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Kirby Squeak Squad: A Decade Retrospective
Well, that didn't take long. Ten years ago -- that'd be 2006 for those of you reading this in the future -- the title Squeak Squad was released. The passing seems too short for the true temporal span it represents, which, I suppose, that's fitting in this circumstance. I opened with that line as that was the unanimous reaction to the game, scarcely a week after its release.
Now, in truth, I am probably the last person who holds right to discuss this title. I didn't purchase the game ten years ago. Heck, I only got a DS this calendar year. Still, I'm in a unique position. I've been an avid fan of the series since the '90s, and I've been able to play, watch, or at least discuss at length all releases under the Kirby banner. I've had ten years of pros and cons being tossed about by fans about this game jostling in my head; only recently was I finally able to form my own, first-hand account of Kirby: Squeak Squad.
... Well, it didn't take long. Following the continuous world of Amazing Mirror and the grueling Crystal Shards, the concise level-based format truly zips by one before realizing it. In fact, with the game having a post-completion extra of playing the entire game again on a timer, even the developers knew what they were making: a quick, fast paced romp that wouldn't take days to complete. The sub-game sections of Super Star fit this bill, focusing on compartmentalized replay value.
Taking a detour, it quickly needs noted that the gameplay is solid. The controls are perfect, the graphics are wonderful, and the copy abilities are diverse with just enough expansion. The utilization of the touch screen is borderline absent, as is to be expected with cross-pad based platformer released on a stylus based system. There was nothing wrong with the bubble and stomach content gimmick; I rather enjoyed it. However, the same could have been accomplished with a cursor in the pause screen. It was a little awkward holding a mostly unused instrument in my hand while pressing buttons with my thumb, but nothing that ruined the experience.
The environment and terrain utilization was another selling point, rare as it came up. Cutting grass, freezing water and magma, digging through soft ground, wheeling up... stuff? All of these things were pretty cool, but they didn't come up too much. I think, what, two or three stages total contained a cloud that could amplify the Spark ability? Out of some fifty levels, that ain't much. Still, not knowing when it might come up is part of the thrill and novelty of this new feature, which... I do not believe has been repeated (at least to the extent it existed in this title).
The Squeaks, themselves, were another fascinating aspect. Building off the treasure chest mechanic first debuted in The Great Cave Offensive, the player had to carry chests (thankfully in Kirby's stomach), with larger chests drawing the attention of the intergalactic bandits and an ensuing attack. The concept was novel, and I never quite knew just how it was pulled off. Having now played the game, I see that they... didn't.
The game didn't just whiz by in a blink when playing it. There are clear signs -- to me, at least -- that the development team was phoning it in with this title. As when any company makes a new system, the first round of games include titles that were intended for the prior generation (in this case, the Game Boy Advance). For whatever reason, these titles are in an awkward state where development is at a point where the platform can either stay the course and be considered old new or brazen into untrod territory. If the latter route is taken, then rushed choices are made to showcase the new system's capabilities -- ie, what boils down to touch-based menus.
Overall, I would compare the experience to a plane that just wheeled about the runway but never took off. Yes, it can fly, but it isn't going to. It's a bit hard to describe this disappointment accurately. Flanking the play with other titles, I got a better sense of a more "complete" and fleshed-out title. Effort shows in someone's output. You can really tell this by looking at the average burger that comes out of a fast food joint and, really, about any other burger. The components may be the same, but it isn't put together quite as well.
The music, for the most part, seemed to be a rehash of existing tunes from the franchise. Franchise? Yeah, sure, why not. All this talk about burgers made me hungry. Comparing it to the previous and following games I played -- Canvas Curse and Mass Attack -- I noticed immediately memorable jams. I forcible stopped, entranced by the ear candy, and took record of the fact that the sounds were both new and pleasing. This, of course, doesn't really affect the core of the game. However, a gift with a big, pretty ribbon on it doesn't make it any better, but shows that the present had thought put into it and wasn't a last-minute gas station purchase. I wonder if this gas station has hot dogs... Again, it's a omen of effort (or lack thereof) put into the title, and the absence showed forth further.
Like with many of the titles as of late, there are varying numbers of magical baubles that need collected in each stage. Older titles would have, say, one throughout an entire area, let alone multiple per level. Putting these in out of the way locations -- I know -- got tedious, especially after doing it for umpteen titles. Back in Adventure and Dream Land 2 & 3, I remember being truly stumped with some of these, offering a true challenge to... someone well outside the intended age range of the games... Now, it wasn't all of them, but there were a good number of noodle-scratchers in those games that had me stuck, sometimes, for days. There was one Rainbow Drop I remember needing the advent of Game FAQs to finally tackle.
In the title-in-question, the times I had to go back to a stage to get a treasure purely had to do with a split decision: basically, I went left when the treasure was right, so ha-hah! Now you gotta play it again! The fact that this was the game's go-to for puzzle difficulty is the clearest evidence in the trial of Squeak Squad v. Effort as it kept happening. Granted, I'm older than I was in the '90s (no one do that math, please!) and video games were made more difficult back in the day; these are taken into account.
Honestly, I feel that Squeak Squad was a product of circumstance, too many poorly aligned events. The animated series still had wet ink on its animation cels (or... wet CG? I dunno), and Nintendo sprang this whole new system on HAL. They needed to make a new game -- a real new game, not a remake -- and fast. Since two years later in 2008 is when Super Star Ultra came to be, I'm guessing the well of handheld system platformer action/adventure ideas was still running dry. The opinion in general, still, is that a low bar was set. Perhaps, in order to optimize the newly exposed audience from the television series, they wanted a quick, simple game. Wet their feet, let them use copy abilities, Kirby-kirby-kirby, and you've gotten the attention of some new fans.
I remember an interview exert where the team who worked on Kirby games professed a great interest in the DS and how they had lots of ideas for it. This excitement shows in the heavy touch-based titles, which are whimsical, charming, and innovative. I believe the thought that went into Squeak Squad is best summed up by its completion: Dark Nebula (or Dark Zero for us cool beans), final boss who goes down without much trouble only to reveal this true form of... the end? No second form, no further struggle. Now, play this same game again, only faster. It will not be made more difficult, have changed enemies, give you a different character, or have any other difference. Just do what you already did but don't dawdle.
It's not necessarily bad, but it was so close to being great and rather lingered around mediocre. All of the ground work was there, but... it never seemed to get off the ground. I wish I could close with some joke about writing this taking longer than playing the game, but it only took- ... come to think of it, I believe the times wouldn't be far off from one another. Huh.
I'm sad now.
|Last Updated - June 16th, 2016|
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