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GoNintendo 'End of Day' thought - Kirby's Return to Dreamland review

by rawmeatcowboy
24 October 2011
GN Version 4.0


I've been looking forward to the embargo for this review to lift! I've been dying to talk about this title. I sure hope you enjoy the review and what I have to say. Pokemon Rumble Blast review for tomorrow's End of Day thought! See you in a few, short hours!

I never thought we'd see the day. Many years ago, a 4-player Kirby game was slated to hit the GameCube. There were promo images, video footage and even a presence at E3. Then...the game just disappeared off the face of the earth. That's quite odd for a major Nintendo franchise to see a new installment announced, only to disappear into thin air.

The game was always mentioned in Nintendo's annual reports, but it never surfaced. It became something of a joke as the years rolled on. Nintendo's own little Duke Nukem Forever. This Kirby title was nothing but a bunch of text in a quarterly press release...and then everything full circle. That 4-player Kirby idea returned once again, and it was heading to Wii.

To say that Kirby's Return to Dreamland was a long-time coming would be a major understatement. Kirby fans have been waiting for that traditional console Kirby experience for quite some time. Kirby's Epic Yarn gave us a unique spin on the series, but we still wanted that more familiar-feeling adventure. That's where Kirby's Return to Dreamland steps in, and boy does it deliver.

There are certain elements I think of when it comes to a traditional Kirby game. I don't expect much in the way of story. I also don't really expect there to be much of a challenge at all. Combine those elements with cute/colorful graphics and a hyperactive soundtrack and you have Kirby. That's what the franchise has always been about, and it always seems to remain appealing.

5 minutes into Kirby's Return to Dreamland and you know that you're getting just that. That's not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination. The game actually starts out with a very ToeJam and Earl story about a spaceship losing its key components, which leads into Kirby and friends heading out to hunt down those pieces. That's all the story motivation you need to jump right into the gameplay.

This is very much a traditional Kirby experience from the get-go. If you've played any other main entries in the Kirby franchise, you know what you're going to get. The name of the game is copying abilities, and there are plenty to grab this time around. Suck up an enemy, swallow him to gain a power and then use that power to your advantage. From swords to fire, ice to water, you'll have all kinds of elements and weapons at your disposal.

Power-ups have multiple uses as well. Much like in the Smash Bros. series, pressing the attack button along with a certain direction on the dpad will give you a different type of attack. For example, if you press up and attack while using the water ability, you'll shoot a geyser out of Kirby's head. Double tap left/right to run and then hit attack in order to have Kirby ride a wave across the screen. Part of the fun in Kirby games is finding out just how many different ways certain power-ups can be used.

There will also be many instances where you'll have to use certain abilities to gain access to secret areas. Sometimes you'll need fire to burn away trees in order to access hidden door. Other times you can use a water ability to put out fire blocks that block an alternate path. It's up to you to find the right abilities to clear paths into those secret rooms.

What hides in secret rooms, you ask? Sometimes you'll find nothing more than a few power-ups and items to heal you. Other times you'll find energy spheres. These spheres are hidden in every single level, and levels will give you an energy sphere count every step of the way. This way you know how many energy spheres are hidden within a level. You can even figure out where some of them are hidden by watching which ones you collect. If you grab a sphere that fills the first and third spots in the gauge, then you know you missed the second sphere somewhere along the way.

These energy spheres are used to unlock extras back at the crashed spaceship. These extras come in the way of challenge doors that each focus in on a certain ability. When you hop into these rooms, you'll be given a certain ability that you have to use to run through that challenge from start to finish. By gaining a certain number of points while in the room, you can net yourself a gold rating. More on these challenge rooms later.

These energy spheres are definitely a driving force while playing the game, since you'll always feel like hunting them out. You don't need them to complete the main game, but I felt absolutely compelled to hunt them out in each level. I wouldn't go onto a new level before I found all the energy spheres in the level before it. Most of the time these spheres were easy enough to find, but there were a handful that had me re-entering a level a few times to pick up.

Every so often you'll come across hidden doors that house not one, but two energy spheres. These spheres are guarded by sub-bosses that get tougher and tougher as the game goes on. I started out easily destroying the sub-bosses earlier in the game to grab these two gears, but later in the game I would sometimes escape with just one hit left on my health bar. The battles can get intense due to the action and surrounding hazards, which made grabbing the later spheres that much more fun.

Getting to these doors sometimes requires the use of super abilities, which is a brand-new feature for the Kirby series. Imagine your favorite abilities from Kirby games, but powered up to a completely different level. Super-powered enemies are cleared marked by a quick cut-scene, and once you gobble them up you'll grab that super ability. These abilities come with a power gauge as well as a fancy cut-scene for each attack. For example, the flame super ability actually calls forth a flame dragon that shoots across the screen. This dragon can annihilate giant trees and tree stumps in your way, which will clear the path for all sorts of power-ups and hidden items.

You won't find a super ability in every level, but they do come up often enough to be quite enjoyable but not overused. You really do feel like you're getting something special when they pop up, and the music that accompanies the super-powered Kirby just makes the huge destruction even more enjoyable. It's also fun seeing just what abilities get super powered versions as you play through, but I'm not going to ruin those details for you!

