The Kirby series is one of the most iconic Nintendo-exclusive franchises in the world. Developed by HAL Laboratories, Kirby has spent years fighting for for food, fun, and the safety of the world. The latest game released by HAL, Kirby’s Return to Dreamland, is exactly what one would expect a Kirby game to be: lighthearted and fun, not terribly difficult, and featuring an interesting array of copy abilities. Set on the world of Popstar, the game follows Kirby, King DeDeDe, Meta Knight, and an enthusiastic Waddle Dee as they try to help a space traveler repair his spaceship with parts that they find scattered about the world.
One of the most appealing things about Kirby’s Return to Dreamland is its multiplayer capability. Up to four players can play simultaneously in the game’s story mode. A player may enter the game at any time by selecting either King DeDeDe, Meta Knight, a Waddle Dee, or a Kirby of a different color. Upon entering the game, one of the first player’s lives is consumed. Instead of each player having lives of their own, all the party’s lives are stored in a pool that they all draw from. The game places emphasis on the first player remaining alive. If another player dies, they can reenter the game by taking another life from the pool, but if the first player dies, the party is moved back to the last invisible checkpoint within the level where the player died. It is slightly odd that the only real progress loss results from the first player dying, but because it is a Kirby game, it is not really difficult enough to warrant frustration. It is definitely a refreshing change of pace from Kirby’s Epic Yarn, which had no real penalty for players dying. Though it does not make the game extremely difficult, it does force the players not to be reckless with their characters.
The cooperative story play is very similar to that of New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Characters can bounce off each other’s heads, suck each other up in order to use each other as projectile weapons, and even jump on each other’s back to perform powerful team attacks. A character being used as a projectile is invincible until they strike a terrain object, which makes cooperative play very handy for boss battles in copy abilities are lost and the boss does not spawn a lot of projectile objects. The game also has a “super-inhale” ability, which allows Kirby to inhale multiple objects and allies, and some objects that would otherwise be impossible to inhale. Unlike New Super Mario Bros. Wii, however, it is very difficult to use the cooperative game mechanics to intentionally cause another player to die. Whenever a player who is not the first player begins to move too far from the first player, they are automatically transported back to the first player. This mechanic, while not a great annoyance, seems to suggest that multiplayer in Kirby’s Return to Dreamland is a bit of an afterthought. Regardless, the multiplayer in the game is every bit as fun as that of New Super Mario Bros. Wii.
Graphically, Kirby’s Return to Dreamland is a solid game. It is done in a typically cartoony Nintendo style, and character models look polished. If it can be said that a game looks good on the Wii, this game looks good on the Wii. Kirby has many fantastic-looking super copy abilities that he can grab in some levels that destroy enemies and terrain elements on the screen in flashy displays. These are well drawn, and many of these are highly comical, such as a Kirby that turns into a giant snowball and rolls allies up into the ball while destroying everything else in his path.
As Kirby games go, Kirby’s Return to Dreamland has a decent story. There are a variety of short cutscenes throughout the game that tell the story of the space traveler and his reasons for crashing in Popstar, as well as how Kirby and friends handle the traveler’s dilemma. Like any other Kirby game, there is no dialogue by any character except the space traveler, so the story is told visually. This does not make the game bad by any means. HAL has become skilled at dialogue-free storytelling over the years.
The game also has two delightful minigames and several enjoyable challenge levels. These are unlocked by collecting Energy Spheres within the game’s normal levels. Energy Spheres are the Kirby equivalent to Star Coins in New Super Mario Bros. Wii. The challenge levels force Kirby to beat a level entirely using a certain copy ability. They are fairly challenging, but not too difficult for any gamer experienced with platformers. The two minigames are highly entertaining, but are best played with multiple players. The first unlockable minigame is a competitive game in which the players must hit moving targets with shurikens in order to obtain points. The player with the highest point total at the end of a few rounds is declared the winner. The second unlockable minigame is a cooperative minigame in which players fire guns at an armored boss enemy in order to destroy the boss within a specified time limit. The boss will fire rockets at the players in order to prevent them from attacking. These games are quite fun as short party games and offer a nice break from the game’s story.
Kirby’s Return to Dreamland is a wonderful game for gamers of all kinds. It provides a fun cooperative experience to groups of friends or family. It reminds Nintendo veterans what Kirby used to be like while still adding new elements to the game. It takes the spirit of New Super Mario Bros. Wii and applies it to the Kirby universe. The game is truly a delight, and is a must have for any Wii owner.