November 1, 2011

Review – Kirby’s Return to Dream Land

Filed under: Reviews — Tags: , , , , , — Jamie Love @ 4:10 pm

Review Kirbys Return to Dream Land
For the second year in a row Nintendo’s pink pudgy star brings his insatiable appetite for adventure to the Wii, as well as his seemingly never-ending vendetta against a familiar tree. It would be forgivable to view this release with a pinch of cynicism, as a kneejerk attempt to pad out a Wii release schedule that hasn’t thinned out so much as dried up with the shift in focus to the 3DS and Wii U.

And though it only took a day to lightly pass through Return to Dream Land, I’m not feeling quite that cynical. Kirby’s latest outing sports significantly less yarn this year, instead offering a traditional Kirby platformer that gives Hal Laboratory another chance to strut their penchant for visual flair and rather magical stage design. However, Kirby’s return does suffer for want of a point to all the wonderful abilities Hal can grant him, and in the absence of any real challenge the finer points become so ridiculously subtle that one could miss the treats entirely for never being encouraged to discover them.

The old rules apply, and Kirby once again becomes who he eats, which makes the menu of potential powers the emphasis, and though stages never slouch about finding space for moments of inspiration that leave me smiling at how clever Hal continues to be, the playing is much more an act of design appreciation over tactile engagement.

Review Kirbys Return to Dream Land
Nintendo’s marketing focus has set Kirby’s Return to Dream Land up as a multiplayer-minded adventure, with four players able to turn the Wii-Mote sideways to tackle stages, filling the shoes of Meta Knight, Waddle Dee, King Dedede, or as different colored Kirbys. Only Kirby and his color variations possess the power to inhale enemies and absorb their powers, with the rest of the cast assigned a set of fixed attacks, and the ability to ride on one another’s backs for a larger attack.

This certainly conjures memories of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, but is certainly not what’s underneath the surface. Multiplayer doesn’t shift the focus from the star of the game, with extra characters being pulled along wherever Kirby goes. It’s cute that they can run around the world map together, but the game is focused on single-player, with extra participants serving a more supportive role – tied to a pool of lives and ultimately undone should Kirby perish during a stage. And unlike Mario’s multiplayer Wii platformer, there’s never a sense that the game is lessened by the absence of company – not necessarily a negative here, but certainly a fact worth being aware of.

This time around, an alien visitor has crashed his ship, which naturally scatters pieces of the vessel across several worlds and finds Kirby and company volunteering to tackle the stages within to reach the boss in possession of each crucial part. Finding energy spheres acts as the added challenge of each stage, though interestingly, the game never asks that players find set amounts in order to progress, instead bartering them for bonus’ and mini-games. It’s odd for a Nintendo game not to force players to retrieve certain amounts of spheres in order to reach boss battles, though I’m not sure I’m complaining about the change.

Not having to search for those energy spheres saved on tedium, within a game that I very much felt myself rushing through for the sake of this review.

But don’t get me wrong, because Return to Dream Land is filled with many beautiful and clever moments of discovery. In many ways, I often thought of comparing it to Super Mario Bros. 3, not in a sense of depth, but in the way I continually found moments that inspired legitimate wonder – and maybe because Kirby gets to ride around in a boot sometimes.

Light comparisons aside, let’s just set aside the pretty words and get to the meat here. By inhaling enemies to absorb their powers, Kirby gains access to an impressive amount of abilities. Moreover, these powers then make impressive use of sideway Wii-Mote controls to grant Kirby an array of offensive moves. Playing the swordsman, Kirby can thrust upward, slam downward, rapid attack to the side, and fire off a charged shot for example. The catch is that the player never really needs to discover any of this, and I can’t even suggest that button mashing is the culprit. There are so few enemies, presenting so little challenge, that the natural order is to simply scoot through stages tapping out a sword swing here and there to clear the way forward.

Review Kirbys Return to Dream Land
When recurring bosses appear, then a certain amount of button mashing gets the job done. More creative use of Kirby’s powers will save some health loss, but is never really necessary. It’s not until the final few boss encounters that close out the game when a sudden appreciation of the differences between the fighter and the swordsman prove handy – when being able to stay in the air while delivering downward sword thrusts saves on frustration.

On top of this are super variations of powers, which see Kirby able to swing weapons that take up the entirety of the screen, reminiscent of the theatrics driving Final Fantasy styled summon attacks. These over the top actions have a place and time very much dictated by stage designs, essential for unlocking hidden paths that lead the way to more energy spheres, and leaving me feeling ever more disconnected from the actual playing of the game.

