Earlier this week, Nintendo announced that Kirby’s Adventure is coming to Nintendo Switch Online on February 13 (along with Super Mario Bros. 2, but we’ll talk about that one another time).

This is fantastic news. Kirby’s Adventure is one of the best games ever made for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The side-scroller’s release in 1993 marked it as one of the last major Nintendo projects created for the historic 8-bit console. It was also a landmark title for the (then young) franchise. Kirby’s Adventure is the first in the series to have the copy mechanic, Kirby’s now iconic ability to gain enemies’ powers after he eats them.

But this isn’t why I love Kirby’s Adventure. I remember this game so well because of its ending. It’s about as close to perfect as a video game’s final act can get. And I think it’s something that modern designers and developers can learn from.

An epic ending for a simple story

After a long journey through many worlds and levels, you come to what you assume is the final boss. You fight King Dedede, the villain from the series’ first game, Kirby’s Dreamland. The fight in Adventure is similar to how it plays out in Dreamland. But the background is much more interesting.

Kirby’s Adventure seems to have a basic plot. King Dedede has broken something called the Star Rod, which is the power source for the sacred Fountain of Dreams, and he scattered its pieces. That sounds like pretty typical video game stuff. After you collect all but the final piece, you go fight Dedede in front of the Fountain of Dreams itself.

First off, the Fountain of Dreams is awesome. Even with the NES’s limited colors, the area has this beautiful, dream-like appearance. The fight is fun, but it’s after you beat Dedede where things get interesting. Kirby assembles the Star Rod, and he goes to place it back on top of the Fountain of Dreams.

Above: Kirby’s Adventure box art.

Image Credit: Kirby Wiki

And then Dedede grabs onto Kirby and begs him not to. The diminutive Kirby drags Dedede as he makes his way to the fountain. He doesn’t get rid of Dedede until batting him away. Then he puts the Star Rod back on the Fountain of Dreams.

And then we come in contact with Kirby’s Adventure’s real final boss.

It turns out that Dedede had hid the pieces of the Star Rod to prevent this evil entity, called Nightmare, from bursting free. A twist! It turns out that the villain from the last game was just misunderstood this time around. Dedede then aids Kirby, sucking him in and then shooting him off toward space to give chase to Nightmare.

The game then gives us this shoot-’em-up-like boss fight. Kirby now has the Star Rod, and he can use it to fire stars. He attacks Nightmare as he chases him, until Kirby crashes on a star-cratered planet. That’s where the actual final battle takes place.

These events set the stage for an epic encounter. Nightmare is a difficult boss that will teleport all over the screen, making him hard to track down. He has a bunch of different attacks, each of them challenging to doge. And the entire stage, including the floor, is animated so that it’s constantly scrolling. This doesn’t impact Kirby’s movement, but it gives the fight this wonderful, frantic energy.

It’s exhilarating, and it shows how a proper final boss fight can take a good game and make it something you’ll remember for year. And if you’d like a more visual showcase of Kirby’s Adventure’s final bosses and endings, you should watch the video below.

Nail the ending, nail the game

Endings are tricky, and a lot of games these days have trouble with them. Many of them avoid having final bosses. Sometimes, that’s appropriate, but all too often it’s a mistake. The final boss is an important part of video game structure. It’s not just one last test of a player’s skill, but with the proper buildup, it should be the most exciting part of the entire experience.

When I play something like Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus that just sort of ends with no final boss, I feel deflated. It’s like spending hours building up to something … and then getting nothing. Or sometimes games have final bosses that don’t feel any more special than other battles. Bloodbourne has great bosses, but I couldn’t tell you what made the final one stand out other than being the literal last one.

It’s a tricky thing to tackle, but it’s a challenge I want to see more developers accept. Final bosses can become the most memorable part of a game when they’re done well, and Kirby’s Adventure is a testament to that.

The RetroBeat is a weekly column that looks at gaming’s past, diving into classics, new retro titles, or looking at how old favorites — and their design techniques — inspire today’s market and experiences. If you have any retro-themed projects or scoops you’d like to send my way, please contact me.