It has been decades since Nintendo's pink puff, Kirby has received a proper console entry into the Dream Land series. The often neglected spherical character has his share of games in the past few years (as recently as a few weeks ago), but none of them were direct descendants of the original Game Boy and NES games that helped put HAL Laboratory (as well as some of the most famous names that are associated with Nintendo) on the map back in the early 1990s. "Kirby's Return To Dream Land" changes all of that by putting Kirby back at the helm of a 2D sidescroller, and, most importantly, gives him back his signature enemy-swallowing and attack copying ability.
While enjoying a leisurely day lounging around Popstar, Kirby, King Dedede, Meta Knight and Walddle Dee witness an airship crash from out of nowhere. As the four come to find out, the ship is piloted by an alien named Magolor who is now stranded, and desperately in need of help. Kirby and the gang agree to set out and find the pieces of Magolor's ship so that he can return to his home galaxy. And, thus begins Kirby's latest adventure.
A Return To Form
It has been far too long since Kirby has been running around in 2D on a console. The DS has been his home since the handheld launched, and while he has starred in some great games there, Kirby deserves some big-screen time. Additionally, one of the major gripes about his last few games, most recently "Epic Yarn" and "Mass Attack," was that Kirby had been neutered of his copy ability. Fortunately, "Return to Dream Land" comes as a relief, as it restores his signature feature, and returns him to his 2D, Popstar home.
Four-Player Drop In Fun
As with countless other Nintendo Wii games, "Return to Dream Land" includes a seamless multiplayer option, allowing up to four characters to be on-screen at once. While this obviously allows for fun with friends, it also presents some unique multiplayer gameplay elements, like team healing, and character piggybacking, as well as the option to play through the game as someone other than Kirby (or, if you prefer, a non-pink Kirby).
Lots To Discover and Unlock
"Return to Dream Land" may not offer a lengthy amount of gameplay to make it through the story (six hours at best), but if you take your time and go looking for every crack and crevice, you'll be rewarded. Magalor's ship, the Lor Starcutter is missing some major pieces, which are keeping it from returning to the air, but it also lost 120 Energy Spheres in the crash as well. They've been scattered throughout the world, and if Kirby can find them, he can unlock various rooms aboard the ship. Challenge rooms, mini-games, and copy ability rooms can all be accessed with the right number of Spheres.
So Few Lives Lost
Outside of the titular character, there is one trait that just about every Kirby game shares; they're all easy, and "Return to Dream Land" is no different. Skilled veterans will have no problems navigating the worlds with minimal loss of life, and devoid of any real challenge. Some of the boss characters put up a bit of a fight, but it really doesn't take too much to bring them down, especially since each boss's room includes a health and ability power-up.
Showing Its Age
Here's a little back-story on this particular title: what eventually turned into "Return to Dream Land" was originally announced in 2005, as a GameCube release. That means the game has been in development for at least six years, and spanned two console generations. Whenever something like this happens, remnants of the original tend to remain present in the final product, something that becomes relatively clear when looking at the graphics in "Dream Land." The Wii isn't the most powerful console on the market, but it can produce slicker graphics than what are offered in this release, especially as one of the last first party titles on the platform.
While there isn't anything fundamentally wrong with "Return to Dream Land," it seems like it may not have the broad appeal that "Epic Yarn" offered. It's a shorter game, with less flashy graphics, and may only challenge younger gamers. Old-school Kirby fans might enjoy it, as it is great to see Kirby return to his classic form, but there just isn't enough challenge to give the game legs. On the other hand, "Return to Dream Land" may be the perfect game for parents who want to take advantage of the multiplayer mode, and game with their young kids; in that scenario, everybody wins.