Kirby's Return to Dreamland
Kirby is a Superstar Again
Kirby, the shapeshifting pink blob, burst onto Nintendo platforms with his original Game Boy (Brick) outing, “Kirby’s Dreamland” by one of the most prominent Nintendo second-party developers, Hal Laboratories. The original ‘Kirby’ game was an incredibly easy 2D platformer with some fun new mechanics. Since then, the ‘Kirby’ series spawned a number of sequels in which Kirby’s repertoire of powers expanded, peaking in the SNES title (which has since been ported to the DS), “Kirby Superstar.” In recent years, however, Kirby has found himself more-often-than-not starring in spin-offs: Games that bear the ‘Kirby’ franchise name but none of the 2D platforming and enemy-eating that defined the character and his series. Enter “Kirby’s Return to Dreamland” (“KRtD”), yet another Wii game that intentionally draws upon traditional gameplay mechanics to return a series to its roots.
“KRtD” is a gorgeous Wii game. I am continually impressed by the graphical prowess Nintendo’s first-and-second-party games can squeeze out of hardware that was practically obsolete when it launched. “KRtD” is a 2.5D game, employing polygonal graphics but presenting the game from a traditional side-scrolling viewpoint. These polygons are clean, clear, and vividly animated; there are few jaggies and the cartoony textures look spectacular.
The game’s cutscenes are pre-rendered movies that play on a parchment textured backdrop that both adds character and helps to disguise any rendering artifacts that might have crept in. These cutscenes are, however, mysteriously unvoiced, but that doesn’t really make much of a difference because, outside of the horrible “Kirby: Right Back at Ya” anime series, characters in the ‘Kirby’ universe have never been particularly vocal.
Like the graphics, the music and sound effects are excellent, featuring a combination of remixes and new tunes.
‘Kirby’ games have never really relied on a strong narrative, usually falling back on rehashing an argument between Kirby and King Dedede over some food… and the intro movie looks like “KRtD” will do just that, as it begins with Kirby running around with some cake, being pursued by King Dedede and a Pirate Waddle Dee (one of Dedede’s minions) in a Benny Hill-style chase while Meta Knight watches. However, this predictable event is interrupted by a massive spaceship coming through a wormhole and crashing right in front of Kirby and his friends (frienemies?).
Ever a helpful sort, Kirby investigates the crash site and discovers the ship’s pilot, a creature named Magolor, unharmed. His ship, however, has been trashed, with parts of it scattered all over Dreamland. Kirby and company volunteer to retrieve the pieces of the ship, while Magolor promises them a trip to his home planet as a reward.
While this plot seems mostly straight-forward, there are a few plot twists thrown in to mix things up a bit. Regardless, it’s a solid premise that provides a reason for Kirby to travel around Dreamland collecting ship parts, so it does what it needs to do.
“KRtD” is exactly what one would expect of a ‘Kirby’ game: Kirby can run around, float through the air, suck-up enemies, and eat them to absorb their powers; he has a health meter that goes down as he takes damage (and goes up as he consumes food), a handful of extra lives, and infinite continues. The game only supports a sideways Wiimote for its control scheme, which works perfectly well, leaving no extraneous buttons. This is the same distilled essence of ‘Kirby’ that made “Kirby Superstar” one of the most beloved games in the franchise. In addition to his traditional moveset, in “KRtD” Kirby also has access to Hyper Powers that can only be obtained in specific parts of specific stages by eating a glowing enemy. These Hyper Powers allow Kirby to lay waste to all enemies on the screen and destroy portions of the stage (which is necessary to gain access to all of the hidden ship parts), but have duration meters, forcing Kirby to plow through the rest of the stage before his Hyper Power runs out. Kirby’s ability to inhale enemies has also been improved, allowing the player to shake the Wiimote to trigger massive sucking that consumes everything in Kirby’s path.
Also like the beloved “Kirby Superstar,” multiple players can join the fun for simultaneous shared-screen action. While the SNES game only supported two players, “KRtD” supports up to four, allowing the extra players to play as different-colored Kirbies or play as Kirby’s friends. While Kirby’s friends can’t absorb powers from enemies, each of them comes with a few built-in abilities that they can’t change or lose, whereas Kirby (regardless of color) has access to a range of abilities that he loses if he takes a hit from an enemy. King Dedede uses his hammer and heft to combine the powers of Hammer Kirby and Rock Kirby, Meta Knight uses his sword and cape to combine the powers of Sword Kirby and Wing Kirby, while Waddle Dee uses his spear to combine the powers of Spear Kirby and… Spear Kirby (okay, maybe he got gypped a little – he is a generic character). Extra players can jump-in/drop-out at any time, with joining players taking a life from Kirby’s stockpile of extra lives and dropping players returning a life (however, severely injured characters that drop out just return a fragment of health to Kirby’s meter instead of an entire extra life).
While the platforming and combat in “KRtD” aren’t exactly challenging in the first place (this IS a ‘Kirby’ game after all), factoring in a few somewhat-challenging bosses results in a game that is a moderate challenge and suitable for both new players and veterans who just want to have some fun. The multi-player, however, makes the game considerably easier, as King Dedede, Meta Knight, and Waddle Dee can gang-up on bosses and absolutely pound them with their un-losable weapons, while the game doesn’t adapt in any way to the presence of multiple characters. This decreased difficulty in multi-player is actually a very good thing, as it allows younger players or inexperienced players to call-in assistance from friends, parents, older siblings, etc. to get through a tricky section together instead of just handing-over the controller or giving up.
In addition to the game’s 7 worlds, each with 3-5 stages, a boss, and a total of 120 hidden ship parts, Kirby can also take a break to play a handful of mini-games and challenges, which are unlocked by reaching certain thresholds of collected ship parts.
There are three mini-games: Ninja Dojo, Scope Shot, and Arena. Ninja Dojo is a target shooting game in which the player(s)’ goal is to hit a bullseye on a moving target by throwing a motion-controlled shuriken. While the motion-control is just waggle (no aiming is involved), it works well and is pretty fun. Scope Shot is a throwback to the SNES titles, “Battle Clash” and “Metal Combat,” in which the player(s)’ must destroy an enemy mecha while shooting-down incoming projectiles. Standard Wiimote aiming is used in Scope Shot, and it works just fine, though I would have preferred the fire button to be mapped to B instead of A. The Arena is just the game’s ‘Boss Rush’ mode in which the player(s) must defeat all of the game’s bosses and mini-bosses in a row with only limited access to healing items.
The challenges, unlike the mini-games, use the regular game engine and put the player’s ability to control Kirby’s powers to the test. Each challenge focuses on one of the powers Kirby can steal from a consumed enemy, pitting the pink blob against a timer as he races to collect stars and reach the finish to get a high score. These challenges are actually VERY challenging, and anyone who is disappointed in the difficulty level of the main game should be able to get their fix here… or just play through EX Mode (e.g., Hard Mode), which is unlocked upon defeating the final boss.
“Kirby’s Return to Dreamland” is the sequel ‘Kirby’ fans have been waiting for since “Kirby Superstar” blew us away on the SNES. The great platforming, fun mini-games, and inclusive multi-player combine to make this the definitive best entry in the franchise. ‘Kirby’ fans and 2D platforming fans should not let this gem of a game escape their notice. This game isn’t just a return to Dreamland, it’s a return to form for one of Nintendo’s iconic characters.
Overall (not an average): 5/5