One of Nintendo’s oldest collaborators are celebrating their ruby anniversary, but what do you really know about the makers of EarthBound and Pokémon Snap?
On 21 February 1980, Japanese developer HAL Laboratory was established. Some people may not recognise the name, but it has played an important role in Nintendo’s history, despite technically being an independent company.
It was where both Super Smash Bros. director and creator Masahiro Sakurai and former Nintendo president Satoru Iwata got their starts, and while it may not be as well-known as other Nintendo-related studios like Game Freak (the Pokémon people), HAL has been responsible for some rather prolific and noteworthy titles over its 40 years of business.
So to help celebrate, let’s go over those titles and give HAL its dues.
Easily the most iconic of HAL’s works, the lovable pink puffball was a creation of Sakurai’s during his early days at the studio (he was only 19 at the time!).
Ever since the original Kirby’s Dream Land for the Game Boy in 1992, HAL has developed or co-developed each one of Kirby’s various adventures, with the most recent ones being Super Kirby Clash and Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn.
Kirby may not be on the same level as Mario and Link, but he has continued to be a popular Nintendo icon for all this time and, as long as HAL is around, will probably never stop. He may even go racing again.
This series of Japanese role-playing games is unfortunately nowhere near as recognisable as Kirby. At this point, they’re borderline obscure, with most people probably only knowing what it is thanks to two of its characters regularly appearing in Smash Bros.
Still, it’s got it a bit better nowadays, thanks to Nintendo re-releasing the first two games on the Wii U eShop.
HAL didn’t work on the original game, EarthBound Beginnings, but the second game, co-devleoped with Ape, is an enjoyably unique experience with some great music, visuals and writing. Ironically, our least favourite bit was the combat.
It may be something of a meme at this point but fans have been desperate for Nintendo to release the third game (originally made for the Game Boy Advance) in the West ever since it came out in Japan back in 2006.
Those that have managed to actually play it via a fan translation have heaped a ton of praise on it, particularly for its heart wrenching ending.
Pokémon Snap and Pokémon Stadium
While Game Freak were hard at work on Pokémon Gold and Silver in the late 90s, HAL were the ones to bring us two of the series’ most beloved Nintendo 64 titles: Pokémon Snap and Pokémon Stadium.
Snap, rather than revolve around catching pokémon to train and battle them, saw players tasked with taking pictures of various pokémon in their natural habitats.
It was the first game to feature pokémon rendered in full 3D and continues to be regarded as one of the franchise’s best spin-offs. Some believed a sequel would be perfect for the Wii U because of the console’s GamePad functionality but the closest we got was a simple re-release.
For those that preferred something more traditional, Pokémon Stadium took the game’s battles into the third dimension and allowed players to transfer any of the 151 available pokémon from their copies of Red, Blue, and Yellow into Stadium with the Transfer Pak.
With your own team, you could take on all manner of tournaments and challenges to further prove your status as a pokémon master, as well as play some neat mini-games with friends.
This one got a sequel after Gold and Silver released, that was bursting with even more content. The same style of battles were later adapted for the 3D Pokémon games, including the most recent Sword and Shield.
Super Smash Bros.
The Super Smash Bros. series is a juggernaut at this point, but it had very humble beginnings under HAL’s development.
The first game, released for the N64, boasted only 12 characters. But that was enough to draw players in, since it was the first time the likes of Mario, Link and Pikachu had all shared the screen together.
That simple title eventually led to Super Smash Bros. Melee for the GameCube and the hype for it was as strong then as it is now.
To this day, Melee is still the preferred title amongst professional players due to its speedy gameplay and unique techniques.
It used to be a regular at fighting game tournament EVO until 2019, when it was replaced with its more modern successor, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
HAL did contribute to the development of the third title, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, for the Wii, but since then, Smash has very much been a product of Sakurai’s own studio, Sora Ltd., as well as Bandai Namco.
Still, while HAL may not always make the biggest triple-A titles, its 40 years of history is not to be sneezed.
And even if it’s just another Kirby game, we should all be hopeful of seeing more games from them in the future.
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