Breakout clones have been around since the early days of video games, and they've come in all shapes and sizes, on just about every platform. The Game Boy was no stranger to brick breaker games, with Alleyway being Nintendo's first foray into the genre, and one that "starred" the company's mascot, Mario. However, a couple years later in 1996, Nintendo released another block breaking game that was actually built off some of the same source code as Alleyway, but this time it would instead star a monochromatic version of another Nintendo favorite, the pink puffball Kirby. Instead of sticking to the basic gameplay of Alleyway, Kirby's Block Ball went above and beyond to introduce additional elements into the game to separate it from the pack, and it's available as a 3DS Virtual Console download.
While it may not have much in the way of a plot, the fundamentals of the game are simple: Kirby serves as a ball that is projected through the air to clear out various screens worth of blocks. However, the game builds on the classic concept by introducing additional ideas like multiple paddles, power ups (similar to Kirby's other games where he can absorb powers), and bonus levels. Each world adds new ideas, enemies (all classic Kirby characters) and gameplay mechanics, making it a significantly more compelling brick breaker than Alleyway, and most other games in the genre for that matter, at least up until developers realized the genre's true potential during this current generation of games.
There are a total of ten worlds, each consisting of five levels, three of which are "traditional" boards, and two that are kind of a boss fight combo. Going up against an enemy in a brick breaker isn't something new, (Arkanoid was doing it long before Kirby) but, in a testament to how different Block Ball is, how well you do in the round before the final one is essential to how easy the boss is going to be. The fourth level in each world allows you to accumulate stars, which populate around all four the edges of the screen for each boss, protecting the ball from the spikes that put an end to your life. The boss fight that follows is usually pretty basic – just target the boss with the passing ball until its life is depleted, but there are four paddles and four separate ways to die. If you collected enough stars in the previous level, these four pits would all be covered.
Much like many of the other Virtual Console releases, Kirby's Block Ball is devoid of any frills, and is presented in its grayscale glory. As long as you don't have high hopes for vintage Game Boy graphics, Block Ball is a decent looking game. Landing seven years into the original handheld's lifecycle, it takes advantage of the many things that Nintendo learned about the hardware over the years to produce a surprisingly satisfying game.
Kirby fans shouldn't be alone in being thrilled that this gem is landing on their 3DS; anyone that has ever spent any time smashing bricks should be rejoicing as well. While the concept behind the gameplay is simple, it's tried and true, and Block Ball really builds on it, creating a worthy experience for anyone looking to waste a little time on their 3DS.