Kirby: Squeak Squad - Sometimes there are rats

Bobby Schroeder
19 min readMar 31, 2018

Released in 2006 for the Nintendo DS, Kirby: Squeak Squad has always been an odd one out in the Kirby franchise. It’s the second Kirby game outsourced to Japanese studio Flagship, which closed its doors the following year. In a way, it feels like a filler game from an uncertain time for the franchise. It was the first traditional game in the series released following the departure of Kirby series creator Masahiro Sakurai, and it was the last traditional game before current series director and Master of the Deepest Lore Shinya Kumazaki was given the reigns with fandom darlings Super Star Ultra and Return to Dream Land.

What we ended up getting out of these odd circumstances was a perfectly serviceable Kirby game. It was the first game I ever played in the series, actually. I enjoyed it thoroughly in 2007, and I enjoyed revisiting it in 2018. A lot of people who grew up with it consider it one of their favorites, and I can’t blame them.

But it feels underwhelming in some ways, and in hindsight it also often feels drab, lonely, and even a bit unsettling. It has many odd design and aesthetic decisions, and a lot of recycled assets from the GBA games that preceded it, all of which make it feel like it lacks a coherent creative vision of its own. This is what stood out to me the most when revisiting the game a decade later. In this piece, I’d like to go in-depth, and explain why Squeak Squad feels so deeply weird as a Kirby game, even if on the surface it may not stand out.

Kirby, moments before The Incident.

The Premise

Oddly enough, while Squeak Squad isn’t particularly popular compared to other games in the series, its simple plot has become the poster child for the narratives of the Kirby platformers.

The game begins with Kirby about to enjoy a slice of strawberry shortcake, which is suddenly stolen. Kirby, master of deduction that he is, immediately pins this on his longtime rival King Dedede. That poor, sweet, innocent penguin, who has never done anything wrong. Over the course of the first world, Kirby rushes to Dedede’s castle and fights him, only to realize that the real culprits are the titular Squeaks, a band of thieving mice. The Squeaks are actually after some sort of legendary treasure locked away in an ornate chest in Dedede’s possession. (I guess they just stole Kirby’s cake because they could.)

Kirby doesn’t really understand what’s going on here, but he assumes his cake is as important to everyone else as it is to him and that it must be what’s locked in that big chest everyone’s fighting over. Dedede then hurls him like a bowling ball at the Squeaks and they all end up in a gargantuan and surprisingly sunny cavern somehow (minus Dedede, who gets to stay home). And so Kirby sets off on a quest to recover his cake from some naughty mice, and along the way accidentally helps free Satan from his prison.

(We’ll get to Satan later.)

Squeak Squad revolves around treasure. Most levels contain three treasure chests containing various unlockables — two easier to miss small chests, and one large chest that you have to fight the Squeaks for at the end of the level. Most chests are technically optional, but five include items required to unlock the last two worlds. This is one of the main gimmicks of the game. It was slightly unique for a Kirby game at the time, with only Kirby 64 and the Great Cave Offensive subgame in Super Star placing this much emphasis on collectibles. Unfortunately for Squeak Squad, every Kirby game these days is littered with collectibles, and most of them have better level design than their DS predecessor. (I will admit, however, I got a kick out of a level that tricks you into thinking it’s two empty screens long, and you have to fly up to an off-camera area to actually find the bulk of the level and its three treasures.)

Some of these treasures lead to some of the biggest annoyances with Squeak Squad. Multiple levels in the game feature a fork in the road, with one path leading to a treasure chest and another (or multiple others) leading to your precious time being wasted. Either you pick the correct path on your first attempt, or you have to replay the level if you want to get the treasure. Several levels also feature puzzles and challenges where a chest can be dropped into a bottomless pit, and you have to rush to catch it in midair. These chests can make you painfully aware of how small Kirby’s hitbox actually is and how precise your alignment with a falling chest has to be.

