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Sakurai on Kirby Super Star – Miyamoto’s request, DKC influence, cut game, development name, more

Posted on October 9, 2017 by (@NE_Brian) in General Nintendo, News

Nintendo closed out its series of interviews for the Super NES Classic Edition with a bang. Masahiro Sakurai spoke about Kirby Super Star in depth, which is a game he directed 25 years ago.

One notable part of the interview touches on how a request from Shigeru Miyamoto led to the inclusion of two-player co-op. Sakurai also goes over how Donkey Kong Country’s visuals influenced Kirby Super Star, a planned game that was cut, and the development name.

You can read about these topics and more below from the full interview with Sakurai.

One of the Console’s Last Titles

Congratulations on the 25th anniversary of Kirby’s Dream Land.

Sakurai: Thank you.

How does it feel to welcome 25 years?

Sakurai: I feel like I’ve aged! (laughs)

You look young—not at all like you’ve aged.

Sakurai: When I was a kid, there was an anime called Dokonjo Gaeru. [1] It had an extremely elderly teacher in it named Machida, and he always said, “I’ve been a teacher for 25 years…” Have I really reached that point? (laughs)

1. Dokonjo Gaeru: A manga series by Yasumi Yoshizawa that appeared in Weekly Shonen Jump for six years beginning in 1970. There was also a television anime series.

(laughs) Our topic this time is Kirby Super Star, which was your third title as director.

Sakurai: Yes, that’s right.

I was a little surprised that the second game, Kirby’s Adventure [2], came out for NES and not Super NES.

Sakurai: Uh-huh.

2. Kirby’s Adventure: An action game originally released in Japan for the Famicom system in March 1993.

Kirby’s Adventure came out in 1993, which was three years after the release of Super Famicom in Japan.

Sakurai: The NES system was hardware with a long life. I believe I was directed to make that with the idea of transplanting the Game Boy game to NES. We had made the Game Boy game for beginners, and that decision was just fine, but I thought NES players late in the system’s run would no longer be new to video games.

You didn’t think you could just release an NES version of the first Kirby game, which was geared toward beginners.

Sakurai: Right. I abandoned the idea of simply porting the game and decided to add the Copy [3] ability. By adding that, beginners would be able to enjoy simply inhaling and spitting out things, and advanced players would be able to use more hardcore abilities.

3. Copy: This ability allows Kirby to inhale enemies and thereby gain the use of their abilities.

In other words, you used the Game Boy game as a base and added the Copy ability.

Sakurai: To be honest, we didn’t end up using it as much of a base. Even though we could use the same pixel art for Kirby, when it came to capacity and what was possible, all that expanded greatly with NES.

I see. The third game, Kirby Super Star, came out in 1996, just before the Nintendo 64 system.

Sakurai: That’s right. Among the titles included in NES Classic Edition, Kirby’s Adventure was one of the last ones released, and among the titles included in Super NES Classic Edition, Kirby Super Star was one of the last ones released. But for Super NES Classic Edition, there’s Star Fox 2 [4], so Kirby Super Star avoids being the very last. (laughs)

4. Star Fox 2: A “phantom game” initially planned for release for Super NES, but now included in Super NES Classic Edition. 

Well, Star Fox 2 was never released, so you can’t say it was last! (laughs)

Sakurai: I suppose not. (laughs) But for the NES game as well as the Super NES game, it isn’t so much that development fell behind as that it started late.

In other words, due to circumstances in the company development schedule, release came late in the hardware’s run.

Sakurai: Yes.

In any case, the titles line up nicely. The first game was for Game Boy, the second was for NES, and the third was for Super NES. I would guess not many developers around the world have had that experience, so as a video-game maker, wasn’t it great to advance step-by-step like that?

Sakurai: Yeah! I was really fortunate!

Two-Player Cooperative Gameplay

Now let’s talk about Kirby Super Star. At first, what did you have in mind?

Sakurai: I had three pillars in mind. One was two-player cooperative gameplay and another was including actions similar to those in fighting games. The third was an omnibus format. May I explain all three?

Yes, please.

Sakurai: The first one, two-player cooperative gameplay, was a request from (Shigeru) Miyamoto-san. That was really about the only request he made.

That was in an Iwata Asks interview. [5] Miyamoto-san said he wanted a Kirby game with two-player cooperative gameplay. Did that request come partway through development of Kirby Super Star?

5. Iwata Asks: See the interview regarding Super Mario Galaxy.

Sakurai: No, that was there at the start. If the request had come later, we wouldn’t have been able to implement it.

When you say at the start, do you mean it was in the proposal?

Sakurai: No, even before that. Making a Kirby game for Super NES would, of course, mean making the characters bigger and the graphics better, but when it came to what the core of the game would be like and other essential aspects, I wanted to think about that after hearing from Miyamoto-san.

