Kirby's Dream Course is a cute and challenging minigolf game featuring Nintendo's cuddly spherical hero, Kirby. Because it was originally published for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1994, near the tail end of the 16-bit era, the game didn't make a huge splash when it was first released. Now that it's available for the Wii's Virtual Console though, you may want to check it out if you enjoy minigolf, especially if you can con a friend into occasionally teeing off with you.
Instead of putting a plain old golf ball toward a hole, you smack the roly-poly Kirby around and employ trick shots or power-ups to boot the enemies off the course, which eventually reveals the hole into which you ultimately need to sink Kirby. The cute characters and bouncy music are middle of the road compared to other 16-bit games, but the presentation is generally very pleasant. The isometric courses also do a good job of conveying depth and distance.
The controls are simple: You only need to use the control pad to select a shot type and position the target. Then you press the button a couple times to stop the subsequent crosshair and power meters in their sweet spots to initiate the shot. However, by stopping the meters a bit early or a bit late, you can intentionally adjust the spin and rotation of the ball, as well as how much power you use to send Kirby flying. You also need to be aware of objects on the course that can help or hinder your progress, such as water traps and conveyor belts. All in all, Kirby's Dream Course is deeper than its initial impression might lead you to believe.
It's also an extremely challenging game from the get-go. You'll need to become adept at ricocheting off of walls and hone your bouncing skills to maneuver around trees, avoid spike pits, or nail airborne enemies. Powerful shots aren't that tough to accomplish, but short putts require nail-biting precision with the power meter. Every shot you attempt eats up one of Kirby's four hit points, and if Kirby runs out of hit points or flies out of bounds, you'll lose one of your three lives. You recover one hit point by knocking away certain enemies and by sinking Kirby into the hole, so there's quite a lot of incentive to eliminate the bad guys, as well as finish the hole in as few shots as possible. But doing so is no small accomplishment because the size and layout of each hole make it easy to quickly run out of hit points. Some early courses can be finished in two or three attempts, but later ones literally beg for hours of trial and error.
You'll kill a few days going through the single-player mode, which offers eight different courses, each with eight holes. However, even with power-ups involved, minigolf without an opponent eventually gets old. That's where the two-player mode comes in: It contains four courses and incorporates a couple of design changes that lead to a livelier, more competitive experience. The winner is the person who collects the most star points. When you knock away enemies, they leave behind stars that remain on the play field. You get a point for each star you collect, but the hitch is that the other player can roll over the star on his or her turn and steal your point away. Landing Kirby in the hole automatically moves both players to the next hole. Thus, each hole is a race to collect stars and advance to the next hole before your opponent has time to collect more stars than you or swipe your points.
Kirby's Dream Course is a solid minigolf game. Its single-player mode may have a steep learning curve, but the presentation's cute factor helps make the dedicated practice you'll have to invest tolerable. Meanwhile, the two-player mode does away with the difficulty to pit two so-called friends together in a slap fight full of double crosses and intrigue.