Sub-games have been a component of Kirby for nearly all 30 years the franchise has existed. Some are short, some with more meat on them. Some are meant to test your patience, some your reaction time, and others are an excuse to toss Kirby into yet another genre. There are twice as many Kirby sub-games as Kirby games, and to celebrate 30 years of the hungry little guy, we’re going to rank the top 30.
A one-button affair that tests your reflexes: King Dedede will launch eggs at Kirby, who will inhale them as you hold down the button. You have to let go when Dedede throws a bomb, though, or else it’ll be Game Over.
You’ll need your short-term memory and counting skills, as you’re trying to string together the longest win streak by counting how many Kirbys are on screen at once before the curtain falls. You only have a few seconds, and once other objects the color of Kirby appear, or others are obscured by other non-Kirby entities, you’ll wish you had just a little more time.
This Japan-only Satellaview game was nearly lost forever, but preservationists saved it from oblivion, so now you too can enjoy this Breakout variant featuring two Rick the Hamsters bouncing Kirby around a stage.
A race without a finish line, you choose a 10-, 30-, or 60-second course, and then you see how far you can get before time runs out. You move by pressing corresponding shapes on the touch screen, but if you press triangle when you should have pressed circle, Kirby will trip, and you’ll waste precious seconds.
Use your yarn lasso to grab Carrie, and then [sigh] carry her to the goal before time runs out. The stages are ones you’ve already played, but the combination of a timer and your role as escort has them play differently this time around.
Almost too simple on the easier difficulties, but the final test is a memory game version of connect-the-dots with increasingly complex images, some with images within images, and you’ll need to be basically perfect for the top rank. Oh, and it’s 100 images long.
A race played with two buttons: one has you jump one space, the other two. Obstacles (puddles, frogs, pitfalls, banana peels) are in your way, and you need to coordinate between jumping two spaces for max efficiency with hopping the one to avoid what’s in your path, all while racing against three computer opponents. Easy at first, but more complex in the last difficulty tier.
Kirby’s Satellaview interpretation of those baseball arcade games that are a cousin of pinball, where you try to time your swing to hit the ball into a hole labeled double, home run, etc. Kirby is the ball here, and your goal is to score as many runs as possible before making three outs.
It’s basically the Ganondorf magic back-and-forth from Zelda games, except with four Kirbys and explosives. Disrupt your opponents’ timing, and avoid getting blown up yourself.
This is HAL’s go at a runner, and the only knock against it is that it’s just four stages long. This should have blown this one out into a full release, because what is here—Dedede jumping and sliding and swinging his hammer and avoiding explosive traps—is good fun.
You have 30 seconds to chop wood from your tree, and in your way are three opponents, caterpillars, and spiky Gordos. Flip which side you’re on to avoid those enemies, and to send the Gordos to the other trees to slow them down. You need some excellent reaction time on the toughest difficulty.
There are three different versions of Quick Draw, but they’re all the same game at heart. The original is a high noon, western gunfight, while its successors were more samurai-flavored. You wait for a signal to attack, and if you press the button faster than your foe, you win. Waiting can take some time, but the button press itself has to take milliseconds or you’ll lose.
The DS re-release/remake of Kirby’s finest hour added a few new sub-games, and this is the second-best of them. A card is revealed on the top screen, and you need to be the first of four players to pick the same card on the touch screen. You need to be fast, and do it three times to win.
Speed Eaters is like Quick Draw, only against multiple players, and is about filling Kirby’s stomach with apples. You can inhale all or a partial amount of the apples on screen, depending on how fast you were compared to your opponents, and have to fill a meter representing Kirby’s innards before they can. Speedy Tea Time is similar, except with cupcakes and against just one opponent. In each, beware inhaling bombs that’ll cost you your next turn.
Basically a turret-style game where Kirby has a bazooka and is trying to blow up giant robots, piece by piece, before time runs out. Reveal their weak point to defeat them sooner, and take down enemies and missiles in the background for bonus points.