Treasure chest-related annoyances can also come in the form of the “treasure scuffle” segments capping off most levels, where Kirby and the Squeaks fight over a large chest.

I honestly can’t decide whether or not I like these segments. On the one hand, they successfully make it feel like a frantic, sometimes even slapstick fight over the treasure — if you’re carrying any treasure you’ve found, then getting hit by a Squeak will immediately make Kirby drop one of his chests, which one of the Squeaks will then attempt to take to their hideout. Likewise, you can hit a Squeak carrying a chest to make them drop it, or just have Kirby inhale it right out of their hands. Once the Squeaks have retreated, there’s a brief period where you can chase them into their hideout and fight for the treasure there, but they’ll eventually board up the entrance for good.

The treasure scuffles are often exciting due to the very real possibility that you’ll lose your loot, but this can also make them frustrating. I can’t say I enjoyed having to replay a level and recover a set of chests I had already collected just because a Squeak knocked them out of me and right into a pit. On the other hand, the Squeak minibosses can all be stun locked easily with virtually any copy ability attack, and in many levels you can just grab the large chest and run right over to the exit without fighting them.

The treasures themselves in Squeak Squad are rather interesting, though, because they offer a wide variety of tangible rewards. These range from keys to unlock bonus levels, to ability scrolls that upgrade your copy abilities, to life ups, to spray cans that can change Kirby’s color scheme (although none of the alternate palettes hold a candle to pink). I appreciate that most aren’t just random trinkets, even if things like the boss trophies aren’t exactly useful.

So that’s the premise. There’s treasure in this one, and Kirby has to fight some rats for it. But if you’ve played other Kirby games in the past, you may realize that something is missing: any sort of friend or ally for Kirby.

Pictured above: Kirby and seven of his closest friends, none of whom appear in Squeak Squad.

You Aren’t Here to Make Friends (Because There Are None)

Squeak Squad certainly isn’t the only game to have Kirby go it alone, but it’s an increasingly rare thing to see.

Dream Land 2 had Kirby’s three animal friends, and its sequel Dream Land 3 doubled the number of animal friends and added Gooey as Kirby’s player two. Super Star allowed Kirby to turn just about any copy ability-giving enemy in the game into a friendly helper. Kirby 64 famously had Kirby accompanied by Ribbon the fairy, a friendly Waddle Dee, the human painter Adeleine, and a very tsundere King Dedede who totally doesn’t secretly want to be Kirby’s friend. Modern games will, at the very least, have Bandana Waddle Dee hanging around. Even in Flagship’s Amazing Mirror, Kirby was accompanied by three differently colored clones of himself who roamed the mazelike mirror world doing… something. The list goes on and on. Kirby’s friends have become such an integral part of the series that being able to play as them is one of the main hooks of the latest game in the series, Star Allies.

This is one of the things that makes Squeak Squad feel so lonely to me. Kirby has to travel through a series of often drab environments, perpetually pestered by rascally rodents, with not a friend in the world. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but it stands out in retrospect as a small contributing factor to the game’s vibe.

Speaking of those environments…


The Kirby series, in my opinion, has some of the best art direction in the game industry. I may be a bit biased, as a big fan of colorful sparkly cutesy things who thinks more games should aspire to look like Lisa Frank illustrations, but I’m definitely not alone in my admiration for the artistry constantly on display in this series. Even as far back as Kirby’s Adventure on the NES, Kirby has dazzled players with highly varied, colorful, whimsical fantasy environments, many of which push the limits of the hardware they’re on. Even stock video game tropes such as the grass level or the water level are often made beautiful and unique in Kirby due to its striking art direction and stylistic quirks.

While Squeak Squad is no slouch with its frequently lovely visuals, as a Kirby game? It’s hard not to think of it as the one with all the dirt.

