Six years in the making, Kirby has finally made his triumphant return to console platforming action in Kirby’s Return to Dream Land. That is, if you don’t count Kirby’s Epic Yarn, which was released on the Wii last year. But even so, longtime fans of the pink Star Warrior can attest that while a fun outing, Epic Yarn was not your standard Kirby fare.
Kirby was originally created to be a sort of simple game for beginners, but the character’s admittedly cool abilities, endearing cast, and cheerful demeanor have managed to earn fans of all ages and levels of experience. That said, while Kirby’s Epic Yarn— itself a revision of an unrelated project– may provide an even better “beginner” game, Kirby’s Return to Dream Land makes an excellent intermediate step between the no-pressure simplicity of Epic Yarn and more challenging fare, such as Nintendo’s own New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Donkey Kong Country Returns.
One to four tough cream puffs
That isn’t to say that Kirby’s Return to Dream Land is without its own challenges, however; besides a few mildly tricky parts costing us a few lives, we worked in tandem with other players. This made some portions a little easier, such as having one player carry a key or candle while the other fends off enemies and clears obstacles. In addition, the characters can jump on each other’s backs and ride, allowing more experienced players to help take those who might be having trouble through certain problem areas.
Other parts can become more challenging with one player getting in the way of another’s jumps. But, if other players get into the path of Kirby’s suction, they become a potent projectile weapon when he spits them out.
While Player 1 must always use Kirby, due to his unique abilities needed to progress through the game, Players 2 through 4 can choose between fan favorites Meta Knight, King Dedede, a spear-toting Waddle-Dee, or another Kirby of a different color. Unlike earlier demos we played, things are slightly-less focused on Player 1, with anyone who uses a Kirby able to take on the five new Super Powers, which clear screens of most enemies and obstacles, but have limited use. In addition, other players, whether they use Kirby or another character, no longer need to wait for Player 1 before entering a door.
With that said, the focus is still primarily on Player 1; if any other players stray too far or fall behind, the game warps them back to Player 1’s location. All players’ lives are shared from the stock held by Player 1, but don’t worry, there are usually plenty to go around. This also makes it easy for other players to jump in and out of the game at any time; players who stop in mid-level will have their life returned to Player 1, and it can be taken up again just as easily.
If Players 2 through 4 should happen to die, they are allowed to select another character and join the action in progress. But if Player 1 dies, the entire group has to start over from the nearest checkpoint.
So, it is still Kirby/Player 1’s show, but things are not as bad in that regard as they were when we played the game at E3. What’s more, the play style of Kirby himself may not be for everyone; as it turns out, our wife was far more content to use one of the other characters (Meta Knight, specifically), who play somewhat like their Super Smash Bros. Brawl incarnations (with the obvious exception of Waddle-Dee).
So much to do, so much to see
While the game is otherwise light on challenge, it makes up for it in terms of the sheer number of things to do. You are initially greeted with the main quest, which sees Kirby and his friends witness a spaceship crash land on their home planet of Popstar. Investigating the crash, they find the alien Magolor, and offer to help find the pieces of his ship, which have been scattered all across Dream Land.
As you venture through the game’s worlds (five to start, plus whatever comes from reassembling the ship; we aren’t spoiling), you will find secret areas and fight bosses for parts of the Lor Starcutter spaceship. You’ll also collect energy spheres, which are limited to only a few per level, and look like gears inside some sort of bubble. By collecting these and bringing them back to the Starcutter, you’ll unlock a variety of new challenges and mini-games (the latter are easily accessible from the title screen), as well as rooms with numerous Kirby powers to choose from before setting off on your next mission.
The seven challenges grant you one of Kirby’s powers, which you must use to reach the end of an obstacle course with as many points as possible within a time limit, and hopefully earning a gold, silver, or bronze medal. The mini-games involve holding the Wii Remote normally (like a regular remote control), and trying to hit targets. In one, you are throwing ninja stars (or shuriken, if you prefer) at targets, trying to score the highest among those playing, much like a game of darts. The other is a throwback to the old Super Scope 6 from the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, with the players taking up energy bazookas and blasting large mechanical versions of characters from the Kirby universe.
As an aside, that just makes us wish for Wii remakes of the Super Scope and Zapper libraries all the more.
While finishing the main story of Kirby’s Return to Dream Land may not be the most challenging experience on the Wii, gathering all of the energy spheres is a bit more difficult, and getting gold medals in the challenge rooms a bit more so. And despite that, there are still a lot of fun things to see and do in going through the game’s regular levels, trying out all the powers, and playing as all of the characters (provided you have more than one person to help).
The number of releases on the Wii are slowing a bit as the system gets on in years and the Wii U sits on the horizon, making titles such as this all the more valuable. It is definitely worth a look, more so if you are looking to help ease some younger or inexperienced players into the world of gaming.
Kirby’s Return to Dream Land is now available at $49.99 (MSRP) for the Wii console, and a copy was sent to us for review by Nintendo of Canada.