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Kirby has been through a lot over the years. He stopped King DeDeDe from taking all of the food in Dream Land, he stopped Marx from trying to control planet Popstar, he restored power to the Fountain of Dreams, and he prevented Dark Matter from taking over planet Popstar, among other heroic feats. Developed by HAL Laboratory and published by Nintendo, Kirby’s Return to Dream Land was released for the Nintendo Wii in October, 2011. This time, players will revisit Dream Land where Kirby and his friends go on a quest to help an extraterrestrial repair his ship. Return to Dream Land includes drop-in-drop-out multiplayer and supports up to four players. Jeremy and I teamed up for some co-operative action and our friend Matt joined in for some of the sub games.
A wormhole opens up on the Planet Popstar and a mysterious starship comes through and crashes somewhere on the planet’s surface. Kirby, King DeDeDe, Waddle Dee, and Meta Knight investigate and encounter Magolor, an extraterrestrial. The ship is called the Lor Starcutter and pieces of the ship along with the one hundred twenty energy spheres needed to power it up are scattered across the planet. The gang goes on quest to find the pieces and energy spheres to help Magalor repair his ship. There are several cut scenes throughout the game but no voice acting which is expected but the cut scenes are pretty straightforward in their presentation that it’s not hard to follow what’s going on.
Kirby’s Return to Dream Land places a heavy emphases on co-operative play and supports up to four players. Player one always has to be Kirby and the other three can choose to be either King DeDeDe, Meta Knight, Waddle Dee, or another Kirby. All characters can run, sprint, crouch, slide, block, jump, and fly. When playing co-operatively, your character can ride on another character’s head simply by jumping on them. Because of how easy that is to do, it can happen often when not intended and does become a nuisance. Also, blocking is defaulted to the “A” button on the Wii remote and since you have to hold the remote sideways to play, pressing “A” to block just feels awkward. Kirby is the only character that can copy abilities, normally by inhaling enemies. He can also perform a Super Inhale where he inhales multiple things and spits them out as a massive star. The other characters have their own abilities and can never lose them. Meta Knight is like an enhanced sword ability. King DeDeDe is the equivalent to the hammer ability. And Waddle Dee is the equivalent to the spear ability. All characters share lives and can restore any lost health by eating food found in the environments. And they can share the food after eating by approaching one of the characters to perform a “face-to-face”. Eating Maxim tomatoes restores your health in full. If Kirby dies, everyone has to restart from the latest checkpoint but if another character dies, they can spawn back in at any time. In fact, anybody but player one can drop out and back in at any time. If you come across and eat Invincibility Candy, you’ll be invincible for a brief time.
Several of the playable characters have their own strengths and weaknesses. Meta Knight can move and fly the fastest, and King DeDeDe can hit the hardest. Waddle Dee is the only character that doesn’t seem to have any significant benefits. Kirby, of course, can copy abilities. Classics return like the hammer ability, sword ability, cutter, fire ability, ice ability, needle ability, parasol, bomb, and several more. A lot of these abilities have new moves, many of which can be done by shaking the Wii remote or mashing the d-pad buttons. Some new abilities include the whip, water, and leaf. The whip is a ranged weapon and can be used to attack enemies or grab items in hard-to-reach places. With the water ability you can surf over water, fire, and even put out fire blocks. And the Leaf ability is a ranged ability that allows you to fire leaves and create a leaf storm of sorts. You will have to use most of the abilities to progress or acquire items. Sometimes you can miss an item because you didn’t have the proper ability equipped which may require you to restart the stage. You’ll slam posts with the hammer ability, cut ropes, light cannon fuses with the fire ability, and use the cutter ability to throw a blade that can activate switches in distant areas you can’t get to. Most of the time, you’ll acquire abilities by sucking up enemies but every now and you’ll come across copy pedestals.
The game plays out in Levels which are like worlds and within each Level is multiple stages. Each stage has numerous energy spheres to collect which are required for one hundred percent completion. Many of them are hidden in spots or require specific abilities to acquire. New to this entry are the rifts that you can enter which are like obstacle courses that lead to boss fights with the same boss each time. They get kind of repetitive. You’ll know whenever a stage has rift because there’s always super abilities to collect that are required to even gain access to the rift. These include the ultra sword, monster flame, flare beam, snow bowl, and grand hammer. These are cool to use first but most of them require the gameplay to stop while Kirby performs the attacks which stops other players from even participating in the action. Each Level varies in theme and you’ll be required to avoid different environmental hazards like lava, falling rocks, rolling boulders, and more. At the end of each Level is a boss battle, most of which are pretty easy to defeat. Every boss has their own attack patterns that can easily be memorized. We found that blocking was best used against bosses but blocking doesn’t stop you from taking damage. You just take less.