Squeak Squad borrows many of its art assets from its GBA predecessors, Nightmare in Dream Land and Amazing Mirror, which marked a shift in art direction for the series. The landscapes are still dreamy, but less in a fantastical Candy Land way and more in a “vaguely surreal and intangible” way. Backdrops are generally “realistic” paintings of distant, misty landscapes with surreal skies and the occasional bit of impossible topography, rendered mainly in soft pastels and always kept a bit blurry and misty. The foregrounds, on the other hand, sport some gorgeous texture work, but they often keep things very… literal, compared to the whimsical, cartoonish, heavily stylized visuals found elsewhere in the series. There’s less inventiveness at play, less cute flourishes. Colors are often rather subdued, and textures are kept more on the realistic side of things as opposed to using fanciful patterns and shapes.

Some of the more visually pleasing areas in Squeak Squad.

It can be a downright gorgeous game at times, don’t get me wrong. The grassy fields of Prism Plains are crisp and vibrant, and the sparkly airborne castles and star-sprinkled clouds introduced in Cushy Cloud represent the usual look of the series wonderfully.

The level types you’ll actually be seeing for a majority of Squeak Squad.

The problem with Squeak Squad, really, is that it relies very heavily on its blandest tilesets: the caverns dug out of plain brown and grey dirt, the drab ancient ruins, the odd wooden structures in the forest. You see these tilesets and recolors of them constantly. There’s nothing really all that wrong with them on a technical level — the pixel art here is all great, and these settings do make sense for a treasure hunting themed game. But they do nothing to show off the unique charm of the Kirby series. You could stick the above environments in Wario Land 4 (a game I also love, don’t @ me) and they would blend right in.

From top left to bottom right: ice areas seen in Return to Dream Land, Adventure, Triple Deluxe, and Star Allies.

Let me highlight what I mean with another comparison. Above are some ice levels in other Kirby games. Many ice levels in the series rely on colorful crystalline structures made of ice, with snow glazed on like vanilla frosting on a cake. They’re winter wonderlands littered with fantastical ice architecture, almost looking like they’re made of candy. Blues and whites dominate, obviously, but bits of other hues are used throughout to make it more lively. Even on the NES, Kirby’s Adventure dedicated some precious cartridge space to some crystalline pillars and a cute little igloo to give its small handful of ice areas some charm.

And above is what most levels in Squeak Squad’s Ice Island look like: the regular cave and grassland tilesets, except some of it’s recolored blue, and there’s a layer of ice on the ground.

The overwhelming reliance on these sorts of dreary environments throughout the game contributes to that weird, lonely vibe I get. This isn’t a fun, magical Kirby adventure filled with unique, memorable locations. Your natural curiosity about what fantastical environment you’ll get to travel to next is regularly rewarded with another samey trek through a series of drab caves, ruins, and forests.

This dull mood is further compounded by…

The Music

Or rather, the lack thereof.

Squeak Squad seems to have the lowest amount of original music out of any mainline Kirby platformer. The overwhelming majority of stage music in the game is borrowed directly from the GBA entries, which gives the game a sort of identity crisis. The already bland looking areas just feel more bland and drab when they’re accompanied by recycled music. And boy, was I getting tired of the Forest Area/Cabbage Cavern theme (which had already been used in at least four games before this one) by the end of Squeak Squad.

Most rips of the soundtrack generally list six unnamed stage themes, which are the original compositions for Squeak Squad. However, one of these themes, heard in the very first level, is actually a remix of Grass Land 3 from Dream Land 3 with a new chorus added. So that knocks it down to five original stage themes. Let’s look at those.

Stage Music 1” plays in one level in Ice Island. It’s a slow, gentle track, fitting for a snowy level, but it also has a very melancholy vibe I can’t shake. “Stage Music 6” plays in Vocal Volcano and is intense right off the bat. The track is dominated by dramatic percussion. Fitting for a volcano. Both are good tracks, but maybe not what you’d look for out of a Kirby OST.

