About 15 years have passed since the last time we’ve had a Kirby platformer on a console in its truest form. Although last year we almost had it with Kirby’s Epic Yarn, it wasn’t quite what was expected out of the little guy. Kirby is all about inhaling enemies, taking their powers and fluttering around. If that’s what you’ve been looking for since Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards on Nintendo 64, Kirby’s Return to Dream Land has come to the rescue. It’s a title fitting for the longtime fans of the Kirby series that have been waiting for this return to what made Kirby inherently great for far too long. Simply put, Kirby is back, and this time he’s collecting pieces of a crashed spaceship for an alien named Magolor.
Kirby’s Return to Dream Land is a straightforward game and there’s probably a learning curve of about 15 seconds for anyone who has played any platformer before. You control Kirby with the Wii remote held sideways and use the D-pad to move as you jump, run and attack your way through stages. Running and jumping is great, but the best part of Kirby games has always been his iconic ability to take the powers of the enemies he inhales. Power-up favorites are back along with some new ones to boot. My personal favorite is the new Leaf power ability. There are a total of about two dozen abilities, and even more ultra abilities. Each ability offers up unique attacks and it takes some experimentation to fully realize all of the powers you get. An example of this is with the Beam power. You inhale an enemy who looks as if he’s using his beam powers and swallow him whole to be able to use that power as your own. From there you can try things like run forward and use your power, jump and use your power, hold the power down to see if it charges and using the power while pressing any of the D-pad’s directions as well. You can also press start and get a list of how the power-up you currently have works.
Some powers, like the Spear, work underwater, while others, like Ice, allow you to move better on the ice. You’ll discover the pros and cons of each power as you move along and that sense of discovery is loads of fun. Just don’t get too disappointed when you inhale an enemy and it has no powers at all. When you get tired of a certain power, you can get rid of it and move on to the next enemy you want the power of. Speaking of inhaling, there is a new move that is introduced in Kirby’s Return to Dream Land where you hold down the button to inhale and shake the Wii remote to inhale even harder. This allows you to inhale larger enemies, larger blocks and walls, and multiple things at once. You can then spit that all out to unleash a massive ball of rubble or simply swallow it to either obtain abilities that were contained in what you’ve just inhaled or have it disappear into the infinite space of Kirby’s stomach.
Ultra abilities are also a welcome addition to this latest Kirby title where you have a power-up that is on a time limit, but wreaks havoc that no regular power can do. Only specific stages and enemies feature this opportunity to get one of these powers, so you always want to be on the lookout for them. These powers range from a giant, massive sword ability to summoning the destruction of a long fire dragon. You can use these abilities as many times as you want within a time limit, and these ultra abilities also open up special areas in the stages they’re featured in that bring you to sort of sub-bosses. You lose your ultra ability once you enter, but they usually appear right before the stage ends anyway. These ultra abilities do give you a sense of great power, but it’s unfortunate that they never carry over to any place outside of where you’re supposed to use them. I imagine the game telling me “hey, here’s a super strong power, but you’re only allowed to use it here where you’re supposed to own everything.” It’s not very rewarding and makes you feel kind of dumb for getting excited over it.
Like any platformer, Kirby dies once you fall off the stage and into videogames’ most infamous enemy: the abyss. That’s okay though, because Kirby is a pink fluff ball that can jump an infinite amount of times, which is far superior to the double jump and fluttering float jump seen in other games. That makes this game pretty easy, right? Wrong! Kirby’s Return to Dream Land still found a way to kill me by falling off the edge multiple times despite the fact that Kirby can jump forever. This should leave you scratching your head on how I can continuously die the same way, but there is a good reason for this that I will explain soon.
If you didn’t already know, Kirby’s inhaling skills is why he can continuously stay afloat in the majority of the games he’s featured in. Kirby also uses his inhaling abilities to take-in enemies and surroundings, and that is how you will sometimes find yourself in predicaments. If you have something in Kirby’s mouth while trying to jump, he will only jump once and not as much as when his mouth is empty. Therefore, while you jump with something in your mouth, if you forget that you can’t jump as many times, underestimate the distance of a jump or simply slip off a platform, you will almost certainly die. Kirby drops like a bag of bricks when his mouth is full, and there is a chance you can save yourself if you quickly spit whatever you have in your mouth out and begin jumping; however, this requires some quick reflexes, which is something I certainly do not have.
The level design of some stages will require you to carry a key or object to move on, and this will also keep you from being able to jump as much as you want, which is a good thing because it adds that “fear of heights” other platformers have. The overall level design of Kirby’s Return to Dream Land does a fair job keeping the game interesting and challenging, but there are several reasons that make the whole experience feel a bit repetitive and predictable as well. I know I’m contradicting myself, but let me break it down a bit more. There are several different terrains and environments to be seen in the stages of this game. You have ice stages, water stages, desert stages and many others. All of these bring a different dynamic to the game, because for one stage you’ll have Kirby underwater and the other stages will have Kirby slipping and sliding.