I think I get the problem, that the limited amount of enemies is dictated by the fact that each has to potentially offer Kirby a power-up and drag out development time – the natural wall of any Kirby game. It just can’t help alleviate the feeling that this release wants to slide by on simply being the straightforward Kirby platformer Epic Yarn deviated from, and lacks and real desire to take the series to the places reached by that title or even the latest DS release, Mass Attack.

The plethora of abilities begs for experimentation, but is likely only going to receive that commitment from those willing to appreciate the release on a strictly visual level – even here the theatrical action helps art direction that suffers for the straightforward agenda. The way Kirby suddenly has goggles on when hitting the water serves as a good example of how small visual nuances litter the game, finding this release not so short on charm despite the previously mentioned lack of yarn. But this doesn’t overturn the fact that the variety of abilities share many commonalities, and super-abilities are far more about hitting precise notes within stages while occasionally shaking the Wii-Mote to remind yourself that you’re playing on the Wii.

With that said, the relative ease of the title doesn’t make the unlocking of a game+ mode a savior, nor do the simplistic mini-games – cute as they might be for five minutes. Return to Dream Land has plenty of ideas, but feels pressed for time in the execution, even while dragging out the affair across multiple worlds with titles that provide delightful alliteration. A short dragon ride through a sudden sidescrolling shooter chase drove the point home for me, and leaves me hard up for recommending this release when you could still pick-up Kirby’s previous adventure on the Wii and several more on the DS.

HAL Laboratory


Nintendo Wii

Singleplayer, Multiplayer

Release Date
October 24, 2011

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review


  1. but the game is focused on single-player, with extra participants
    serving a more supportive role


    tied to a pool of lives and ultimately
    undone should Kirby perish during a stage.

    boo -_-

    Kirby gets to ride around in a boot sometimes


    what can I say I’m easy to please.

    The catch is that the player never really needs to discover any of this,
    and I can’t even suggest that button mashing is the culprit. There are
    so few enemies, presenting so little challenge, that the natural order
    is to simply scoot through stages tapping out a sword swing here and
    there to clear the way forward.

    There’s an extent to which Kirby has always been the four year old’s game. For the kiddie who sees you playing Super Mario Bros but can’t quite jump over that first chasm every time all the time. Kirby NES wasn’t a very hard game. The fact that you could suck and float your way thru the level kinda destroyed any forced difficulty. So there’s a part of me that isn’t really worried when you say that you never need your powers.. it’s a Kirby game IMO you’ve never needed the powers. but is the levels are so sparse with enemies that it FEELS sparse that could be a problem.

    oh well I got it at that GameStop sale.. buy Return to Dreamland and get Epic Yarn free so two games for one price isn’t terrible at all.. plus just today I did the same with Batman AC at Wal-Mart. It’s just a good time for the late gamer.

    Comment by Anonymous — November 1, 2011 @ 8:36 pm

  2. haha, I love the breakdown you did there. Also yes, there’s definitely a sense that Kirby games are never hard. Epic Yarn certainly wasn’t. What Epic Yarn did offer was a lot of interaction with the stages, and it’s entirely possible it’s biased me against a more pure form of Kirby. I just can’t escape having felt like a passenger more than the driver through a lot of sections.

    Comment by Jamie Love — November 1, 2011 @ 8:42 pm

  3. yeah i figure worse case scenario even if this is ultimately not a very fun game it doesn’t take away from Epic Yarn which I hear is great and Mass Attack which is also loved.. I just really really want another Canvas Curse (a game so awesome I literally completed it twice) and HAL just refuses to satiate my desires.

    Comment by Anonymous — November 1, 2011 @ 8:54 pm

  4. I definitely agree about Canvas Curse!

    Also I think you’ll find some fun in this new one despite my complaints. Riding in a boot is never un-fun.

    Comment by Jamie Love — November 1, 2011 @ 9:04 pm

  5. Canvas Curse was the perfect way to show off what the DS could do. A sequel would be truly great news!

    Kirby games, by definition, are always easy. Only exception has been the SNES one and mainly because two of the included games really tested our skills.

    I’m getting this one in december. Still need to finish Epic Yarn before I can play Return to Dreamland but a backlog has never stopped me from buying more and more games hahaha.

    Comment by EdEN — November 3, 2011 @ 8:36 pm

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