Me and the Kirbster go way back. Well, to 2009-ish at least. Finally getting fed up of the two initial games I got with my DS, after putting over 300 hours into Pokemon Pearl and over 30 minutes into Sonic Rush Adventure, I decided to branch out a little, and picked up a then-unknown-to-me game called Kirby Mouse Attack, based entirely on the box art with it's pink blob, fat pirate mice and bright colours. Sadly, as much I'd always fancied playing them, platform games had always been my downfall – as proven by the fact I couldn't even complete the first level of Sonic Rush, yet alone make it though a level of New Super Mario Bros. without using a continue. But with Kirby it was love at first sight. Often lambasted for being too easy by many, the little pink puffball's adventure turned out to be one of my favourite games in the end, as I obsessively collected all the treasure chests in the entire game, twice over. Since then, I've played every game he's been out, and while Mouse Attack was eventually usurped in the favourite list by the sew-riously felt-tastic Kirby's Epic Yarn for the Wii, the little pink thing is still one of my favourite characters.
Kirby's Dream Land 3, then, now out as a download on the Wii U Virtual Console, is one of the pink puffball's older adventures, and one that was never released in the UK. The story is typically basic, with Kirby and his blobby blue mate Gooey enjoying a peaceful fishing trip when a mysterious dark cloud appears, shattering the rings that surround their planet of Popstar. It all serves as a convenient excuse for Kirby and his friends to trot through the pastel-coloured crayoned-in lands of Popstar, making use of the titular blob's various abilities to defeat enemies as you make your way to the end of each level and hunt down the pieces of the planet's rings. Kirby's trademark copy ability is present and correct, too – by inhaling and swallowing various enemies, the Kirbster can steal their powers (and gain a new hat in the process); whether it's surrounding himself in a ball of electricity, swinging around a sword or bawling into a microphone and deafening everyone on the screen.
What makes Kirby's Dream Land 3 interesting though is that His Pinkness doesn't travel alone. For starters, the gelatinous Gooey can be summoned with a push of a button, and is basically a clone of Kirby sans copy powers – with a second controller, a friend can even take over him instead of the computer, who has a slightly annoying tendency to obliterate everything before you can gobble them up. But what really steals the show are the other animal companions who can join your motley crew - nothing beats riding through Dream Land on the back of a giant hamster brushing enemies to death with a broom. Nothing.
Kirby's friends run the gamut from fish, to a cats, to a couple of birds and even a pink octopus like creature who bears more than a passing resemblance to one of the brain slugs from Futurama. Each one essentially becomes an extension of Kirby, letting you make your way through the level in new ways – birds let him fly through levels, a fish hops along with him stuffed in their mouth and the cat rolls him around in front like a dung beetle rolls... well, dung. Except this is way cuter, I promise you. Depending on Kirby's current power, your new-found friend's attacks also change – a pink brain-slug plus a fire ability gives you a fire-breathing Kirby, the needle power and a fish turn you into the Dream Land equivalent of a puffer fish, whilst the cat and the broom power basically functions as a giant fluffy steamroller. We don't want to spoil them all, though, as half the fun of the game comes from just playing around with the combos of companions and powers just to see what happens – and how adorable each one looks.
In the more recent Kirby games scouring the levels for hidden trinkets has become as much of a part of the game as Kirby's copy ability – some may require you to take a specific path through a level to find a glittering medal, or use a particular power-up to get past a wall to a chuffing great treasure chest. Kirby's Dream Land 3 has hidden things too, but they're much more subtle, perhaps even too subtle to notice unless you know exactly what you're looking for. As you skip happily through the lush landscapes, you may come across a certain character in the level that you don't seem to be able to defeat or ride on – you might reasonably assume then that they're simply part of the scenery, but in actual fact it's a cry for help. Perhaps recognisable from their mugshot on the level select screen, the character in distress is your clue to what you need to find or do in the level to get a special heart as a reward – hearts that you need to round up if you plan on beating the final boss any time soon.
The actual bonus objectives are surprisingly varied, once you manage to figure them out – although it's a shame that you seem to stumble upon them through sheer trial and error rather than through any kind of logic. For example, in the one level we came across a young martial artist girl who seemed a bit upset – as we stumbled into a lost monkey later in the level, we discovered that was what she was missing as finishing the level treated us to the happy reunion. On another level, it took us a fair few tries to twig that the tulip wanted us to not trample any of his brethren scattered throughout the level, lest he pulls weepy faces at you in the final scene, and you won't get the heart. It's just a shame that it's all too easy to let them pass you by, leaving a very sad panda in your wake. And no-one wants that.
If you're after a cutesy platformer with a gentle difficulty curve, then Kirby is your dude. Perfect to play in short bursts with a friend by your side, Kirby's Dream Land 3 is as solid entry as any – especially for just over a fiver. It's just a shame that the bonus objective for each level isn't signposted better, although the buckets of charm and fun new animal companions more than make up for the game's shortcomings.