When I was a kid, I was firing on all cylinders with a fiery passion for Kirby. I played the GBA entries nonstop, I knew Air Ride front to back and you'll never guess who I always played as in Smash Bros. Melee. Once the Nintendo DS was released and I started seeing print ads for Kirby Canvas Curse, oh man, I was... not really all that interested. It looked too gimmicky for my tastes, and I was holding out for a more traditional platforming game starring my favorite sentient dodgeball.
In 2006, we got just that with Kirby Squeak Squad. I say "we", but I know it actually took a good while for me to find a copy. I'm assuming I was too late to hear about it, so getting it used was my only option, and my local Gamestop didn't have it for a good while. Finally, I managed to snag a copy from them, and let me tell you, I LOVED that game. I played it nonstop! I'm not sure why, but I have a vivid memory of playing it at a Mexican restaurant my family always used to go to.
I remembered the game being much like Amazing Mirror, which is still one of my favorite Kirby titles, with its big, interconnected map and awesome abilities. Unfortunately, I lost the game at some point, but I always had the same case and manual, which yearned to be reunited with its game card. Finally, just a few weeks ago, I got a new copy for a decent price and excitedly dove in. How does the game hold up, now that I'm a lot older and a little more cynical? Let's get into it!
Unfortunately, it's a lot less like Amazing Mirror than I remembered. Most notably, it isn't one big open world like Amazing Mirror, it's split into seperate levels in a more standard fashion. I feel like it's an understandable mistake, because it has lots of graphics, music and other details from that game. It feels like it wants to be a sequel to Amazing Mirror, but it isn't. It's a shame, really. If there's one game we need a sequel to, it's that one.
I can't really deduct points for remembering it wrong, though. Where I can start to take points away is the game's difficulty. There is none. Kirby isn't a series known for blistering difficulty, but there's usually SOME challenge. Squeak Squad would surely be a breeze for players of any skill level. I'm fairly confident that it was one of the first games I ever finished 100% without cheats, back when I thought such a feat was practically impossible in many of my favorite games, including other Kirby titles. Replaying it as an adult, I finished the game completely in two sittings, so maybe four hours.
The game has two main unique mechanics, those being bubbles and the titular Squeak Squad. Bubbles that contain items or copy abilities can be found floating in place in some areas. Once collected, up to five items can be stored in Kirby's stomach, which is displayed on the bottom screen. When in the stomach, you can tap an item to use it, and even mix items together. Mixing food together can net you better food, and mixing abilities together will mostly get you random abilities. There are two items with special fusions, though: sword and bomb. Sword can be fused with fire, ice and spark, while bomb can be fused with ice and spark. It's quite disappointing, really. They had an opportunity to make lots of cool ability combinations, but they only made five, and those have to be unlocked, even. I guess if you want cool ability combos, you'll just have to play Kirby 64.
Each level contains one to three treasure chests. If you make it to the end of a stage with a chest, you'll get to keep what's inside. However, the Squeak Squad is also out for treasure, and you'll encounter them in nearly every stage as they go after a big treasure chest, usually at the end of the stage. You'll have to fight them for it, or even just grab it and run for the exit. This titular team of bandits unfortunately don't add much to the gameplay, only acting as minibosses, for the most part. Two of them are fought as major bosses, twice each, which is odd, considering there are four primary members of the Squad, so why not have each one as a major boss? The treasure chests return from Amazing Mirror, but due to the structure of Squeak Squad, it's not nearly as fun or exciting to find them here. All said, the gameplay is just underwhelming, unfortunately. New abilities and new mechanics don't stop it from feeling like old hat.
As for new copy abilities, which are often an exciting draw for Kirby titles, Squeak Squad introduces Animal, Metal, Bubble and Ghost, none of which have appeared again since. Animal is pretty cool, it allows Kirby to dig through the dirt, just like the Mole Car transformation from Yoshi's Island or the claws from Zelda: Minish Cap. It does feel a little underutilized, but so does almost everything in this game. Metal is basically just the stone-stone fusion ability from Kirby 64, where he becomes invincible like stone, but can still move, albeit slowly. Bubble simply turns enemies into bubbles containing their abilities, or a star projectile, which can't be found in bubbles otherwise. The ghost ability is probably my favorite—it allows Kirby to possess and control enemies. The problems with Ghost are that most enemies aren't worth possessing, and either way, you can't go through doors as enemies, making it a borderline useless ability. It has to be unlocked, anyway, so it's practically post-game content anyway. There's also the elemental swords and bombs, but they're pretty underwhelming. Not nearly as exciting as the fire and shock swords in Kirby 64.