And that’s why you went to Kyoto with (Satoru) Iwata-san. [6]

6. Satoru Iwata (1959-2015): Nintendo’s late president. During his time as the president of HAL Laboratory, he participated as a programmer in the development of EarthBound.

Sakurai: Yes. And Miyamoto-san said he definitely wanted us to achieve two-player cooperative gameplay, which was one task that lay ahead for side-scrolling platform games.

For Super Mario, that was achieved on the Wii [7] system, but Miyamoto-san had been dreaming of two-player cooperative gameplay for many years.

7. The first Super Mario game with simultaneous multiplayer gameplay was New Super Mario Bros. Wii, released in North America for the Wii console in November 2009.

Sakurai: That’s right. It would be impossible with Mario because he’s so fast, but it should be possible somehow for Kirby, who’s a little slower. At least, that’s how it was put to me at the time.

That’s how it was put to you, but…

Sakurai: It’s a misconception that Kirby is slow. He actually displays an incredibly wide range of speeds. For example, in Kirby’s Adventure, we gave him the Wheel ability. (laughs)

As Wheel Kirby, you can shoot through at blazing speeds. (laughs)

Sakurai: The Copy ability assumes a wide variety of gameplay, so I had dug my own grave! (laughs)

When Miyamoto-san asked you to pull off two-player cooperative gameplay, you must have held your head in dismay.

Sakurai: Well, I decided to give it some thought.

You decided to be positive about it.

Sakurai: Yes, of course. After all, Kirby is different from Mario. And the idea I came up with was a system dividing the two players into a main player and an assisting player. The camera follows Kirby, while the assisting character roams around.

So it would be two-player, but one player would be the main player while the other assisted.

Sakurai: That’s right. But in order to make it fit with Kirby, what would the second character be like? I brainstormed that and thought of simply using the Copy ability.

The assisting character would take the form of a copied enemy.

Sakurai: Right. And that became the Helper system, by which enemies become allies. What I liked about dividing the characters that way was how seasoned players and inexperienced players could play together.

I see.

Sakurai: In this game, the playable characters have a fairly strong guard against enemy attacks. You don’t just protect yourself. Relatively speaking, you can withstand various types of attacks. You can say, “Just hang tight and I’ll handle this!”

Advanced players can encourage beginners.

Sakurai: Yes. I thought that made it a game open to people who couldn’t enjoy Kirby before.

In other words, it’s a good thing you responded to Miyamoto-san’s request.

Sakurai: That’s right.

Fighting-Game Actions and an Omnibus Format

What about your second pillar of including actions like those in fighting games?

Sakurai: Until then, when Kirby used the Cutter ability, he threw blades. And when he used the Fire ability, he breathed fire, and that would defeat weaker enemies with one hit. But in Kirby Super Star, we gave durability to even weaker enemies, so you have to hit them more than once to defeat them.

Why did you do that?

Sakurai: Because when I played the game in two-player cooperative gameplay mode, I thought it lacked something. The main player would simply hurl blades and lay waste to opponents while the Helper just watched.

The Helper didn’t have anything to do.

Sakurai: Right. Another reason was that I thought it would be better for broadening the possibilities with the Copy ability if players could perform multiple actions. In some fighting games, the moves rapidly change just by hammering the same button—punch, punch, hook, uppercut.


Sakurai: We made Kirby Super Star so that you can pull off various moves with the same ability. Thus, one guiding concept was the inclusion of versatility.

And that makes it like a fighting game.

Sakurai: Yes.

The third pillar you mentioned was an omnibus format. You’re referring to how you can enjoy multiple stories within one game, right?

Sakurai: Yes. On Super NES, games went on for a long time before reaching a conclusion. And that was also true of the great games for NES.

Players might play for a long time but never reach the end.

Sakurai: Back then, players were paying high prices for games, so we boasted things like long play time and big maps. Basically, bulk had become one standard of value.

And you made Kirby Super Star as the antithesis to that trend.

Sakurai: Yes. I thought about having resolutions come more quickly and that led to the omnibus format. I wanted to give each section its own plot in addition to providing different types of gameplay.

The result was seven main games and two subgames.

Sakurai: The main plots are really only in six games, though. The Arena is a bonus, so it’s actually six games plus one.

Oh, I see. The first one you play is Spring Breeze. That title is perfect. It comes from the game for Game Boy, doesn’t it?

Sakurai: Yes. The game manual for Kirby’s Dream Land described Kirby as a youth who came with the spring breeze, and this game was based on that game, so I gave it that title. It’s also the first game in the software, so I wanted to suggest that the going was still easy at that point.

That title does make it sound easy.

Sakurai: In Spring Breeze, you can use the Copy ability, but that wasn’t the original plan.

Why weren’t you going to include it?

Sakurai: At first, I thought about just following the original game to show complete beginners how to play.

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