Having different environments and worlds is great, but the variety of stages are bunched up together and that quickly becomes something of a bore. Each level has five stages and then a boss battle, and if you’re in the ice world, all five stages will be ice themed. Instead of mixing things up throughout the game, you have to trudge through a certain type of stage until you’re finished with the level. I personally do not like desert stages in platformers, and the level that had all the sand stuff was torture for me. If they were spread out the stage types more throughout the game, then maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad. So you see, awesome variety, but it’s a letdown because it wasn’t paced throughout the game appropriately. Boss battles are also a bit forgettable, because they just aren’t as interesting as you hoped they would be. After defeating a boss, you get a piece of the spaceship for Magolor and move one to the next level.
Another letdown was the challenge. Like I said, the game is great at keeping itself challenging, but that falls flat once you realize Kirby’s Return to Dream Land is entirely too forgiving. Once you fail at a certain point in the game, you’re immediately brought back to the place right before you messed up. You can mess up over and over again, but you never feel like your risking anything, because you can try again almost instantly. This resulted in not only making me a bit more careless while playing, it also allowed me to purposely kill myself in order to obtain a hidden object that had been locked out by a misstep on a switch or whatever. And, believe me, there are plenty of hidden objects throughout the game that I will go further into detail with later on in the review.
On top of that, if you’re playing with one, two or three other people, you have what I call “Tails room for error.” Like in the classic Sonic titles for Sega Genesis, your human controlled partners have virtually an infinite amount of deaths allotted, there’s almost no consequence after they mess up, and they deal the same amount of damage as Kirby controlled by player 1. It is only when the Kirby controlled by player 1 dies that everyone has to go back to the beginning of an area. So if you know you’re not the best player in the world, you better give that controller to someone who will not mess up as often. It’s also worth noting that the first player also controls all the action. That means if this player is running forward way too fast and the others can’t keep up, the other players will be transported to where he or she is in order to allow them to catch up.
If you didn’t already gather, the game can be played with up to four players, and each player can choose to be a different colored Kirby or one of three other characters: King Dedede, Waddle Dee and fan-favorite Meta Knight. Each one has their own patented moves, such as Dedede’s hammer, but I don’t think any of them hold a candle to Kirby’s abilities to obtain enemy’s powers. Whether you’re playing alone or with friends, the game remains the same. However, in this game, co-op seems more irrelevant than ever before.
Clearing stages with partners makes the game lot more fun and easy to beat because of all the help you get, but co-op specific abilities like inhaling each other and carrying each other around seems like an arbitrary afterthought. There are no specific areas where co-op is needed, and there is no incentive to ever work together as a team. Kirby’s Epic Yarn had moments where I saw that if I didn’t have a partner, grabbing a hidden item or getting into special areas would have been incredibly difficult. But here, I think I prefer to play alone, because it becomes less chaotic, you can focus better, and there is much less room for error. I cannot begin to tell you the frustration I felt when I constantly boarded the back of my friend’s Kirby by simply jumping near him at the wrong time. Why is that an option? Outside of a 5-year old getting a kick out of jumping on daddy’s Kirby, I don’t see any reason for it.
The replay value here is pretty high with all the collectible Energy Spheres throughout the game. Each stage has three to five spheres to collect and some are blatantly obvious to get, while others are hidden quite well. Some will also require some good timing and lateral thinking to obtain. These spheres unlock challenge rooms, mini-games and other surprises as a pretty good motive to want to go and get them. The unlocked challenge rooms will also keep you coming back for more as they rank your performance with bronze, silver or gold.
The sights and sounds of Kirby’s Return to Dreamland are both strong points for the game. The graphics and colors are bright and vibrant, and details on some of Kirby’s dance moves are definitely a sight to see. C’mon, Kirby doing the robot for a victory dance? That has written amazing all over it. Some of the tunes while playing through stages are a bit generic, but redone themes of classics definitely sent me on a nostalgia trip more than a few times. There were also some great new tunes mixed in with some of the not so great, and I found these towards the end of the game where things seemed to have been getting more and more epic.
When all is said and done, Kirby’s Return to Dream Land is definitely a great console return to the formula that made Kirby great in the first place. Although this game is definitely geared towards a younger audience, it should satisfy those looking for a break from their FPS’s or simply looking to spend time with friends and family. Despite the fact that it’s not perfect and the game loses points for lack of creativity and boldness, it is a solid platformer with little to no hiccups. Beating the game should take you about six hours, but completing it 100% will keep you even longer after that. Those looking for a Kirby fix should look no further. Everyone else, you’ve been warned.