While last year’s Kirby’s Epic Yarn was a nice, relaxing title for the Kirby franchise, it’s been 11 years since The Crystal Shards, which was the last proper console entry featuring Kirby’s signature copy powers and abilities. We’ve had several handheld iterations, ranging from great to average, but Kirby’s been long overdue for a new, grand adventure. Return to Dream Land is a spectacular, well, return to Nintendo’s home consoles, building up on its entire series legacy for what’s arguably the best game in the series. Welcome back, Kirby.
Return to Dream Land is best described as the lovechild of Kirby Super Star and Kirby’s Adventure, along with the always-fun addition of four-player co-op. Players can stroll through Dream Land as a team of four Kirbys, or as a Kirby and popular characters Meta Knight, King Dedede and Waddle Dee. Each character is stuck with one particular power, but their moveset is much more fleshed out as a result, so they remain fun to play as. The game is still perfectly playable in single-player, however, and it seems to be the mode of choice, as playing with multiple characters seems to trivialize what little challenge the game’s normal mode already has.
While it’s natural for a Kirby game to not have challenge as one of its selling points, Return to Dream Land is likely the hardest game in the series (though that’s not saying much). There is some great level and enemy design at work here, along with the ingenious black-and-white segments in certain levels, which force players to use Kirby’s most underrated and oft-forgotten basic ability to suck in objects and blow them out as stars. In addition, an Extra mode gives players a second run with half HP and beefed-up boss fights, providing some of the most intense encounters in the series. Then, though, there’s co-op. While most of the bosses require some degree of skill when playing alone, multiple players can and will often trivialize even the hardest of boss fights. Not that it really matters, when the overall package continues being a blast.
HAL Laboratory made it easy for new players to join and leave a game in progress. New Wii remotes, even ones not connected to the system, can be easily added or removed via an in-game tab on the menu. Players can drop in and out of the game in less than a second, just by holding down the (–) button, easily allowing players 2-4 to change characters as many as times as they want. This should have been a common feature in Nintendo’s co-op centric games since day one, but it’s nice that they’ve finally implemented something to reduce the tedium of syncing controllers to another person’s console.
We could go on all day about how good Kirby’s Return to Dream Land is. Tons of content, accessibility to casual and hardcore players, a great soundtrack, tons of fanservice, charming graphics… the game has it all. Return is clearly the culmination of 11 years of effort. We just hope it doesn’t take the same amount of time for the next main Kirby game to release.
Pros: Charm and depth, single-player challenge, easy drop-in co-op
Cons: Co-op is a bit too easy