Forgotten Land & The Horrifying Heart of Kirby Games
Kirby and the Forgotten Land offers us more delightful adventures with our favorite charming pink puffball. Just look at his smiling face. He looks so happy while chowing down on some tomatoes. Looks equally happy consuming a living being, whole, though. Then he absorbs everything about who they are and copies their strengths. Then he spits out the devoured remains as a hardened hunk of deadly star matter. Suddenly, this cute little buddy seems a bit more disturbing. Then again, there has always been an intriguing dark side to Kirby over the years – one that makes the adorable fella and his games that much more compelling.
Spoilers for older Kirby games and some vague spoilers for Forgotten Land ahead!
Kirby’s Adventure was the first time I really started to notice it as a kid. Not for some time, though. Much of that game is spent tussling with fluffy foes and other charming creatures. Yes, they’ll still beat you down, but they’re all just so cute, right? Nothing about this adventure felt especially lethal. Beating up the moon and sun themselves, watching night and day shift places while you destroyed those celestial bodies, was a bit weird, though. There were no repercussions in doing so, thankfully. The sun still shines on Dreamland, here. But it was a bit odd to see Kirby’s godlike power able to destroy suns and moons, wasn’t it? A little frightening to wield that kind of strength?
That’s something I often took for granted while playing any of the games. Kirby can just suck up anything he comes across in Kirby and the Forgotten Land, gaining new powers from their swallowed corpse. Or spit them out as the aforementioned star shot. Kirby just straight up eats animals and beings. Draws powers from their now-lifeless bodies. While Kirby’s animations and actions for this look cute, the actual act can be a bit unsettling if you dwell on it.
There was far more in Kirby’s Adventure that would hint at the dark turns to come in the series. And from far before that, too. Kracko, the bulbous, cloud-borne eye that flings lightning and births other monsters, first appeared in Kirby’s Dream Land. Weird, staring eyes seemed oddly out-of-place in that initial Kirby game, but I was too young to pick up on it, then. I do remember it being an oddly uncomfortable fight as that thing glared at me, though. Years later, after seeing this theme of unblinking eyes showing up in other Kirby titles, I can’t help but think that this blank, predatory glance was a hint of horrors to come in Kirby and the Forgotten Land and other Kirby games.
Kirby’s Adventure made its lean into horror abundantly clear with its final boss, Nightmare. After hours spent picking up neat powers and fighting cute critters, you suddenly found yourself face-to-face with something out of Castlevania. Nightmare looks like Dracula, but with a body made of a whirlwind. His battle music is relentless and dark, making for a jarring transition from the playful tracks of the rest of the game. His look and feel seemed to mark a massive tonal shift for the game at the time. As cute and happy as it was before, it’s now been replaced by a grim, bleak darkness.
Now, it feels like this darkness and fear was always a part of Kirby’s existence. While Kirby and the Forgotten Land often has you facing down fluffy, cuddly things, you’ll fight some twisted, sickening creatures by its end. I don’t want to spoil things too much, but there are some late-game foes who would comfortably fit in a horror game. Their motivations for destruction, the pain they’re willing to inflict on others, and the gut-wrenching ends of their plans demonstrate the horror that thrums beneath the surface of the Kirby series. Strangely sickening and horrifying stuff for what’s arguably a kids’ game.
Kirby’s Dream Land 2 would feature a similar darkness with its final boss, Dark Matter. This shapeshifting black mass would strike as a swordsman that’s far tougher than anything else in the game. If you can overwhelm this form, it become a mass of darkness with a single eye glaring out of it. Kracko coming to mind for anyone, here? Kirby Super Star would see us betrayed by Marx, an innocent-looking little buddy whose vacant stare would haunt us as he tore into us. Kirby’s Dream Land 3 would find us fighting Dark Matter again. This time, while wearing King DeDeDe’s skin like a suit. Bursting from his stomach to lash out at Kirby. The bloody red eye you would face afterwards (Zero, it’s called) was almost a relief.
Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards would continue to pit us against evil eyes, this time with the disturbingly angelic O2. At every turn, we find ourselves facing these bleeding, horrible eyes and the unsettling things they do in Kirby’s worlds. If not them, then it’s other beings (like the Void from Kirby: Star Allies, a game involving god-summoning cults and eerie connections between cosmic horrors and our hungry hero). Twisted beings seem to be the true power behind all of the events of these games. Kirby and the Forgotten Land included.
This isn’t even factoring in the worlds that these games take place in, either. Reflecting on Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, the fifth world, Shiver Star, takes place in a frozen city. A city with factories, machines, and malls. A place that looks eerily like Earth after an apocalyptic ice age had set in. While it seems like our machines might survive us, humanity didn’t make it. It made for a gloomy realm that seemed out-of-place when I played the game years ago. Seeing the pervasive darkness in the series now, I’m not so sure.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land offers a similar ruined world to explore. This time, the whole game takes place in a civilization that’s long dead. The unsettling events of this world aren’t always clear as you’re hopping around an amusement park or racing cars on an old track. The horror that created this world is always kind of lurking at the peripheral, though. Kirby’s endless cheerful nature, both in the character and the gameplay, tends to override the worries you should feel in looking at a place like this. Still, I can’t help but feel a little disturbed at thinking about what wiped most sentient life from this world.
There is a frightening undercurrent to Kirby games. It’s something that might best explain my attachment to these otherwise-upbeat titles over the years. As cute as Kirby may be, his actions become a bit more monstrous if you think on them for too long. His enemies are often the stuff of cosmic horror, leaving you facing glaring eyes and ravenous entities that seem far removed from Kirby’s cheery life. Finally, the worlds themselves hint at apocalyptic events that scoured the lands, with few surviving the aftermath. Without giving away how, Kirby and the Forgotten Land continues this trend, showing once again that an unsettling heart seems to beat at the core of these otherwise adorable games.