most basic designs of any video game character. He is just a ball with a pair of shoes and a face. This was not always meant to be the case. Kirby was originally intended to be a placeholder for another, as yet unfinished, character. The blob design was intended to be as easy to draw and animate as possible so that they wouldn’t have to spend too much work on this initial stage of development. As time went on, Masahiro Sakurai grew fond of this basic design and decided to keep it.
As previously mentioned, Kirby was named after the lawyer who defended Nintendo in their lawsuit against Universal Studios. This was actually a late development. There are magazine ads for the original Kirby game which refer to him as “Twinkle Popopo“. Nintendo eventually changed their minds and used the name of their lawyer instead.
1. Link Killed Kirby
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for the Game Boy features numerous cameos from other Nintendo characters (in both the original and DX versions of the game). There are characters based on Mario, Luigi, Dr. Wright (from SimCity) and King Wart. You can also battle enemies from the Mario and Kirby series throughout the game.
When Link reaches the Eagle’s Tower dungeon, he must battle against a familiar face. One of the guardians of the Tower is Anti-Kirby! An evil version of Kirby who wants to eat Link. As you are the hero of the game, you get to kill Anti-Kirby with your sword. It bears mentioning that the name Anti-Kirby was an invention of the English localizers and that he is simply called Kirby in the Japanese version of the game.
Making Kirby a villain in a Zelda game was an unusual move by Nintendo. The first Super Smash Bros. game was still a few years away. It seems that Nintendo just couldn’t wait for their most iconic characters to start murdering each other on the battlefield.