Unlike the other games I’ve written about so far, this one’s not so unknown. Kirby’s Dream Course is, of course, a Kirby game, so it was promptly marketed to the high heavens and slapped in a couple Nintendo Power issues for all to see. Unfortunately it wasn’t remembered quite as fondly as, say, Kirby Super Star or Kirby’s Adventure, probably because the idea of a Kirby golf game didn’t exactly get your average gamer weak in the knees.
That, my friends, is a shame. Now don’t get me wrong, Dream Course is far from being a perfect game, and it’s got plenty of “aw, come on!” moments. But if you take it at face value, and realize that in no way, shape, or form is it supposed to have a damn thing to do with golf, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Or you’ll ragequit after smacking into a spike pit for the eighteenth f%$&ing time and losing three tomatoes.
Let me go ahead and make some sense of that sentence for you. Instead of using the traditional “whack the ball four times and get it in the hole” golf formula, Dream Course works on a sort of health system. Every time you take a shot, you lose one tomato. Every time you hit something spiky or get hurt, you lose a tomato. When you fall off the edge of the hole, you lose all of them. It’s a nice twist on the usual boring green and bunker business, and it manages to be fair…most of the time. Once you start experimenting with some of the powers, your feelings on this “fairness” might start to change a bit. Especially when you get hi-jump. I could write a freaking novel on how much I hate hi-jump.
Of course, you can get these tomatoes back by defeating enemies. Once you smash through them all with your adorable little Kirby wrecking ball, the hole appears and you get another tomato for getting in there. It’s a beautiful little system, and in theory it gives you a lot of room for creativity. Usually there’s a few different paths through the sets of enemies in a given level, and since the hole appears wherever the last enemy falls, you can tailor your strategy accordingly.
Notice I threw in a few choice words and phrases like “usually”, and “in theory”. That’s because even though you should be able to have a little leeway in how you get to the end of a level, a lot of the harder stages pretty much force you to get it right the first time. If you don’t hit the right enemies in the right order, an order which isn’t readily apparent much too often, you can kiss your lives goodbye. It’s a problem a lot of “golf-likes” have; games like Super Stickman Golf and Worms Crazy Golf, for example. For whatever reason, these developers can’t get the balance right between embarrassingly easy and “holy hell you better not hit that bunker or you’ll be catapulted to the beginning of the course”.
That being said, there’s still room for a fair amount of out-of-the-box gameplay, particularly when the powers start getting involved. There’s something oddly satisfying about banking Kirby off a couple of walls, using the ice power to glide across a frozen lake, and gliding a few yards for an easy hole in one and a free life. Once you get the zen of Dream Course down, you’ll find yourself in situations like these relatively often, and if you get really good you’ll be able to just chip yourself in the hole from pretty much anywhere.
In short, it ain’t a platformer and it ain’t a golf game. Kirby’s Dream Course is decidedly neither of those things, and if you can get over that, you can have some fun with a game that isn’t perfect, but is unlike pretty much any game you’ve seen before or since.