Kirby 64: Silent Cutscenes

March 29th, 2009

I’ll probably follow this up with some generally impressions later on, but I wanted to spend this initial post discussing my favourite aspect of Kirby 64. If you have 11 minutes to spare (or even just a couple), and don’t mind having the game spoiled for yourself then take a look at the cutscene compilation below.

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The cutscenes in Kirby 64 are interesting and not just on the cute factor alone. I have to fess up and say that the animation and facial expressions of these miniature stories drew me into the idea of posting solely about them in the first place. Kirby’s draw dropped curiosity and King Dedede’s sullen pessimism are all so charmingly rendered with the simplest of shapes and textures. They colour the vanilla gameplay sequences with up-beat, positive energy – oodles of happiness. It’s not my key point, but damn, this game is adorable.

The voiceless cast rely on miming actions, and exaggerating facial expressions and body movements to convey their feelings of a given situation. In a way they’re similar to the 8 and 16-bit characters before them, which had no choice but to frantically mime their actions as a way of squeezing personality out of a handful of pixels. There is a distinct difference between the two though. Kirby and pals jesture because they lack a voice, a language (beyond odd ‘yelps’), the 8/16-bit characters did this because they lacked the respective technology and instead leaningĀ  on text. If they had a choice, they’d probably be speaking. Kirby and friends don’t even have text, nor the will or ability to speak.

Kirby is and always has been a children’s game. It’s a game many gamers, including myself thoroughly enjoy, but generally speaking the series is usually light on challenge and saturated in a care free vibe. It’s perhaps aimed at an audience even younger than the general perception of the children’s audience, since not even language is a barrier to entry. Many childrens games and media feature talk and dialogue, Kirby doesn’t. It’s similar to the Teletubbies in a way, except void of any fictional exclamation language. The freedom here for younger children, or at least children still processing language to understand is very accessible.

Kirby 64 like some other media normalizes dumbness – that is lacking the ability of speech. It’s a game that hadn’t vocalized it’s cast in an era where voice boxes were being added to old friends. While I’m no particular expert on the subject, I think there is obvious merit in a game that avoids speech altogether, instead focusing on other means to communicate. I wonder how such games and media like this are interpreted from people with a background of not being able to speak. I guess it would be something of a mild encouragement to see this transition in a medium like video games. Kirby 64 portrays the lack of speech (like everything in the game) in a pleasant nature. It doesn’t focus on the frustrations of miscommunication, rather every exchange is a success. I wonder what effect this has on such an audience, if any.

I discussed this briefly with Richard Terrell from the Critical Gaming blog as well, and he further likened it to the idea of silent films which is another suitable example.