Kirby's Return to Dream Land Deluxe Review: Can't Teach Kirby New Tricks
When Kirby's Return to Dream Land first came to the Wii in 2011, the straightforward 2D platformer didn't make a huge splash for anyone outside of big Kirby fans. Updated 12 years later for Nintendo Switch, Kirby's Return to Dream Land is a major graphical and content upgrade but doesn't necessarily expand the initial appeal of the game.
The Nintendo Switch remaster of Kirby's Return to Dream Land certainly lives up to its deluxe moniker. Not only is this a major graphical update over the Wii original, Return to Dreamland Deluxe adds new mini-games, a DLC-style epilogue where you play as Magolor, and a new mode called Merry Magoland. Each of these is a welcome addition, but none of change the fact that Kirby's Return to Dreamland Deluxe was never trying to re-invent the wheel. 12 years later, it's still a pleasant, albeit relatively simple, platformer.
When you boot up Kirby's Return to Dream Land, you must at least begin the first level of the story mode, so that seems like as good a place to start as any. The structure of Return to Dream Land is an intentional throwback to the Dream Land games. These include the NES classic Kirby's Adventure and its GBA remake Nightmare in Dream Land as this game's closest points of comparison.
In an attempt to help the crash-landed Magolor rebuild his ship, Kirby and friends must journey through Planet Popstar and beyond in the seven worlds of this level-based 2D platformer. As you go from level to level, you will collect Energy Spheres in order to help Magolor rebuild. As he does, this unlock more minigames and challenge rooms for Kirby to play inside the Starcutter Lor spaceship.
You will breeze through these levels using a variety of copy abilities you gain by inhaling different enemies, as is standard Kirby fare. In Return to Dream Land Deluxe, these abilities have some of the biggest and most complex move-sets I've seen in a Kirby game — even compared to last years Kirby and the Forgotten Land. This added depth to the moment-to-moment gameplay allowed me to forgive the overly simple nature of much of the level design.
For the most part, all stages will play out the same. Some levels will end with a special enemy that will drop an enhanced version of one of the abilities that will be required to finish the stage. These moments empower the already all-powerful puffball even more, but they also draw attention to how prescribed the design of most of Return to Dream Land is.
Compared to the older games in the series, the Story mode here doesn't feel like it encourages much experimentation. The enemy in front of you is often the one you will need to inhale to get the most out of the section ahead of you. Often this makes the difference between getting the collectible in an area or not, which is the only semblance of challenge to be found here.
Return to Dream Land Deluxe is, for the most part, a very easy game. Once you leave Planet Popstar and depart for the final two worlds, the game's difficulty does take a step up but it never felt overly punishing. It would have been nice if more of the game had achieved this balance.
Overall, it's still a platformer in a series known for being the younger, simpler cousin to Mario and it still lives up to that reputation. For as much as I personally love the Kirby games, I can't deny some of them — Return to Dream Land especially — verge on too easy.
The first major piece of new content you'll encounter in Kirby's Return to Dreamland Deluxe is Merry Magoland. In this theme-park ran by Magolor, you get immediate access to all the mini-games in the Story mode — plus a handful of new ones exclusive to the Switch version. You also missions and participate in "Magoland Tours" in this area, the latter of which pits you up against three other players (or NPCs) in a random challenge of four minigames.
While this area is great for those coming to the game for a group experience, many of the minigames fail to hold up in this version of the game. You can play with motion controls if you want, but defaulting to handheld mode or a Pro Controller made many of these games designed for motion fall flat.
At the best, the minigames in Return to Dream Land Deluxe are a nostalgic throwback to the party game era of the Wii. At their worst, the fun wiggles and waggles of these party games get boiled down to a basic button press. With this in mind, the handful of new games have a bit more going on, but those are outnumbered by more basic ones.
There's is, however, no doubt that the highlight of Kirby's Return to Dreamland Deluxe is the brand new Magolor Epilogue. In this mini-campaign you play as Magolor through a series of four worlds worth of short levels and optional challegnes.
Instead of Copy abilities, Magolor has a series of skills that unlock as you beat worlds. In an RPG twist, Magolor earns a currency that lets you upgrade his different powers. As you choose your path through the skill tree, you can build out Magolor to your preferences.
It's a remarkably modern melding of Metroidvania and RPG-inspired platformers with the aesthetics and enemies of 2D Kirby. While the Magolor Epilogue will only last two to three hours, it is more engaging than anything in the main Story Mode.
Ultimately, the biggest draw for both new and returning players of Kirby's Return to Dreamland Deluxe is the wealth of single-player and multiplayer content on offer. The fact that the game doesn't cater to returning players by having the Extra Modes and Epilogue unlocked from the get-go is an obvious drawback to what is ostensibly going to be one half of he player base.
Gating Magolor's Epilogue behind finishing the Story Mode feels like a disservice to the hard work of the developers who created it. Despite the low challenge level and added accessibility features, the fact remains that this decision will prevent a significant portion of players from seeing the best new content in the game.
Kirby's Return to Dreamland Deluxe Review — The Bottom Line
- Copy abilities have a large and varied move set.
- 2D Kirby has never felt this good.
- Magolor's Epilogue is even better than the base game!
- Haunted by the specter of the Wii in the form of a dozen minigames that become boring and trivial the instant you take out the motion controls.
- Takes too long for the challenge to kick in.
- Extra modes should have been unlocked from the start.
While the challenge and creativity on display here are a downgrade from last year's excellent Kirby and the Forgotten Land, this update of Return to Dream Land is a sharper, more fully-featured version of the original that is worth it for younger gamers or fans of the series.
It's a shame returning players will have to replay the entire story mode to see the best stuff on offer, especially for the price. But if you never checked out the original Wii game, Kirby's Return to Dream Land Deluxe is the definitive way to experience the pink puffball's biggest throwback adventure.
[Note: Nintendo provided the copy of Kirby's Return to Dreamland Deluxe used for this review. Featured image via Nintendo.]