By Spencer . October 24, 2011 . 1:33pm
After spinoffs with yarn Kirby and mini-kirbys, Kirby’s Return to Dreamland brings the pink hero back to his roots. HAL Laboratory made this game for Wii, but it has the soul of a lost and graphically enhanced Super Nintendo game.
Kirby’s Return to Dreamland begins with King Dedede and a Waddle Dee chasing Kirby who is carrying a piece of shortcake while Meta Knight is sitting calmly in the background reading a book. Suddenly, a spaceship breaks through Pop Star’s atmosphere and crashes to the ground. A caped alien informs the group five parts are missing from the Lor Starcutter, which Kirby and crew (silently) volunteer to retrieve. Aren’t they nice guys?
Players start by visiting is Cookie Country, a grassy area with few enemies. If you haven’t played a Kirby game before, the first level gets players up to speed with the idea of inhaling and copying enemy abilities. Kirby has a few new tricks like he can inhale multiple enemies to spit bigger stars and he has a super inhale move that can suck up stone blocks. It’s one of the few moves in the game that make players shake the remote. Near the end of the intro level you’ll see a glowing knight. Inhale it and Kirby will transform into Ultra Sword Kirby, which gives the tiny hero a sword (sometimes meat cleaver or giant fish) twice the size of Cloud’s Buster Sword. He can use this giant blade to hit groups of the enemies on the screen and cleave stones marked with stars.
Monster Flame, another super ability, makes Kirby shoot horizontal jets fire. Flare Beam creates an orb of energy players control with the D-pad. This can take out enemies and energize beacons marked with a star. Grand Hammer Kirby can pound switches and enemies. Shaking the controller does more damage. Snow Bowl makes Kirby turn into a giant snowman head that rolls over enemies. These portions are almost like a mini-game where Kirby knocks over pins and if you crash into all of them you’ll get more stars as a reward. All of the super transformations take place in set locations, have a time limit, and can open a gate to a dimensional rift near the end.
Star shaped portals suck Kirby inside a dark world with a moving wall. Touch it and you’re toast. To move through these stages quickly, you have to super inhale stone blocks and spit them at the right place. The first subspace stage has the wall close in from the left, but later stages change the wall’s direction. A bird-like mini-boss waits at the end of the level guarding two energy spheres. Magolor lost 120 of these optional collectables. Beating a subspace level rewards Kirby with two. Other energy spheres are hidden behind locked doors (where players need to carry a key without flying) and in secret rooms (marked with a red star). Finding energy spheres unlocks two different mini-games, Ninja Dojo and Scope Shot. Ninja Dojo has players swing the remote to toss shuriken at moving targets. It also has my favorite line from the game – "Get ready to ninja!" Scope Shot is a light gun game where Kirby, armed with a super scope, blasts a Waddle Dee tank. Collecting more energy spheres score attack style challenge stages and unlock copy rooms where Kirby can pick an ability before entering a level.
Aside from the super abilities, Kirby has two new powers in Returns to Dreamland. Whip gives Kirby that weapon plus a cowboy hat. It’s similar to the sword, except you can grab and throw enemies. The real reason to use the whip is to pick up objects behind walls you couldn’t access otherwise. Leaf is more of a defensive ability. Press A to make Kirby hide behind a pile of leaves (it’s like the Tanooki suit from Super Mario Bros. 3). This power-up also lets Kirby attack by throwing leaves at a 30 degree angle and gives him a spinning leaf dance move.
While multiplayer isn’t exactly new for the series, Kirby’s Return to Dreamland introduces drop in couch co-op. Up to four players can team up and stack up, but every time you add someone to the game it costs a life. I spent most of my time playing Kirby in co-op, so I got to try all of the characters. Meta Knight is basically Kirby with a sword. King Dedede has a perma-hammer and Waddle Dee, a special one with a bandanna and magical jumping powers, has a spear. Since Kirby has copy abilities he’s more versatile than his "friends." However, having King Dedede or one of the other fighter characters is handy during boss fights. While Kirby can lose his ability if he takes damage, Meta Knight never drops his sword. Player two can relentlessly attack instead of waiting for the enemy to drop stars to inhale. It feels like HAL Laboratory scaled boss fights for co-op by increasing the amount of life enemies have. It’s possible to play as a different color Kirby too, but only one player can have super abilities.
Co-op play is optional and that’s probably why the all of the action centers around Kirby. Stray too far from him and the game will warp you back to Kirby instead of scaling the screen. This can be a little frustrating during the subspace areas is player one lags behind or if you try to split into different paths while exploring a level. Also, if Kirby dies everyone has to restart from the last checkpoint. When other run out of life or fall into a pit, they can restart on the spot.
I breezed past Cookie Country, Raisin Ruins (a cave area), Onion Ocean (the prerequisite water level), White Wafers (a mountain range), and Nutty Noon in a few hours. There are a few levels beyond those plus a surprise I won’t spoil here. Kirby’s Return to Dreamland can easily be completed in a weekend, maybe less if you skip collecting energy spheres. Even tracking down the collectables isn’t much of a challenge, but there is some post-main game content that ups the difficulty. While Kirby series games were never supposed to be taxing, some players who grew up with Kirby may find Return to Dreamland’s return to the series roots too easy. It’s like dusting off a Super Nintendo game you played as a kid and realized while revisiting it again a decade of playing games sharpened your skills.