There are generally two types of Kirby games: standard platforms where Kirby copies enemy abilities through easy-to-complete stages, and unique adventures that break from that formula. Kirby’s Return to Dreamland has been firmly in the former camp since its original release on Wii in 2011, which makes its deluxe re-release on Switch recognizable in more ways than one. Solid platforming fundamentals, creative late-game level design, and some worthwhile new content still make it worth revisiting, but it’s a much more attractive package for newcomers than those who were already into the original adventure.
Like those traditional Kirby platformers mentioned above, the first few worlds in Kirby’s Return to Dreamland Deluxe aren’t so remarkably challenging that they remove any sense of resistance and, frankly, of fun. Flashy super abilities, which allow Kirby to do things like roll enemies into a giant snowball or slash a massive sword across the screen, often start out as almost automated sections that require very little player input. It’s important to have games that welcome newcomers, but it takes at least a couple of hours before this adventure starts to feel remotely exciting, regardless of whether you’re playing alone or with friends.
However, once you get to the latter half of the campaign, Return to Dream Land begins to reveal what it’s really about. The platforming stages begin to build upon Kirby’s copy abilities more, such as using the water ability to jump through fiery blocks, or the jump ability to rise to new heights by allowing him to jump vertically and knock enemies out of his way. And it does all this while throwing increasingly difficult challenges your way, whether it’s those (often recurring) mini-bosses that battle you on screens with pitfalls and other hazards in the way, or platform challenges that have you running away from a wall of death with creative obstacles to dash around.
The recent stretch of Return to Dream Land, in particular, seems like the original developers were able to pull off a relatively difficult (but never frustrating) sequel filled with creative levels and enemies alike. The ending in particular is a wild ride, standing tall with surprising twists and a real challenge. In all, it took me about six hours to flesh out the main story of Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe, and I felt more than half the run time was worth the trip.
Then there is the multiplayer of it all. Up to three friends can drop in and out locally at any time. They’ll play as either Meta Knight, King Dedede, or Bandana Waddle Dee, who basically have one special copy ability each (Sword, Hammer, and Spear, respectively) and can stack on top of each other or carry them through stages. Playing with this many players dulls some of the finer details of the level design, as it quickly becomes a chaotic game of trying to finish off enemies quickly and get to the goal first — a section where you’re supposed to time your moves to avoid boulders. It soon became… Run across the rocks and hope someone gets to the other side. Boss patterns can also be basically ignored because each character bombs the enemy into oblivion. Stages generally feel tailored to a single player, but still work for a larger group if that’s how you choose to play.
However, like similar multiplayer platformers, there is a lot of fun to have around the levels with a few friends. The multiplayer is likely to be a sort of “guardian mode” where you can get a less experienced player tag and play with you, giving Return to Dream Land another way to welcome newcomers.
Kirbys Return to Dream Land Deluxe Screens (Nintendo Direct – Sep 2022)
So this is the original Return to Dream Land, but what’s new in this deluxe edition? The most obvious improvement is the graphical overhaul — out of Kirby and the Forgotten Land of 2022, this is easily the best Kirby you’ve ever seen, with character models, environments, stories, and everything else looking noticeably improved over the 2011 Wii original. It’s also full of charm. And the little details, like the cowboy Kirby walks with a little brace when he uses the whip ability.
Then there are some extras for the adventure itself. Added three new abilities for Kirby to wreak havoc with: Sand, Mecha, and Festival. Sand allows Kirby to form jerks into things like sand castles and fists to knock opponents around. The Mecha ability allows Kirby to fly around the screen at speed, fire lasers, hurl deadly mines, and fire missiles at enemies above – perhaps the most powerful copying ability in Return to Dream Land Deluxe and my personal favourite. They also brought in the Festival ability from Star Allies, which turns on-screen enemies into point stars and health-recovering food items. They fit so well that if I didn’t know any better I would have assumed they were always in the original version too.
In keeping with Return to Dream Land being a platformer for beginners, Deluxe also adds an easy mode called Helper Magolor. This character from another planet throws useful items at Kirby (including potions that double health) and saves him when he falls into endless pits. While most people may not need to play this mod, it is a great option for new or young players to help get their feet wet.
Speaking of Magolor, he’s the star of Deluxe’s single biggest addition – Magolor Epilogue: The Interdimensional Traveler. In this approximately two-hour mini-adventure, you control an interplanetary character, who begins to be stripped of all his powers, á la Metroid. But by collecting magic points across all-new stages, you can buy increasingly powerful abilities, like bombs that you can rain down with happiness on your enemies.
This mode starts out a bit slow, with Magolor being intentionally slow and relatively weak, but by the end of the ride it can become a real powerhouse. The stages themselves are just as good as what’s seen in the main game, with challenging levels available to unlock if you’ve already purchased their corresponding abilities. Kirby’s signature ability to copy powers is lost in this mode, but it’s fun to get a taste of what a Kirby-style platformer will be like that unfolds with further progression.
True to its name, Magolor Epilogue can only be played after the main story is over. Narratively, it makes sense, though let’s be honest: nothing about Kirby’s Toy Story is particularly groundbreaking, and not letting returning players jump right into it feels a bit superfluous. Along these lines, Deluxe includes the original bonus mode, a more difficult version of the main story that gives Kirby less health, adds more enemies to deal with, gives bosses more challenging skins, and more. However, it’s also only accessible after the main mode has finished, which seems silly for the Deluxe version to play almost identically to the original.
There’s also an Arena mode, which similarly unlocks after the main story as a rushing boss of sorts to further test your skills. While those certainly take up our overall playtime, I’d have preferred to get to them right away. New to the package is Merry Magoland, an amusement park full of “sub games” that pit you against other players. In the original Wii version, Magolor’s (Lor Starcutter) ship contained many of these minigames, but now they’re also in this colorful area, and there are two new minigames to play with in addition to the original eight.
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