Pros: Colorful, imaginative, entertaining.
Cons: For the most part, not very challenging.
It is said that cannibals eat people in order to gain their abilities. Eat a strong man and become stronger, eat a smart man and become smarter. While the science behind this belief is lacking, it is perfectly valid in the platformer Kirby's Return to Dream Land, where eating a knight will put a sword in your hand and eating a fire monster will let you belch flames.
Developed by: HAL Labs
Published by: Nintendo
Genre: Action-adventure, platformer
For ages: 10 and up
Release Date: Oct. 24, 2011
The Basics: An Old-School Platformer with a Deep-Lunged Hero
While Kirby started out in 1992 as the star of an old-school 2D platformer called Kirby’s Dream Land, over the years Nintendo has often used him in unusual ways. Kirby starred in a GameBoy game that used special technology to make it motion sensitive. He was in one of the first good DS games, in which you drew rainbows to help him travel. He has also, according to wikipedia, been the star of a pinball game, a golfing game and a version of Breakout. While the Wii’s previous Kirby game, Kirby's Epic Yarn, was a platformer, it was most notable for its quirky textile-based visual scheme.
Return to Dream Land, though, isn’t about technology or gimmicks. It is instead a return to Kirby’s origins, a straightforward 2D side-scrolling platformer played by holding the Wii remote sideways and using it as a standard controller, with virtually no motion-controls. The first boss battle is with a boss from the original game; an angry tree.
Kirby is a pink ball with feet whose most notable talent is the ability to inhale monsters and acquire their powers. Breathe in a killer snowman and Kirby can freeze objects (if they’re flying they will stay in the air as floating platforms). Suck in a flower and Kirby can create a storm of leaves. If Kirby doesn’t want any powers he can simply spit his enemies out again as projectiles. His other great talent is the ability to suck in so much air that he floats like a balloon (and yes, I know that no matter how much air you suck in you will never float, but Kirby isn’t really concerned with the laws of physics).
In its typically inconsequential story, one of the airborne sailing ships common to Japanese video games crashes near Kirby’s home, and he volunteers to gather the broken pieces of the ship scattered throughout the area.
This is all just an excuse for Kirby to traipse through colorful environments, jumping, floating, and inhaling. Occasionally Kirby has a boss battle to fight, and occasionally he comes across a “super ability” that will, for example, send a huge blast of fire across the screen or let loose a gigantic sword that can tear apart mountains.
The Style: Light and Easy
Kirby is a fairly easy game, although not as easy as Epic Yarn was. Often the game seems more interested in entertaining than challenging the player. For example, you might get the ability to turn yourself into a rock right before you reach a downward slope. Harden yourself and you slide down the slope. Sure, it’s fun to watch the rock-hard Kirby knocking monsters out of the way as he hurtles downward, but it requires no player skill. Similarly, super abilities are more about the fun of wreaking major havoc than about finding ways to use those abilities more effectively.
The most challenging part of the game is not making it to the exit but in collecting special items hidden on each level. Some of these are quite tricky to get. There is one item hidden behind a door that requires you to find a way to cut a rope to lower a platform and then get out of the way before the platform crushes Kirby. Collecting these items unlocks the game’s fun mini-games.
As you progress through the game, it does get more difficult. There are some tricky sections and tough boss battles, but you’ll be well over halfway through the game before you really break a sweat.
Nevertheless, the game’s wonderful imagination makes it endlessly entertaining. There are all sorts of cool ideas. Suck up several monsters at once and you can spit out a giant star that will roll ahead of you, crushing everything in its path. Sometimes you will find a cannon that will blast everything in front of you as you carry it. In one place I needed to suck up a fire monster so I could melt an ice wall so I could suck up a snowman so I could freeze molten bricks.
Dream Land can be played in co-op mode with up to four people. I only played a little in co-op mode, and while it’s certainly fun, only one of you can play as Kirby, and the other choices just aren’t as fun.
The Verdict: Imaginative and Entertaining
In many ways, Dream Land is a kinder, gentler version of last year’s Donkey Kong Country Returns, which was also an old school 2D platformer but which was notable for its insane difficulty. Colorful and easy going, Dream Land is pure entertaining fun with just a little aggravation thrown in for spice. If I had Kirby’s ability to suck things up and take their power, I would inhale Kirby’s Return to Dream Land. I think it would make me a lot more fun.