Throw shuriken at moving targets with a flick of the Wii Remote, while trying to string bullseyes together to max out a score combo. Timing is everything, and you’ll need to anticipate movement while not falling for decoys or distractions. If you miss one target, you lose.
This is Simon, but for a Kirby dance. The difficulty is in remembering what will become an extremely long dance routine, which you’ll input with the D-pad. Make one mistake, that’s fine, but two, and you lose, and the tempo increases after every two correct dances.
It’s whack-a-mole! Only with some enemies worth more points than others, some that reduce your otal, and a bonus time boss to rack up extra points before the end. There are six levels of difficulty, and even earning the boss chance is tough on the hardest of those.
Unfairly derisively regarded as a Smash Bros. clone, even though HAL is the original developer of Smash Bros. in the first place. If anyone is allowed to make a mascot fighter using powers, stages, and popular characters from their franchise, it’s HAL.
A four-player, side-scrolling race where Kirby grinds rails whilst riding a Warp Star. Grind for speed, stop grinding to pass over spikes, and then grind again as soon as possible for the maximum speed boost. They’re 30- to 45-second races, depending on difficulty, and contain some technically impressive switching between the foreground and background.
Kirby’s attempt at an RPG. Use the stylus to tap on the sweet spot of this meter-based battle system, and if you manage a perfect run after completing it once before already, in true RPG fashion, you’ll even unlock a secret boss.
A shooting gallery where you’re pitted against three other pistol-toting Kirbys all gunning for the same high-value targets as you. Be sure not to fire at bombs, or forget to reload, or else you’ll fall behind in a hurry.
A concept so nice HAL went to it thrice. Time your button presses to maximize the charge meters and attack accuracy, then split the planet open/launch an object into space with the sheer force of your assault. Bonus points for Megaton Punch’s killer theme song.
Team-based boss fights of escalating difficulty, in a medieval setting. Gain experience and levels to tackle the tougher opponents, and to go back and wipe the floor with the earlier foes, too. This would end up getting an expanded release on the 3DS and Switch that included online multiplayer and microtransactions. Luckily, both are wholly unnecessary to progress.
A top-down game where the goal is maximizing your points through combos and clearing multiple enemies from the screen at once with a single attack. It’s much shorter than the game it inspired, Kirby’s Blowout Blast, but the central mechanic is fun to master even in this initial edition.
A pinball game with a main table that will warp you to four different boss fights. The music is great, it’s easy to understand where you need to direct your pinball, and it features all kinds of Kirby objects and enemies. What’s not to love?
A surprisingly deep rhythm platformer where Dedede travels via jumps on drums. You want to finish the stages quickly, but you also need to grab all the coins, focus on hitting the backbeat, and avoid damage in order to achieve top rank in all three stages.
Maybe you think some other sub-games are more fun than this trio of races that balance eating the most food in your path with reaching the finish line first, but consider this: do any of those other sub-games have an enduring theme song that rivals Gourmet Race’s?
HAL has always enjoyed putting nods to shoot-em-ups in mainline Kirby games, but Strato Patrol EOS is the real deal. Your goal is to amass a small fleet of floating Kirbys that can be spread out for max coverage, or focused into one 10-gun menace against a single opponent. It’s not shmup tough, but the combo-based scoring system will have you coming back for more.
There are six different versions of The Arena, and sometimes more than one in a single Kirby title. The basic premise is this: Kirby (and maybe a friend or three) will fight every boss in the game, with only a limited amount of healing items available to them between bouts. Those seeking a more stressful Kirby experience need look no further than The Arena, especially in Kirby Star Allies, where free DLC and a series of unlocks introduced the aptly named “Soul Melter EX” difficulty level.
Marc Normandin covers retro videogames at Retro XP, which you can read for free but support through his Patreon, and can be found on Twitter at @Marc_Normandin.