RetroVision – The Origins of Kirby

It may come as a surprise to many that Kirby, the iconic and loveable Nintendo character, was never actually planned to turn out the way he did.  Now most reading this will certainly know of the Pink Puffball’s unique ability, one that sees him able to become anything he wants by merely mimicking other characters. What many may not know though, is the fact that the character always had this potential right from the conceptualisation stage, despite this never being the intention.

You see, years before he jumped to fame as the director of the Smash Bros series, Masahiro Sakurai first came to the attention of the gaming world when he worked alongside Nintendo at HAL Laboratory.  Here at age 19, not only did he create Kirby, but he also directed the character’s debut in the Game Boy title Kirby’s Dream Land.  A game that he created with the help from the soon to be Hal Laboratory President Satoru Iwata, and also from Shigeru Miyamoto, both of whom acted as uncredited Producers on the title.

Hal Team
A young Iwata and Sakurai, with then fellow HAL Laboratory employees Seki and Kaneda. This photo was taken in 1987.

However, despite the iconic nature of both the game and the character, the finished product was not how Sakurai had originally saw the character turning out.  In fact the Pink Puffball that we all know and love, was merely a placeholder.  A decoy if you will, one used for the development of the game whilst they continued to decide on a main character.

Nevertheless, just like how the character are on the fans, Kirby also grew on the development team.  So much so that they eventually felt that they couldn’t lose the character.  As such, despite being able to design anything they wanted for the main character, instead the placeholder was refined into the gluttonous character that is still loved to the day.

Kirby drawings alongside words from Masahiro Sakurai (Director), Shigeru Miyamoto (Producer) & the late Satoru Iwata (Producer who would soon after become President of Hal and later President of Nintendo)

The refining process also had it’s fair share of changes too.  One of which included a rare occasion whereby Sakurai’s decision to use the colour Pink for Kirby, was chosen over that of Miyamoto’s, who originally felt that Kirby should have been yellow.  Interestingly, this conversation actually came somewhat later into the development process than would be common today.

This was mainly due to the nature of the Game Boy’s black and white display, thus meaning the game was being developed without the need for colour.  As such, decided on the final colour for the character was actually one of the last things that the team would decide on, and actually ended up causing confusion when it came to the North American and European releases for the game.  In fact, this confusion is something that is still evident to this day, being seen within the differing box art below.

As you can see from the picture, the North American and European box art accidentally portrays the lead character as white, caused due to the black and white nature of the Game Boy’s display. This can then be compared to the correct original Japanese Box art which correctly features a Pink Kirby. The colour within the West was later corrected for the NES release of Kirby’s Adventure, when the world would first see Kirby’s pink colour in game.

Moreover, Kirby’s name went through a process of change too.  Originally the team had developed the game with the name of ポポポ (Popopo) in mind.  This was also reflected in the working title of ティンクル・ポポ (Twinkle Popopo) that was used during the development phase.  However, this was later changed to Kirby, with the game’s title also being altered to 星のカービィ (Hoshi No Kirby).  A name which in English translates to “Kirby of the Stars”.

So as you can see, despite Sakurai and the team having the potential create anything they desired for the main character, the appeal and lovableness of Kirby completely won over them over, as it has done with generations of Nintendo fans.  In fact, the simple but highly effective and intuitive nature of the character, also became something that was reflected in not only the Dream Land in which Kirby inhabits alongside King Dedede, but also in the game as a whole.  It all just goes to show that sometimes the simple ideas are the best.

Sophia Aubrey Drake

A lifelong gamer with a fanatical love of all things Nintendo and Japan. So much so that she's written a thesis on one and lived in the other. Currently on a quest to catch every last Pokémon. Follow me on twitter via @DivaXChill or @RingsandCoins.

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