I consider myself a pretty big Kirby fan, going all the way back to Kirby’s Dream Land on the Game Boy and Kirby’s Adventure on the NES, but there are several of his games that fell through the cracks for me. One of those was the 2011 Wii game, Kirby’s Return to Dream Land. Luckily for me, there’s a remaster of it with some new content coming out in about a week. Even more luckily, as part of last week’s Nintendo Direct, a demo was released. So let’s check it out.
I really enjoyed Kirby and the Forgotten Land last year, it was my third favorite 2022 game after all, but I was surprised at how much I liked going back to the classic 2D formula. In Return to Dream Land, you move from the left side of the screen to the right side, inhaling enemies and stealing their powers, avoiding obstacles, and finding secrets. It’s pretty much exactly what was established back in Kirby’s Adventure. But it didn’t feel bland. It’s fun and nostalgic in the best way.
That’s not to say that there isn’t anything new. At least, new for someone who didn’t play the Wii release. The demo features two main levels as well as a boss level. Towards the end of each level, some kind of rip in the fabric of time and space (it seems?) appears, bringing forth a large version of a standard enemy. After defeating them, you get a giant version of their power, like a massive sword attack. You only have a limited number of uses on these attacks, and they feature different animations each time you use them. If you use them to break a specific chunk of the environment, you’ll find another rip in space time, one that you can enter.
In this other dimension or whatever, you’ll do what’s basically a challenge level. You have to make your way through as quickly as possible as a wall that causes instant death follows you close behind. At the end, you’ll encounter a miniboss, and after you defeat it, you’ll earn two of a collectable that’s hidden in each level. Both levels of the demo had the same miniboss. I’m not sure if it stays the same throughout the whole game, or even if these space time rips are actually in every level, but they’re in both of the ones that are here.
The boss level was much more familiar. Like most Kirby games, the first boss is Whispy Woods, a tree the spits bursts of air at you. As per usual, you dodge his attacks, inhale the apples that fall from his branches, and shoot them into his face until he cries, ending the fight. I played through the first Kirby game, Kirby’s Dream Land very recently on the recently released Game Boy app on Nintendo Switch Online, and yeah, it has basically the same boss fight. It’s a tradition though, I’d be disappointed not seeing that weird tree.
Along with these levels, the demo allows you to travel to Merry Magoland, an amusement park built by Magolor, the character who crash lands in the game’s opening and who Kirby is attempting to assist. I’m not sure when he found the time to build an amusement park, but whatever. At Merry Magoland, you can play different minigames, two of which are available in the demo. Playing the games earns you stamps, which when you reach a certain amount of them, will unlock new masks that you can have Kirby wear. I put Kirby in one of Kine, the fish friend from Dream Land 2.
The minigames on offer are simple but fun. One is a battle arena that’s played from a top-down perspective. Four players, all armed with some kind of laser gun, try to shoot each other while trying not to get shot themselves. Landing hits earn you upgrades and there’s a super gun that’s dropped every once in a while. It’s an okay time waster. The other game has you throwing ninja stars at a target. As you advance, it gets harder, with obstacles obscuring your view of the target, or the target moving in different patterns. Even at it’s hardest though, I found this one really easy. Still pretty fun though.
Like I said previously, I didn’t play the original release, so I can’t really compare the graphics, other than looking at screenshots online. But I can say that the game really pops. Kirby and friends have a thick outline around them, and the colors inside are bright and vibrant. While the 2D plane limits the scope of the worlds you’re traversing, especially compared to the 3D locations of Forgotten Land, the backgrounds are still well detailed and stylized. It’s not going to knock your socks off, but this is a really pleasant looking game.
It’s worth mentioning that there is also the option of playing the game in co-op with up to four players. I didn’t test this, so I’m not sure how balanced it is. It makes me think of how I much preferred playing the New Super Mario Bros. games by myself, as it just got too chaotic when there was so many people on screen. But who knows, maybe it works better here?
I was already planning on picking up Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe on release, but now I’m more excited. It may not be a new game, but I never played it, so it is to me, and there’s every indication that this will be a great throwback to the early days of the series.