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Best Overall: Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land at Amazon
"No Kirby game has managed to deliver a better collection of platforming levels."
Runner-up, Best Overall: Kirby Super Star Ultra at Amazon
"The most daring and exciting Kirby game ever made."
Best Innovation: Kirby: Canvas Curse at Amazon
"Fairly challenging, which is noteworthy considering the franchise is best known for its accessibility."
Best Nostalgia Blast: Kirby’s Dream Land at Amazon
"Solid platforming, a ton of charm, and fun boss fights make Dream Land a worthy nostalgia trip even today."
Best for Adventurers: Kirby and the Amazing Mirror at Amazon
"The most non-linear Kirby game ever made."
Best for Multiplayer: Kirby’s Return to Dream Land at Amazon
"Character models are rendered in 3D, while background environments use a traditional 2D look."
Best for Families: Kirby’s Epic Yarn at Amazon
"A perfect game for kids who are just getting into video games."
Best Mechanics: Kirby: Planet Robobot at Amazon
"Combines traditional Kirby platforming with one super cool new trick."
Kirby Nightmare in Dream Land
Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land captured the essence of our favorite pink puffball better than any Kirby game that came after it. A remake of the NES game Kirby's Adventure — itself the follow-up to Kirby's Dream Land — Nightmare in Dream Land was released for Game Boy Advance in 2002. Considering almost every Kirby game is at least good, Nightmare in Dream Land’s position at the top of this list demonstrates its sheer brilliance.
Kirby’s Adventure introduced the copy ability, but the Game Boy Advance remake stepped it up a notch with beautiful 32-bit, full-color visuals. From a design perspective, no Kirby game has managed to deliver a better collection of platforming levels. The 40-plus stages featured across its seven worlds never fails to impress, in both joy and ingenuity. Adventure was the maiden voyage for the style of Kirby gameplay everyone recognizes today. Nightmare in Dream Land gave the remarkable adventure a fresh coat of paint to let Dream Land come to life before our eyes.
Nintendo Switch Online subscribers have access to the original Kirby’s Adventure. Though not super pretty to look at now, the gameplay and level design hold up as well as any game from the early 90s.
Kirby Super Star Ultra
Kirby Super Star launched on Super Nintendo roughly a week before the Nintendo 64 hit store shelves. It still sold pretty well but quickly disappeared as gamers became entranced by early 3D console graphics. Luckily, Nintendo brought Super Star back on the Nintendo DS, introducing this quirky and dynamic set of Kirby tales to a new generation of gamers in 2008 as Kirby Super Star Ultra.
Super Star Ultra has seven smaller games in one package, each of which tweaks the standard Kirby formula. In one section you play a reworked version of Kirby’s Dream Land while shortly thereafter you’re racing King Dedede and scarfing down food. In one particularly charming section, you explore a 2D map for collectibles in what feels Metroidvania-lite. It even has collectibles hailing from other Nintendo franchises.
While the seven small Kirby storylines may seem disconnected, Super Star Ultra feels wonderfully cohesive. Each section has the same general Kirby mechanics, but the genre variations make Super Star Ultra feel like the most daring and exciting Kirby game ever made.
Kirby Canvas Curse
Back in 2005, the Nintendo DS was a fledgling little device with two screens and a Super Mario 64 port. But then came Kirby: Canvas Curse, the first game to demonstrate the type of innovative experiences possible with the DS hardware. Though a 2D platformer like most Kirby games, the curse inflicted on Kirby and Dream Land at the beginning of the game turns interactive sequences on their head.
Kirby has no limbs in Canvas Curse, which forces you to guide the adorable puffball by creating rainbow paths with the stylus. Simplistic from the start, Canvas Curse winds up getting remarkable mileage out of this mechanic, especially when it comes to securing tricky collectibles and avoiding enemies with cleverly drawn rainbow walls.
Canvas Curse was a brilliant touchscreen game before touchscreen games became ubiquitous thanks to smartphones. It stands today as one of the best DS games and the most innovative Kirby game of ever made. It’s also fairly challenging, which is noteworthy considering the franchise is best known for its accessibility and shallow learning curve.
The first game in the series, Kirby’s Dream Land is unique in that our titular hero doesn’t have his iconic copy ability. It’s also weird that the box art for Kirby’s Dream Land showed him in ghostly white, not his now-recognizable cotton candy pink hue. The 1992 Game Boy game still made its mark, though, introducing players to the cutesy world of Dream Land, complete with talking trees and Waddle Dees (Editor's Note: That rhymes!).
