Welcome to the Character Column! Each week, I’ll be taking a look at a different character from Nintendo’s long and esteemed history, and I’ll analyze what makes them interesting, nuanced, or just plain memorable. Whether they’re heroes, villains or NPCs, I’ll explain why they deserve respect or love from the fanbase and a place in video game history.
Last week we covered Captain Falcon, the punch-happy racer, who was quite the fiery character. And this week, in celebration of the release of Kirby: Planet Robobot, we’re back to a more villainous streak with the arch-nemesis of Kirby and the king of Dream Land, King Dedede!
… Who hasn’t done that much bad. Seriously, the penguin’s fought alongside the pink puffball almost as often as he’s clobbered him. Sure, he stole all of Dream Land’s food in his younger days, and raced Kirby to see who could eat more and reach the finish first in Super Star… but otherwise, what has poor Dedede done? Why does he always seem to be maligned?
“But no so fast!” says the attentive reader. “Dedede has been a villain more than once! You’re just disregarding all the other times!” Well, Mr. Strawman, you… may have a point. So let’s look at the three Dededes we have – the brute, the misunderstood, and the hero – and try to discern which one is the ‘true’ Dedede, if there even is such a thing.
… Okay, maybe that header is a bit cruel, but Dedede certainly does fit the “old fat monarch” stereotype that Henry VIII brings to mind (though Dedede never murdered any of his spouses… calling to question: What exactly is the marital process in Dreamland?). He’s greedy, gluttonous, and has an awfully garish sense of fashion (just kidding, I dig the bathrobe). In the original Kirby’s Dream Land, he stole all the food of the citizens for no good reason! And then he did it again in Super Star’s Spring Breeze mode! And then he… er… um… well… where else has he been the ultimate villain, again?
The answer is nowhere, really. With the exception of certain spin-offs like Kirby’s Avalanche or Kirby’s Dream Course (wherein his actions aren’t really full of malice in the first place), Dedede is only the final boss of the original Dream Land title. The rest of the time, something else is going on – usually seen either in possession or in him trying to avert a disaster on his own. Heck, in Squeak Squad he’s done nothing wrong, and Kirby immediately suspects him to be the one who stole his strawberry shortcake! All after only one instance of Dedede doing something truly bad. Sure, being a jerk and swiping the nation’s food supply, indoubtably starving thousands and bumping mortality rates due to malnutrition is bad… but hey! Could be worse. He could’ve eaten the food in front of the emaciated orphans. See? He’s not so bad!
There are no strings on me (except that there are)
Dedede is much more often the victim of possession or manipulation by the villain at hand. This can be seen in Dream Land 2 and 3, 64: The Crystal Shards, Epic Yarn and Triple Deluxe – a much longer list than the instances in where he’s got clear criminal intent. Another notable thing about these appearances is that Dedede doesn’t do much harmful before and after his mind control, In fact, in Crystal Shards, he outright helps Kirby after he’s freed!
And while the question of responsibilities when brainwashed is a sticky situation morally (and thankfully one that doesn’t come up often in the real world), I believe it ill-conceived to treat King Dedede with contempt for his actions. While his previous misdeeds show that he’s not the most hapless individual, he isn’t the devil – you can’t hold him entirely accountable for his actions under mind control.
But how does he redeem his actions? Well, I’m glad you asked, hypothetical internet surfer!
King Dedede had given his wooden mallet to the side of good fairly often as well, or at the very least been innocent when Kirby attacked him. Besides the previous mention of Crystal Shards, Dedede was a staunch ally in Return to Dream Land where he was a playable character, and very useful to boot. Heck, even in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Dedede is a double agent, playing the long game and ultimately being the reason that the heroes win out in the end. In such a massive multiplayer crossover as that, the fact that Dedede is heroic rather than villainous really stands out, especially when done in a surprisingly shocking manner.
Not to mention, his relationship with Kirby never seems to be one of animosity or bitterness. Dedede’s hugged the puffball more than once (though, to be completely fair, who wouldn’t?) and has been shown to be on awfully friendly terms for mortal enemies, going racing and having a good time (then again, Bowser’s done the same…). When Dedede gets kidnapped in Triple Deluxe, In fact, in Rainbow Curse, Dedede is outright referred to as Kirby’s friend at one point! They sure have gotten along better over the years.
So what does this mean? Has Dedede reformed wholly and completely? Is Kirby being naive with extending the small, stubby arm of friendship?
I don’t think so. The time may come when King Dedede is up to no good again, but I think it’s been firmly established by this point that he’s not really such a bad guy. He isn’t the perfect paragon of moral virtue, but it’s somewhat interesting to have a villain who walks both sides of the line, a trait shared with fellow Kirby antagonist Meta Knight. And unlike the cosmic horrors that Kirby takes down on a regular basis, Dedede is on good terms and doesn’t want to destroy all of reality as we know it. That’s always a plus.
And at the end of the day… just look at him. He’s a fat hammer-wielding penguin in a fancy robe. What’s not to love?
Thanks for reading this week’s Character Column! Tune in next time, where we’ll talk about everybody’s favorite stovepipe hatted fellow with an illustrious beard… That’s right, the Photographer from EarthBound! Until then!
“You can’t be mean to my Waddle Dees! Only I can be mean to my Waddle Dees!”
– King Dedede, Kirby’s Epic Yarn