Kirby is perhaps one of the most recognizable video game characters that has ever been created. There is no mistaking the little pink guy for anyone else, and even though most of his games do not deviate from the same formula, they are all deeply loved for the fun platforming that they offer. It may not be the most popular Nintendo series, but most things with Kirby's cute little mug on them sell fairly well and reach a lot of people.
While Kirby's Dream Land 3 is not radically different from the rest of the series as entries such as Canvas Curse are, it was something different at the time. The game took the animal friend mechanic from Kirby's Dream Land 2 and greatly built upon it to make a game that seperated itself from previous entries in the series by rejecting the normal copy ability formula.
Many of the people who played Dream Land 3 think back on it fondly, but as a Kirby fan myself, I completely missed it the first time around. Many others seemed to miss it as well, making it one of the more obscure Kirby games there are. Even though its Dream Land predecessors sold millions of copies, the game sold much less than Air Ride and Pinball Land. It also garnered the lowest rating out of every Kirby game to date. It was released and then quickly faded away into the abyss, as it was a victim of many unfortunate circumstances.
Story: In one of the instances where Kirby is not motivated purely by food, he and his sticky pal Gooey are having a fun day full of fishing when a dark cloud appears in the sky and begins to spawn. These tinier evil clouds take control of King Dedede and all of his minions that are scattered across Pop Star. Kirby and Gooey, along with all of their animal friends, must work together to rid the world of the mysterious evil entity named Dark Matter and cheer up the sad inhabitants of the star-shaped world.
Gameplay: Kirby's copy abilities are cut down to an extremely limited number in Dream Land 3. Many of the more specialized abilities are gone, leaving only Cutter, Ice, Fire, Broom, Needle, Stone, Spark, and Parasol behind.
To make up for the lack of abilities, the ones that do exist change in their use when Kirby unites with a different animal friend. For example, Stone with Rick the Hamster turns him into an enemy-smashing boulder that Kirby rides like a circus ball, while Stone with Chuchu the Octopus creates a rock swinging attack. In addition to this, each animal performs better under certain conditions. Kine the Fish makes swimming easier, Coo the Owl can fly through windy areas, and so forth.
Because these animals cannot serve as proper helpers, there is Gooey. Gooey can be created at any time by pressing the A button. Doing so takes away two bars of Kirby's life. He will attack enemies by lashing out his long tongue and swallowing them whole. As with helpers in other games, Gooey can be controlled by a second player.
Dream Land 3 also adds a bit of collecting to the mix with Heart Stars. These items are only acquired after solving a puzzle to please the character waiting at the end of each level. This ranges from having a specific animal or ability on hand to playing a mini-game. Heart Stars are needed for 100% completion of the game.
Why you probably are not/did not play it: Kirby's Dreamland 3 was one of the very last games to be released for the Super Nintendo, released near the end of September of 1997. Games that come out at the end of a console's lifespan, even one as wildly successful as the SNES, are doomed to poor sales and lack of recognition.
The Nintendo 64 had been around for over a year, and by this time, many people had played Super Mario 64 and left their Super Nintendos behind. It also followed the release of Kirby Super Star, a game that is held in high regards even today. As such, Super Star was a very tough act to follow. Kirby's Dreamland 3 strayed from its formula a little too much to be a good followup at release.
The people who did play the game, whether back then or through more modern, alternate means may have found that it was not nearly as fun as the other Kirby games. Gooey is a pain in the ass to keep around (if he is not controlled by another person), as he gobbles up every enemy before you have a chance to copy them. The animal friend mechanics just don't add up to the vast amount of abilities that games such as Super Star and Adventure had caused fans of the series to grow accustomed to.
Dream Land 3 is a lot like a lady who showed up entirely too late to the party without any fanfare and wearing questionable fashions. For the most part, no one paid her arrival any attention, and those who did were unsure exactly what to think of her and her odd style.
Still, the game is not without its charms. As one of the last SNES games, Dream Land 3 takes full advantage of the system's graphical capabilities to make one of the prettiest games on the system. Almost all of the elements of the game appear to be drawn in crayon (although many items, such as the Star Pieces, are still pixelized and look very out of place). There are also many awesome cameos from other Nintendo characters throughout the game and some of the best music that a Kirby game has ever offered. On top of all this, it is still a Kirby game. Compared to masterpieces like Canvas Curse and Super Star, Dream Land 3 is not nearly the greatest choice, but it is not at all bad.
It was very recently released* to the Wii's Virtual Console lineup, so perhaps now is the game's time to escape the sinkhole of time and be enjoyed by many more people than its previous release allowed.
* I swear I did not plan things this way.