The original stage theme that I remember hearing the most, though, is none other than the incredibly eerie “Stage Music 4.” This plays in multiple levels throughout the game that would otherwise not be scary in the slightest — caves, jungles, that sort of thing. This weird, dissonant song, though? It makes them downright ominous. The part at 1:27 in particular, when most of the tracks in the sound drop out? That is downright nightmarish.

This. This is the song I will always think of when I remember Squeak Squad. (Other than the Squeaks’ theme, naturally.)

The two remaining original tracks, “Stage Music 3” and “Stage Music 5,” are both wonderful. These are the bright, uplifting melodies you would normally expect to hear in a Kirby level. Music like this is, in fact, one of the major selling points of each new Kirby game. You want to go on a magical adventure, seeing all sorts of fantastic new sights and hearing the beautiful new music along the way. Squeak Squad majorly lets down in this regard, with very little new material to see or hear. The moments of awe inspired by entering a new area are few and far between.

There is one major defining aspect I haven’t touched on, though. That would be Squeak Squad’s set of copy abilities. And boy, are the new ones here interesting.

The One Where Kirby Can Be A Ghost

I mentioned earlier that Squeak Squad was emblematic of a mid-2000s transitional phase for Kirby. You can actually feel this awkwardness in the gameplay, with the way copy abilities work.

Most copy abilities in the game behave the way they did in Amazing Mirror, which itself borrowed many directly from Nightmare in Dream Land. Because of this, some copy abilities in Squeak Squad behave in very simple ways, like they did in older games. Beam just has one basic beam whip attack, and that’s all it ever does. Meanwhile, other abilities instead take inspiration from Super Star, which gave almost every ability a varied moveset with multiple attacks. For instance, here the Sword ability not only has a basic slash, but also a rapid slash combo, an uppercut, and an aerial somersault attack.

As such, the copy abilities in Squeak Squad feel inconsistent. Some are more complex and varied, allowing you to use them in a wide variety of situations, while others stick you with the one move. It can’t quite decide between the old style, where some copy abilities are much better suited for some situations than others, and the new style, where abilities are all versatile enough to let you stick with your favorites. The game also noticeably lacks Super Star‘s guarding, and Kirby always drops his copy ability every time he takes damage. The gameplay is still tight and responsive, but it feels compromised.

I hate you so much

The new copy abilities in Squeak Squad, while fun on a conceptual level, are just as inconsistent, and I honestly didn’t find myself using them very much.

  • ANIMAL. Remember how I said this game had a lot of dirt? Part of that is the Animal copy ability, which has the ability to dig through dirt blocks (as well as slash at enemies). Any time the enemies that give you Animal show up, it’s right next to several screens filled to the brim with dirt. But the Animal suit is cute, and has the most well-rounded and varied moveset of Squeak Squad’s new abilities, so I’d probably call this one my favorite.
  • BUBBLE. A simple water-themed ability to go along with the other elements, which gives Kirby a bubble wand and a hat covered in bubbles. Cute! But there’s a catch — this ability’s main use is to turn enemies into copy ability bubbles, to be stored on the touch screen’s Copy Palette. Because it’s constantly making bubbles you’ll have to either pick up or avoid, and your inventory space is precious, using this ability quickly becomes a chore.
  • METAL. Metal Kirby is impervious to damage, and is heavy enough to pound in stakes, but the catch is that he‘s AGONIZINGLY slow. Trying to float in the Metal form is like pulling teeth. It’s the least fun thing.
  • And finally, the “secret” unlockable ability: GHOST. This one is really neat in theory, turning Kirby into a sheet ghost that can possess enemies. Once again, however, there are catches to ruin your fun. With no small enemies to possess, it’s useless against bosses. And, in one of the most baffling design moves I’ve ever seen, Ghost Kirby can’t move through passable floors and cannot climb ladders, making many stages downright impossible to complete with Ghost Kirby.

