Kirby's Return to Dream Land Review
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On 10/27/2011 at 07:58 PM by Jason Ross
After eleven years without a new main-series console game, Kirby is finally back.
Any Kirby fan should buy this game, particularly those fond of Super Star. Return to Dream Land should also appease action/platformer fans quite a bit for some time, though once completed, it could lose a degree of novelty faster than expected. It will also do very well in social situations like family get-togethers.
Open up a toy chest, and inside you'll find a G.I. Joe, a water gun, a yo-yo. You'll see Ninja Turtles. Perhaps at the bottom there's a baseball. No matter how you look at it, there are dozens of toys and dozens of ways to play games. And so it is with Kirby's Return to Dream Land.
Kirby is a unique hero, one of the most versatile in gaming. When Kirby inhales and swallows his enemies, he's imbued with their special ability. In Kirby's Return to Dream Land, each ability is almost a complete transformation, unique from any other. These abilities have been decked out more than they've ever been before; a few even have a dozen different attack and movement options unique solely to their corresponding characteristic. Why do I compare Kirby's Return to Dream Land to a toy chest? Because more than ever before, each powerup feels separate, as if each version of Kirby were an entirely different character.
Adding to this diversity of play styles are Kirby's now-playable friends: King Dedede, Meta Knight, and the lovable Bandanna Dee. The trio of pals accompany Kirby throughout the game's cutscenes, and at any moment, a friend in the real world can pick up a second Wii Remote, tap the minus button, and choose one of these three (or a Kirby of a different color) and join in at the cost of one life to the first player. Each friend is based off of one (or in the case of Meta Knight, two) of Kirby's abilities. Dedede serves as a similar double to the Hammer ability, though he's a bit slower than normal. Meta Knight attacks much like Kirby does with his sword ability, but he moves in the air with the same control as Wing grants Kirby. Bandanna Dee is a spear-throwing Waddle Dee completely based on Kirby's Spear ability. Playing as any of these three characters will grant extra players a character with some unique moves. For friends who want to be able to copy abilities, there are three extra Kirby colors available to chose from, as well.
All this adds up to a very diverse title. Kirby can be played in virtually any way the player conceives. Pick a favorite ability and stick with that through every level. Use the abilities each stage gives and search out one of a few hidden items in said stage to unlock a few bonuses. Invite over friends and family and make a party out of the game. The point is, the stage content, the enemies, and the bosses in Kirby act as a metaphorical backdrop or playground in which someone of any age can play with a lot of very fun toys and even share with friends.
A few hiccups sneak out in Return to Dream Land's attempt to perform this feat. Admittedly it's an odd complaint, but the game's campaign is too long! The game's most similar relative in terms of gameplay is Kirby Super Star. As the first Kirby title to bring in a form of drop-in co-op play, it had bite-sized story modes with a good handful of stages for each mode, making it more rounded and more accessible in quick bursts. In contrast, Return to Dream Land's different worlds each take about an hour to complete. The difference? Super Star's shorter length featured a full gamut of differently styled stages, showcasing the abilities and lands in the game within a short amount of time. In Return to Dream Land, the pink crème puff finds himself traversing several water stages or several ice stages for an hour. I'm aware that grouping stages and providing a set with a common theme is standard gaming fare. However, a game with such accessible multiplayer and a colorful pool of environments would be more enjoyable if everyone playing could get a glimpse at the content in one sitting, rather than in something around ten sessions.
Return to Dream Land's challenge is something that may also be of debate. Given Kirby's amazing flexibility, early and middle stages are a tad on the easy side. I found myself enjoying my time in these worlds and learning about Kirby's newest and upgraded abilities, but when I played with Chris, I had the feeling that as a Kirby veteran, these stages were perhaps too tedious. A few stages in, and the game becomes more even and challenging, so those looking to test what Kirby & Co. are made of will need some patience. Without spoiling too much, Return to Dream Land rewards any who beat the game with an arena and a mode called “Extra.” The arena will test Kirby by pitting him against all the game's bosses, while Extra is a more grueling revision of the main game with new enemy placements, a halved health bar, and souped-up bosses that will likely deliver challenge to any serious gamer.
Dream Land would not be Dream Land without maintaining a certain atmosphere. Kirby's home is a bright and colorful place, and Return to Dream Land continues this form. Most of the songs are positively upbeat, and fans will notice a few remixes of some of their favorites from past games. Stages are vibrant and many almost seem to be sequined with speckles of sparkle and zazz. Even Kirby's enemies have a certain lighthearted fun-filled flair.
Earlier, I described Kirby's Return to Dream Land as a toy chest. Without a doubt, Return to Dream Land fulfills this role well. Meta Knight, Dedede, and Bandanna Dee are fun enough to control that I could see each of them getting their own game. Still, without a more digestible campaign, I have a few fears that it will be difficult for most to find joy in subsequent returns after it's over, particularly for solo players. The game is nearly perfect for groups of friends and families looking for some simple fun together this holiday season, but the few issues I've mentioned, as minor as they are, weigh down Kirby's return more than one would think they should.