Dream Land still gives Kirby power-ups with special attacks, but he picks them up rather than inhaling enemies to take their powers. Though this system was less dynamic than the beloved copy ability, in Dream Land, Kirby can still learn some flavorful techniques. His propensity to breath fire, for example, never quite went away.
Solid platforming, a ton of charm, and fun boss fights make Dream Land a worthy nostalgia trip even today. If you have a 3DS, you can download Dream Land from the eShop. It’s also featured in Kirby’s Dream Collection for Wii.
Kirby and the Amazing Mirror
Amazing for adventurers, the 2004 Game Boy Advance game Kirby and the Amazing Mirror took some delightful risks. As the story goes, Mirror World can be found above the clouds in Dream Land. It’s a delightful place, but forces of evil corrupt it, much to Meta Knight’s glee. Now split into four Kirbys, each a different color, our hero has to head through the mirror to take down Meta Knight and restore order.
Kirby and the Amazing Mirror is the most non-linear Kirby game ever made. Featuring exploration similar to 2D Metroid and Castlevania games, you have to go left, right, up, and down to find mirrors that whisk you and your pals to the next area. Right from the start, you can travel anywhere on the map (besides the final area), which gives you the freedom to complete areas in practically any order. That freedom, combined with the various power-ups earned throughout, gives Amazing Mirror a proper sense of true adventure.
Though the three AI Kirbys that follow you don't add much to the gameplay, you can link up and play co-op with friends. The co-op is interesting, too, because you can either stick together or explore on your own, completing areas in a tag-team effort.
Old school Kirby reimagined in 2.5D, Kirby’s Return to Dream Land for Nintendo Wii is the purest Kirby game on a home console outside of Kirby’s Adventure. Return to Dream Land’s story tasks Kirby and friends to collect the pieces of an alien ship to assist an alien named Magolor.
While the Wii’s graphics may look dated today, Return to Dream Land’s art design really popped in 2011. Character models are rendered in 3D, while background environments use a traditional 2D look. This gives Return to Dream Land some appealing depth and modernizes the look in a way that brings Kirby closer to some of Nintendo’s other popular franchises.
Return to Dream Land is best played in co-op, on the couch with three friends. One player controls Kirby while others can take hold of King Dedede, Waddle Dee, and Meta Knight. Playing as the main antagonists of Kirby games is weird at first, but their unique playstyles make for a rocking good time.
The cutest Kirby game, Kirby’s Epic Yarn for Nintendo Wii harbored a gloriously imaginative experience. Kirby is transformed into yarn, which removes his ability to inhale objects and fly. Traversing the stitched together world requires players to use Kirby’s brand new yarn abilities. To move quickly, Kirby could contort his body to create a car. To smash enemies, he could turn into the familiar weight. He got a lot of mileage out of his Yarn-Whip, which helped access new areas and defeat enemies in style.
The breeziest Kirby game, it was impossible to die in the joyful levels. Epic Yarn was and still is a perfect game for kids who are just getting into video games. Despite the low barrier to entry, Epic Yarn’s levels gave players enough room to experiment, testing the limits of their imaginations when scouring for collectables.
Epic Yarn was ported to Nintendo 3DS as Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn. The port featured a more challenging difficulty level and a few new mechanics.
The most recent Kirby game on this list, Kirby: Planet Robobot for Nintendo 3DS, combines traditional Kirby platforming with one super cool new trick: Robobot Armor. Luckily for players (but unluckily for Kirby), an alien corporation wants to steal all of planet Pop Star’s resources using advanced technology. To stave off the invasion, Kirby must use his standard copy abilities in combination with a slick mech suit.
The Robobot Armor makes for some seriously destructive and fun gameplay. While piloting the suit, Kirby can smash barriers, blast away enemies, and use his tech to solve puzzles and create new pathways. Borrowing from the copy ability, the mech suit can scan enemies and gain new talents, such as the ability to wield a flamethrower.
Kirby: Planet Robobot seamlessly combines these two different styles of play to create one of the most engaging and thoughtful spins on traditional Kirby platforming. You can even run through the fantastic campaign again as Meta Knight, which introduces new challenges to overcome.