25 years ago, developer HAL created Kirby’s Dream Land, an unassuming but incredibly well-made little platformer that anyone could finish in a single sitting. And while Kirby mainly stuck to Nintendo portables for his first few years of existence, it wouldn’t be long before he became one of Nintendo’s most prolific characters, appearing on consoles and in a number of inventive spinoffs. But with a quarter-century of Kirby games to look back on—26 at last count—which ones were his best? We’ve managed to narrow it down.
In mid-1993, Kirby’s Adventure hit the NES just as the SNES was about to enter its second year. Those who stuck around for the dying days of Nintendo’s 8-bit machine, though, were treated to one of the best games for the platform. But Kirby’s Adventure is more than just a great Kirby game, as it reinvented the character into the form we know and love today.
Previously, Kirby could only fly, suck in enemies and spit them out; Adventure shook things up greatly by also allowing Kirby to steal the powers of the enemies he consumes. And, for the most part, nearly every traditional Kirby game to follow features this same array of abilities, with an addition here or there to spice things up. Don’t let its ancient birthdate fool you; Kirby’s Adventure holds up incredibly well.
Play it on: NES (original version), Wii, Wii U, and 3DS Virtual Console, Game Boy Advance (via 2002’s Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land remake)
Kirby Super Star
Just like with the NES, Kirby took his time in making it to the SNES. While he previously had a SNES mini-golf and puzzle game, 1996 saw his first traditional 16-bit platformer with Kirby Super Star. The biggest selling point of Super Star is that it actually takes the form of eight games in one—including a full remake of Kirby’s Dream Land.
Granted, each of the eight games included doesn’t amount to the size of an independent release, but Super Star still offers a healthy amount of variety for any Kirby fan. Plus, this iteration of Kirby introduces “partners” to the series, meaning a friend can finally join in—or solo players can use these AI-controlled helpers to keep a handy power-up in reserve.
Kirby Mass Attack
Games that exist solely to take advantage of hardware gimmicks tend to overcomplicate things, so it’s a blessing the DS got most of this out of its system during its first few years. That being said, it was a bit odd to see the stylus-driven Kirby Mass Attack launch in 2011 as one of the latter-day games for Nintendo’s portable. Thankfully, this unique take on Kirby remains one of his best games, and really makes the most of its means of input. Instead of controlling a singular Kirby, Mass Attack tasks you with wrangling an unruly mob of pink puffballs by flicking them around the screen with your stylus.
Resting an entire game on this simple premise could result in a tedious, repetitive experience, but HAL really makes the most of its concept and keeps Mass Attack endlessly inventive. But most importantly, sending a mass of adorable Kirbys to dogpile an enemy and beat the snot out of them never gets old.
Play it on: DS (original release), 3DS (via backwards compatibility)
Kirby’s Epic Yarn
Kirby’s next reinvention saw him becoming one with the world of arts and crafts in 2010’s Kirby’s Epic Yarn. But this makeover wasn’t just superficial; it also eliminated his core moves fans had grown accustomed to for the past two decades. Instead of copying enemy abilities, the Kirby of Kirby’s Epic Yarn wields a wicked yarn whip that can roll enemies up into a ball and interact with background elements for the sake of solving puzzles.
While this game isn’t exactly known for its difficulty, Kirby’s Epic Yarn kicked off a mini arts and crafts trend at Nintendo that would be followed up by games like Yoshi’s Woolly World. And it should be mentioned that finding a way to make Kirby and his world even cuter stands as a pretty impressive feat.
Play it on: Wii, Wii U (via backwards compatibility)
Kirby and the Rainbow Curse
Very few Wii U games actually took full advantage of the system’s unique features, but Kirby and the Rainbow Curse definitely did. In fact, it’s the one Wii U game that you play by looking at the gamepad and not the TV. A spiritual sequel to the 2005 DS game Kirby: Canvas Curse, Rainbow Curse takes the same basic approach: instead of controlling Kirby directly, you draw paths and ramps on the screen to guide him safely through levels.
Along with expanding on this idea, Rainbow Curse goes above and beyond by recasting the world of Kirby in clay. Though Rainbow Curse never became a smash-hit, it’ll go down in history as one of the best Wii U games of all time. Definitely give it a play if you missed it, since it seems unlikely that Nintendo will put every worthwhile Wii U game on the Switch.
Play it on: Wii U