A lot of the music in this game, and I mean nearly half of the soundtrack, is lifted or remixed from previous Kirby games, especially Amazing Mirror and Nightmare in Dream Land, the two Game Boy Advance Kirby titles. There's even a song that remixes a track from Kirby Super Star into a track from Kirby Air Ride, which I have to admit is pretty cool. Some of the original tunes are solid, especially the Squeaks' theme, which has been playing on loop in my head for well over a decade now. As for most of the other original tracks in the game, I couldn't hum a note. I'd call it a decent, yet pretty unoriginal soundtrack. All the music they reused is good stuff, at least.
The graphics, like the music, mostly come directly from the GBA games, so there's not a lot to say. They didn't even account for the DS screen being larger than the GBA screen, so Kirby and most enemies appear very small. The character designs, that is, the new ones, are alright. Most of the Squeaks are kind of bland, save for the leader Daroach, who I actually think looks pretty cool. There are also story scenes which are basically slide shows with a little bit of animation. The art here is good, but it definitely would have been cooler if there was more proper animation.
Oh yeah, this may be a small thing, but in the game, you're able to find cans of spray paint which change Kirby's colors. My favorite was always the chalk color, which turns Kirby black and white. The best part about it is that it also changes all of his hats and accessories to black and white as well. None of the other colors have an effect like this, but I really like most of them. I just can't help it, though, I'll always play as black and white Kirby whenever he's available.
Kirby is a selfless hero, always eager to help others, but he's also very childish and obsessed with food. Normally, these two traits work in tandem, but the former isn't really present in this game, as the plot is entirely motivated by Kirby trying to get back a stolen slice of cake. Not even a whole cake! Just one lousy slice! Kirby pursues the Squeaks, hoping to get his cake back, but unknowingly ends up pursuing a treasure chest containing not a sweet treat, but a powerful evil that's been sealed away. Sealed away in a large treasure chest that's identical to all the other large chests in the game, of course.
Like Kirby's Adventure before it, this is another Kirby story where a brief conversation could have negated at least a good chunk of the conflict. In his quest, Kirby fights King DeDeDe and Meta Knight, who would both seem to have at least some idea of what's really in the chest. King DeDeDe has it at the start of the story before the Squeaks steal it, and later on, Meta Knight steals it right back from them and battles Kirby to keep him from opening it. Kirby of course thinks his cake is inside the chest and wins it back from Meta Knight in battle, but before he can open it, it's stolen back by Daroach, who apparently has no idea what's inside. The Squeaks would seem to just be stealing treasure chests indiscriminately. Seems like a brief "hey, don't, there's evil in there," from Meta Knight at this point could prevent further escalation, but instead, Daroach opens it and is possessed by the dark power.
Annoyingly, after this shift in the story, Kirby's motivation doesn't really change. I would have expected him to shift gears, thinking, "I see now that this was all a big misunderstanding. I should save Daroach!" Unfortunately, Kirby expresses curiosity over this strange event, but is still primarily focused on getting back his stupid cake. It really makes out Kirby to seem weirdly selfish. I know Kirby stories aren't usually very deep or involved—I mean, just look at The Great Cave Offensive, where the plot is that Kirby falls down a hole—but Squeak Squad is a one-two punch of a frustrating plot and an overall misunderstanding of Kirby's character.
Bringing nothing of particular interest to the table, Kirby Squeak Squad is tragically mediocre. It was a big letdown to revisit, especially coming from the era that it did. In the 2000s, Kirby games were practically hit after hit after hit. Squeak Squad was released two years after Amazing Mirror and two years before Super Star Ultra, and compared to those two games, it looks like E.T. for Atari 2600. It's like pitting a free trip to an all-you-can-eat buffet against four unsalted peanuts. I'll still eat the peanuts, just don't expect them to fill me up. The game still plays well and I still like peanuts, but pick nearly any other main series Kirby game out of a hat and you'll probably have more fun. It has a little something for everyone.