(If you didn’t play Amazing Mirror, you may think Cupid/Angel and Magic are exclusive to this game. They are, in fact, not. Both are fine, and extremely cute, but a bit clunky to actually use.)

Squeak Squad also has power mixing, although it’s much more limited than a lot of people probably remember, and the game never really brings attention to it. The Sword ability can be combined with the elemental attributes of Fire, Ice, or Spark, and likewise Bomb can be combined with Ice and Spark. It’s a neat bonus, but the game never requires you to combine powers like Star Allies does, and these five basic combos are the only ones in the entire game.

In spite of how easy it is to miss the light power mixing in Squeak Squad, the game has a slight fascination with those three elements, as seen in the final boss fight.

Daroach, making a mistake

So, About Satan

Most of the game is spent fighting with the Squeaks in a series of competently made if largely bland worlds with no real development in the plot. You visit a cavern with a Greek garden in it, a mountain area that leads into the clouds, a jungle level, a volcano level, an ice level. (It’s also unclear at what point Kirby and the Squeaks exit the giant cavern they find themselves in at the beginning of world 2. Many levels’ backgrounds throughout the game feature giant rocky columns stretching up into the sky with no peaks in sight. This uncertainty only compounds the game’s bizarre vibe.)

But the plot picks up at the end of world 6, Ice Island, when out of nowhere Meta Knight, the only character in the franchise who ever actually knows what’s going on, shows up and steals the big treasure chest everyone’s been fighting over. He then flees to world 7, Secret Sea.

Believe it or not, the Kirby series actually has a lot of continuity, and Squeak Squad ties into it in a few interesting ways. Secret Sea is implied to be Orange Ocean, the location where Meta Knight was fought in Adventure and Super Star. You can tell because it’s, well. The first level is orange. Once you head underwater, you’ll also spot something very interesting: the Halberd, Meta Knight’s airship that was destroyed by Kirby in Super Star and sank to the bottom of the sea. Apparently, it’s been repaired.

Left: The Halberd’s destruction in Super Star. Right: The Halberd, apparently repaired, at the bottom of the sea in Squeak Squad.

Yes, Squeak Squad of all games is actually important to the lore because it finally gives Meta Knight his ship back, which he would then continue to use in future games. And in one of the coolest moments (and one of the few real setpiece moments) in the entire game, you fight Meta Knight on the bridge of the Halberd as it takes off into space, bringing the two of you to the final world. (Although, strangely, the fight against Meta Knight is set to King Dedede’s theme.)

After the fight, Daroach (the leader of the Squeaks) steals the big chest once again, and finally takes a peek inside. Whoops! The chest contained neither Kirby’s slice of cake, nor the ultimate power Daroach was after. It was, in fact, a vessel used to seal away Satan.

(Bill Cipher t-shirt voice) It’s funny how dumb you are!

I’m being a little facetious. So, the identity of the final boss, which was contained within the treasure chest the whole time, is interesting, and also not made entirely clear in the localization. In the English version, the villain is named Dark Nebula, and is referred to as the “ruler of the underworld.” This leads a lot of fans to jokingly refer to it as the Kirby universe’s Satan.

In the Japanese version, however, the final boss’s name is Dark Zero. And Japanese sources list it as connected in some way to Dark Matter.

This should be a huge deal! Dark Matter (particularly in the form of Zero) is the most infamously eerie antagonist in the Kirby series, and the only true big bad to be featured in multiple games in the franchise. Dark Matter is some sort of hivemind of pure evil, a malicious black smog with piercing red eyes that wants to swallow up Pop Star presumably just because it can. It possesses otherwise good people and turns them into villains to do its bidding (not unlike what Dark Nebula/Dark Zero does to Daroach). In Dream Land 3, Zero was one of the most unsettling final boss fights in the franchise, with its ominous design, surreal environment, and the fact that it bleeds when you hit it. When they brought Zero back in Kirby 64 for the surprise final boss fight in its new Zero Two form, it was complete with a creepy, fleshy fallen angel motif that made it look like a kid-safe version of a Neon Genesis Evangelion angel. The fight here should be big and bombastic, and it should relish in these implied connections. You know, like the final bosses of all the modern Kirby games! Even the original “Dark Matter Trilogy” games had dramatic multi-phase confrontations with Dark Matter and/or Zero to make the ending satisfying.

