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Kirby's Return to Dream Land (Wii) artwork

Kirby's Return to Dream Land (Wii) review

"Levels are built more like playgrounds than obstacles. You’ll hop along hills, dodge slow-moving arrow projectiles and knights who wield swords that could easily have been drawn with Crayons. Kirby’s Return to Dream Land is comfort food for gamers and you won’t want to stop eating anytime soon."

You don’t get to be a 32-year old Nintendo fan without encountering some pink along the way. The main reason that I can say that with confidence is Kirby, the now-famous puffball who made his debut in 1992. Kirby’s Dream Land was a monochrome outing for the original Game Boy, which meant that there was no pink at first. Even the title’s North American cover art featured a pale white version of a hero who looked downright ghostly compared to the vibrant likes of Link and Mario, but Kirby gained some color and personality in the sequels that soon followed. He learned to inhale enemies like a vacuum, then to spit them out as lethal but very shiny stars, or to swallow them and gain power that turned him into a real force of nature.

Nintendo has taken chances with Kirby games throughout the years. Kirby has been a pinball, he has rolled around like a wrecking ball, been turned to yarn and--most recently--he has been split into 10 miniaturized puffballs that could only clear stages when working in concert. Kirby’s Return to Dream Land, the newest (and surely the last) title in the franchise to arrive on Wii, is an appropriately-titled return to classic form and to a classic environment that nostalgic older gamers such as myself have been missing on consoles for a very long time.

Kirby's Return to Dream Land asset

The basic setup is that a flying ship known as the Starcutter has crashed to the planet and now its five most important pieces are scattered throughout Dream Land. The vessel’s captain is distraught, but Kirby and his pals--who also happen to be familiar antagonists from the past Kirby games, such as King DeeDee--agree to help set things right. They’ll retrieve the five pieces, they promise their new friend, and he promises in return that if they fix his ship, he’ll take them to the world from whence he came. It’s a deal!

Dream Land is a cheery place, even if a ship did just crash. Flowers by the side of the road sway in a playful breeze. Puffy clouds drift lazily overhead and the hills and woodlands are occupied by enemies so cute that you’ll almost wish you could have a plush version of each one of them piled on your bed. Jaunty music and an abundance of smiles make your journey through the grassy fields, cerulean seas and glistening ice caverns a relaxing treat to the senses. Kirby’s Return to Dream Land might not present much in the way of new material, but its familiar content is delivered with such conviction and delight that it’s nearly impossible not to smile.

Yes, you tell yourself as you play. Yes, this is exactly what you’ve been wanting for something like a decade. Nintendo and Hal Laboratory have been listening!

Kirby's Return to Dream Land asset

As you keep playing, the resulting warm glow never really fades. Levels are built more like playgrounds than obstacles. You’ll hop along hills, dodge slow-moving arrow projectiles and knights who wield swords that could easily have been drawn with Crayons. Kirby’s Return to Dream Land is comfort food for gamers and you won’t want to stop eating anytime soon.

Along with the familiar design elements, the title also brings a few worthwhile twists. The most obvious of those twists is a four-player mode. As long as you have enough lives--and you will, if you play for very long at all--you can invite your friends to drop into your game with the press of a button. Each player needs a Wii Remote and that’s all. There’s no need for a Classic Controller or a Wii Motion Plus adaptor. Just hold the standard controller sideways and control nearly all of your moves using only the d-pad, two action buttons and an occasional shake. The simple but effective control scheme is perfect for kids and adults alike.

Another addition is the Super Ability. Kirby inhales a glowing enemy and then he might gain a powerful skill--such as the ability to swing a monstrous sword across most of the screen, or horizontal flame snakes that streak across the screen and obliterate everything in their path--that he can then use to clear the remainder of a level. Almost without exception, the Super Ability is gained most of the way through a stage. Then, ahead of the star door that leads to that area’s exit, you can use your mad skills to find a hidden doorway that leads to a bonus area.

Kirby's Return to Dream Land asset

Bonus areas are often a great deal more difficult than the stages around them, but that’s okay and even welcome because they’re completely optional. Instead of taking your time strolling through Dream Land, you’ll have to rush through a dark void while fleeing from an encroaching wall of sparkling ooze. Your platforming skills will be put to the test, and then you’ll reach and do battle with a winged guardian who grows increasingly powerful each time you meet him.

When you defeat that guardian, or when you explore the worlds outside of that mysterious void, you’ll find items known as energy spheres. Despite being a collectible object that was clearly intended to add some padding to the game, energy spheres are one of the most important additions to Kirby’s world. There are 120 of them, spaced throughout nearly 40 stages. While most of them are easy to find, some of the later ones are hidden quite deviously and will require you to get more creative with a given ability. For instance, you might go through most of the game and use the Water ability several times before you realize that you can use it to surf along a field of fire. As you obtain a growing number of energy spheres, you’ll also unlock additional game modes that give you more reasons to keep playing, even after you’ve reached the closing credits.

Kirby's Return to Dream Land asset

Unless a parent or older sibling is along for the ride, reaching the game’s closing credits might prove to be a little bit much for the youngest players who are certain to be drawn to Kirby’s Return to Dream Land. There are some cool surprises near the end that will challenge most gamers (particularly if they’re anxious to obtain each sphere), and there’s also an Extra mode to experience once the main adventure has been completed. Even if you breezed through the game the first time around, a second trip can be much more challenging as boss enemies grow increasingly ambitious and your generous life meter shrinks.

At the end of the day, though, what makes Kirby’s Return to Dream Land such a delight isn’t the list of new features or challenging activities; it’s the promise of a return to a world we know and love. All of the familiar magic comes rushing back as you gulp down an enemy, for instance, and suddenly you can slice your way through star blocks to find your way to hidden treasure. The fact that you can now share in the fun with your kids or other loved ones is delicious icing on the cake. It’s difficult not to love a game that’s so unapologetically pink.


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Staff review by Jason Venter (November 01, 2011)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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