Super NES Mini Countdown: #18 | Kirby's Dream Course

Kirby's first truly great spin-off game.

Nintendo's Super NES Classic Edition mini-console arrives at the end of the month. While biding time for Sept. 29, the Retronauts writing team has voted to rank the 20 classic games on the mini from... well, not worst to best, exactly. Unlike last year's Classic NES Edition, the Super NES mini doesn't have a single dud on it (unless the unreleased Star Fox 2 somehow turns out to be terrible). 

Coming in at #18: the first of the two Kirby games included on the SNES Classic and the first Kirby game for the SNES proper: Kirby's Dream Course!

18. Kirby's Dream Course

Dev.: Nintendo EAD / HAL Laboratory
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Sports (Golf)
Release date: Sept. 1994 [JP], Feb. 1995 [NA], Aug. 1998 [EU]

What makes Kirby's Dream Course a worthy inclusion?

  • Kirby's Dream Course mixes trick-shot mini-golf with open-ended puzzle design and signature Kirby actions in a manner that has rarely been imitated and never bettered. Rather than moving to a fixed point in each stage like a traditional golf game, the hole is uncovered by hitting Kirby into the enemies that litter each playfield; the enemies can be destroyed in any order and many will provide Kirby with copy abilities that can be used to manipulate his movement in dramatic ways, so while there are clear routes for each stage, players are given a lot of latitude to apply finesse and devise their own strategies to reach each hole in as few shots as possible.
  • Kirby games have a reputation for being toothless but Kirby's Dream Course is one of a handful of Kirby games that's immediately and genuinely challenging if you've always appreciated the aesthetic but found the other games to be too simple, this may be the one for you.
  • The SNES Classic is somewhat lacking in multiplayer options, especially considering it includes two controllers as standard; Kirby's Dream Course fulfils an important niche by providing a pick-up-and-play multiplayer mode that doesn't demand a lot of manual dexterity, offers a wide variety of content and, more than any other game on SNES Classic, is expressly designed to let the players sabotage each other at every turn. You'll hate your friends and love every second of it.
  • Kirby's Dream Course features a significant amount of unlockable content, including a complete alternate set of single- and two-player courses, that many players have never experienced due to the game's limited-lives system and lack of a meaningful practice mode, but the SNES Classic's rewind and savestate features should give players the tools to properly master each hole and experience everything the game has to offer (or, y'know, just cheat.)
  • Every classic anthology deserves a good sports game or two and, given that all the obvious titles are off-limits for mundane reasons (NBA Jam! Ken Griffey Jr. presents MLB! any one of a dozen shoddy EA Sports ports!), this is the perfect opportunity to (re)acquaint yourself with the secret best golf game on SNES — or, if you're one of those people who adamantly refuses to engage with anything resembling a real-world sport, you can pretend it's an Adventures of Lolo game localized entirely within Mark Cerny's bathtub or something. 
  • Japan's getting Panel de Pon and we need to counter it with something. (Kirby's Avalanche? Keep dreaming.)

Interesting facts about Kirby's Dream Course:

  • HAL Labs' history with golf games stretches all the way back 1984's Hole in One, an MSX game that laid the foundation for
    Nintendo's Famicom Golf games and spawned several ports and sequels for PC-88, Sharp X1, Famicom and Super Famicom.
  • The origins of Kirby's Dream Course pre-date the existence of Kirby itself; development began way back in 1989 under the provisional title Sparkling Shot, long before the conception of Kirby and a little while before Kirby creator Masahiro Sakurai had joined HAL Labs. By 1992, the game was content-complete and advertised for release on North American SNES boxes under the new title of Special Tee Shot but the game was delayed at the behest of Shigeru Miyamoto and significantly reworked with a Kirby motif, eventually releasing in late 1994. To put things in perspective, the game spent roughly the same amount of time in development as the notoriously mismanaged Earthbound, a fact Miyamoto would jokingly mention as a point of pride.
  • Special Tee Shot, the original pre-Kirby version of the game that was advertised for release in 1992, was ultimately repackaged for release on the Japan-only Satellaview download service in 1996; this version skews much closer to standard mini-golf rules and features a mostly-new set of courses with original graphics and music and many gimmicks that were not present in Kirby's Dream Course. It was never officially released for any other format but the ROM has been preserved and is easily obtainable (and highly recommended, provided you can stomach the challenge).
  • Nintendo's 1995 Shoshinkai trade show featured a playable prototype for a fully-3D sequel to Kirby's Dream Course in development for Nintendo 64 that features four-player multiplayer and real-time action elements like snowboarding. The game was never shown or mentioned again but it's speculated that the project morphed into Kirby Air Ride, a 3D racing game that would eventually release on the Gamecube in 2003.