Kirby returns to his roots... but is that a good thing?
Review written by
November 9th, 2011
This might surprise people, but originally, Kirby's Epic Yarn was not a Kirby game. Prince Fluff, the second character in the game's co-op was meant to be the protagonist, and Kirby was added for star power, thankfully not diminishing the game's great design and look. Kirby's Return to Dream Land however, is the Kirby game many have been waiting for since as far back as the Gamecube era, and Kirby is once again full bodied.
The premise is simple. An alien named Magolor and his spaceship crash land in Dream Land, and Kirby decides to help him gather the now scattered pieces of the ship. There are a few twists near the end of the game, but truthfully the story is not important.
The gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has played a classic Kirby title or one of the remakes. Players can walk back and forth in a 2D side scrolling play area, with the goal being to make it to the end of levels and defeat the end bosses. Kirby once again can inhale and exhale enemies and various objects. Certain enemies, when swallowed give Kirby special powers but at the cost of not being able to get another until either being hit or voluntarily giving up the power already obtained. With one or two notable exceptions, every one of the powers has been taken from Kirby's NES, SNES and N64 incarnations and there are enough that every player should be able to find a power they love.
While almost nothing is new in this version of Kirby, there are a few small differences. First off, Kirby occasionally comes across glowing enemies which give super versions of existing abilities. These almost always give way to secret areas, which are intended solely for completionists. In addition, the game takes a page from New Super Mario Bros. Wii in adding four-player co-op play. The additional players can choose to either be a Kirby clone with a different color (like in the Smash Bros. games) or they can be King Dedede, Meta Knight, or a Waddle Doo. One would think that players would always want to be Kirby for his wide array of abilities, but unlike Kirby, the other three characters never lose their powerful weapons when hit. Would a player rather have a really strong character or more variety? Unfortunately, the multiplayer feels tacked on and unnecessary. Not only are almost all the levels incredibly easy, but having up to four players at once can fill the game screen to the point of being crowded. As if this weren't enough, all of the characters share the lives of player one. With the first player dies, everyone dies, and when the other players die, player one loses lives. It feels like a strange design choice for a family oriented game, especially with the great design of NSMB Wii.
Donkey Kong Country Returns did great things with 2D graphics, making the backgrounds feel alive and giving a dynamic experience. Unfortunately, Kirby doesn't copy DK's awesome backgrounds and Dream Land feels a little too much like the stages were taken almost piecemeal from earlier games. There are very few exciting stages, and with the exception of World 6, there's nothing new or interesting about the graphics. After DKCR and the upcoming Rayman: Origins, Kirby is a massive disappointment.
Likewise, the sound isn't that great either. Though Kirby does have his 'voice' from the Smash Bros games, it doesn't add much. Other than a few nice remixes, the music is also nothing to write home about. The one exception would be the sound effects, which are all classic Kirby sound effects; however, the fact that they're all old sounds points to a lack of effort.
Normally one would be able to forgive these flaws considering that the Kirby gameplay formula has withstood the test of time. Unfortunately, Return to Dream Land is far too short to justify the fifty dollar asking price. At only about six to seven hours, the main game will not hold players long at all. Though completionists do have the option of trying to obtain every one of the game's energy spheres, there isn't much point to them. Other than unlocking small mini-games and item rooms in Magolor's spaceship, they don't do much at all. No extra stages or anything similar. The game does have a hard mode which opens after you finish, but other than enemies being tougher and Kirby having a smaller lifebar, there's nothing really new.
Kirby's Return to Dreamland is not a bad game, but feels like something Nintendo made as an afterthought. If players really want a new 2D platformer this holiday season, there are better alternatives yet to come.
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