The “Dark Matter invaders,” from the Japan-exclusive Kirby art book. Note that Dark Nebula/Dark Zero from Squeak Squad is considered a part of the family.

But Squeak Squad doesn’t. Dark Nebula has one basic form. It flies around erratically and uses fire, ice, and spark attacks on you. You beat it up with Daroach’s Triple Rod, and then it dies, and the game is like “oh yeah by the way that was the ‘lord of the underworld“ as Kirby flies away in the straightforward ending.

While I’m bringing up lore connections and villains, I should mention one last weird little thing I noticed for the first time on this playthrough. The other main gimmick of this game, beside the Squeaks and all the treasure, is the ability to store food and copy ability bubbles in five slots on the touch screen. This is Kirby’s “Copy Palette,” meant to represent his stomach, or what he looks like on the inside.

By default, Kirby’s Copy Palette looks an awful lot like Nightmare’s “Power Orb” form.

Left: Nightmare’s “Power Orb” form, as seen in Adventure and its remake, Nightmare in Dream Land. Right: The Copy Palette from Squeak Squad.

Make of this what you will.

Closing Thoughts

Squeak Squad is a game I feel kinda bad for. It was the game that introduced me to the series, and I loved it dearly at the time. Again, it’s a competent Kirby game. But at this point, just about everything it had going for it in 2006 has been done better by more recent Kirby titles. The returning Super Star-style copy abilities. The secrets hidden in every level. Meta Knight getting to do something cool. Ability mixing. The implied Dark Matter connections with the final boss. It’s never even been the best Kirby game with the initials KSS. And many would likely argue the titular Squeaks were used better in Mass Attack, where Daroach serves as a major ally who you can talk to between levels.

What’s left to make Squeak Squad stand out is largely accidental. All the weird touches, largely due to its use of recycled assets and its lack of a clear creative vision, that add up to a really bizarre Kirby game. The dull, overly brown environments. That one creepy song. The way things don’t quite work the way you think they should. All the weird enemy designs that haven’t been seen anywhere in the franchise since this game. The wonky level design bits. The heavy use of recycled music and environments. The sloppily resized art of Whispy Woods from Nightmare in Dream Land on the main menu. This creepy, shapeshifting, shadowy mist enemy that appears in seemingly random spots in Squeak Squad and literally no other Kirby games. Metal Kirby.

Squeak Squad may have been an important step for the series, though. After this, HAL took the reigns back. The series finally veered very hard back in the direction of fan favorite Super Star, as many fans had been asking for for years, and we got some of the most beloved Kirby games ever made. Kirby games with a consistent vision, and clear identities of their own, and self-indulgent throwbacks to the franchise’s past that reward fans of the lore.

Sometimes, with a series that runs as long as this, you get lost, and you have to kinda feel around in the dark to figure out where your priorities truly lie, and where you should go next. That’s what Squeak Squad is. You’re feeling around in the dark for treasure. Sometimes it’s fine. Sometimes it’s weird. Sometimes you‘re not quite sure where you are, but you’d probably like to be somewhere else. And sometimes there are rats.

At the end of the day, though, Kirby went into Squeak Squad with low expectations. All he wanted out of this adventure was that slice of cake. And by god, he got it.

I’m happy for him.



Bobby Schroeder

Transgender indie game developer, artist, and cartoon enthusiast. Creator of Super Lesbian Animal RPG, the world’s premiere RPG about lesbian animals.