Each stage is populated with enemies, most of which can easily be killed with a few attacks, sometimes you’ll have to fight a miniboss, and there’s items you can pick up that can be used to kill tons of enemies or to break through parts of the environment but they can only be used for a limited time. The cracker is like a cannon that fires balls that explode and can blow up certain blocks. The prism shield provides an umbrella shield, protecting you from anything raining down. The stomper boot lets you stomp on spikes and break giant gold blocks. The invisibility stone makes you invulnerable and allows you to pass through specific walls. Balloon bombs are timed so you once you pick it up, you need to be quick, because they’re used to blow up gold blocks that are usually blocking your progress or a secret area. Finally, there’s the candle that’s used to light up dark areas but it can also be used to melt ice blocks. There are plenty of secret areas scattered throughout the stages, including ones that lead to secret HAL rooms. Some areas are blocked off by a door that requires a key and others are just not in plain sight. Littered throughout the environments are point stars you can collect and acquiring one hundred points rewards you with an extra life. Collecting 1-Up’s also rewards you with an extra life.
After collecting certain amounts of energy spheres you unlock challenge stages, sub-games, and ability rooms where you can equip abilities before entering stages. Although, the ability rooms are kind of pointless since the stages provide you with the abilities you need right before you actually need them. The challenges can only be completed solo and require you to navigate an obstacle course in a certain amount time while defeating enemies and collecting coins, all for points. If you take damage, you lose points. You’ll earn medals for reaching certain scores. After beating the main game, you unlock the Extra game where you can play through the campaign again but with half your health, more challenging bosses, and tougher stages. It’s essentially like a New Game Plus. You will need to beat both the main game and Extra to unlock all the sub-games. Scope Shot is a sub game where you progress through three levels of robots and need to destroy them within the time limit. You use the Wii remote to aim and shoot and it’s more or less a light gun game. In Ninja Dojo, you progress through three levels and need to use the Wii remote to fling ninja stars at targets. The closer you get to a bullseye, the more points you get. The last two sub games are Arena and True Arena. If you’ve played most other Kirby games, the Arena should be familiar. These are just boss rush games. In between bosses, you can change abilities and acquire health but you do have a limited amount. True Arena has less health items and harder bosses.
Kirby’s Return to Dream Land is actually a really excellent looking game. It’s only held back by the Wii’s technical limitations. The game is vibrant and colorful, contains plenty of detail, and the backgrounds in many stages are just downright beautiful. The music is full of well performed orchestral scores that fit in with the whole theme of the game and many of them are remixes of classic Kirby tunes. Most of the sound effects are what you would expect from a Kirby game but the explosions sound loud and pretty satisfying. Any kind of big attack comes with booming sound effects. We can’t say we experienced any technical issues. The frame rate was solid throughout and we didn’t experience any crashes or bugs.
Kirby’s Return to Dream Land is a great time and even more fun with friends. The gameplay is solid, there’s plenty of shit to do and unlock, and while the main game is easy, the extra content can prove to be quite challenging, specifically the Extra game and True Arena. There’s definitely some quirks like how easy it is to jump on each other’s heads and the super abilities can become tedious to use but, overall, Return to Dream Land contains the same fun gameplay you would expect from any other Kirby game. Collecting all of the energy spheres should keep you coming back for a while and it’s fun messing around with all of the abilities and trying to find the one that fits your play style. Mastery of the abilities and move sets will come in handy when taking on the Extra game mode and bosses in the True Arena where your real skills are put to the test.
We would definitely recommend Kirby’s Return to Dream Land to fans of the series, platformers, and that those that like fun in general. It’s a colorful, action-packed, vibrant platformer that can be enjoyed solo or with friends and with all the unlockable content, it should keep you occupied for quite some time. There’s no denying that most Kirby games are pretty easy, especially in the early goings, but they also get more challenging the further you progress and that definitely applies to Return to Dream Land. So not only is it accessible to basically everyone, it also provides players with a decent challenge. Definitely check it out.