Speaking of extra fire power, you'll be able to really bring the heat to the bad guys if you take some friends with you. Kirby's Return to Dreamland allows for three of your friends to join in for some co-op fun. With many of you having played New Super Mario Bros. Wii, you already know what the deal is here. The more players you throw in, the more hectic the situation gets. Some people love that feel and others would rather go solo. It's completely up to you, but I suggest you at least give the co-op a try.

I played through an entire world with three other friends, and we had an absolute blast doing so. The team I played on had three Kirbys and one Meta-Knight. The micro-management that comes into play when multiple Kirbys are around is actually quite fantastic. You can divvy up abilities to make sure there's one of everything floating around, better increasing your odds of having the right ability to open up a secret path. Meta-Knight can take the lead and clear out baddies with his sword, which always helps when a Kirby is lacking a power-up. There are also times when you'll have to carry items such as a candle to light the way or a cannon to blow up enemies. Having more than one person around to spread these jobs out to really enhances the experience.

By now, I'm sure you can see how the new and interesting tweaks on a classic Kirby formula come into play, but it's very important to stress that this is indeed a traditional Kirby experience. You're not going to get any absolutely mind-blowing new approach to gameplay here. This is a Kirby title for long-time fans, and gives you more of what you've come to love over the years. After playing Kirby's Epic Yarn and Kirby Mass Attack, I can say that Kirby's Return to Dreamland was the classic Kirby experience that I really was yearning for.

As a matter of fact, having taken my time with the title and really given it a lot of thought while playing, I came to realize that Kirby's Return to Dreamland could be my favorite traditional Kirby experience. The title holding that honor had always been Kirby's Adventure on the NES, but I think that has finally been topped. This title really shows how strong a traditional Kirby experience can be with some bells and whistles thrown in for good measure.

Having played all the main Kirby games, I'd have to say that the level design/themes in Kirby's Return to Dreamland are really something special. You might not think that in the beginning of the game, but the deeper into the experience you get, the more you'll realize just how expertly designed the platforming is. It's amazing that after all these years of Kirby titles, I'm still wowed by some of the level design. The later levels in particular are really well presented, with some of the content giving me a huge grin. I'd love to talk about it here, but that content is later in the game, and I don't want to spoil the fun!

The same goes for the game's soundtrack, which I was originally a bit let down by. When I fire up a new Kirby game, I'm looking for some remixed classic tunes. Kirby's Return to Dreamland does have a few returning classic tracks, but by and large, this title has a lot more original music. Again, the deeper into the game you get, the better the music gets. Each world brings new tunes, and by the end of the game you realize that you've just heard a ton of new music tracks. The best compliment I can give is the fact that now I want some of these tunes to return in the next Kirby game!

What can I knock Kirby's Return to Dreamland on? It's pretty much the same negative stuff you hear about any Kirby game. If you're looking for a big challenge, you're not going to find it in the main game. It's true that the very late levels in the game offer up a nice ramp in difficulty, but it's nothing that you guys and gals should have trouble with. This is yet another Kirby main experience that isn't too challenging, but it's more about the adventure than it is the difficulty.

The thing is, there's definitely a challenge for those that want it. This is where I come back to mention those challenge rooms. I'm telling you, you are not going to get your gold rating on these challenge rooms the first run through. You have to learn level layouts as well as all you ability aspects before you can expect to get gold. The key is learning every ability inside and out, and then it's all about completing these challenge rooms in the time limit. You also have to nab every star and take out all enemies along the way to get that top score. Trust me, this mode becomes RIDICULOUSLY addictive, and it's going to give you a run for your money unlike any other Kirby game.

The other knock we always hear against Kirby games comes up with length. Kirby titles aren't known for presenting a ton of gameplay, which leads to a rather short adventure. Kirby's Return to Dreamland isn't the longest game I've ever played, but it certainly is a nice chunk of adventure. The best part is, the game fools you into thinking it's over when it's not. This actually happens a couple times, some more surprising than others. There's one point in the game where you pretty much know that everything isn't said and done yet, but I was surprised with just how much content was left. Again, later on you'll see yet another instance where the game pulls a bait-and-switch, but giving me more gameplay was something I was happy to receive, rather than feeling upset about having the ending yanked out from under me again.

Speaking about the game's ending, Kirby's Return to Dreamland could have the most exciting last half-hour of any Kirby game. You get to take on gameplay elements that I can't remember doing in any other Kirby game, and it was so expertly handled that it made me want to see this one aspect turned into a Kirby spin-off game. Not to mention the multi-tiered final battle, which is without a doubt the toughest thing you'll see in the single player campaign. Kirby's Return to Dreamland will most likely wow longtime fans of the franchise, and it's the final moments of the title that'll do that.

Of course, as I said earlier, there's content to do that will lengthen your adventure. Grabbing the energy spheres along the way will open up the challenge rooms, and those are definitely going to add to your total playtime. There's also the multiplayer which will be fun for a romp through with different friends. On top of all that, another mode opens up after you complete the game, and I'm thinking most Kirby fans will want to give it a go right away. If all that isn't enough, there are also three surprisingly engaging mini-games to unlock as well, which feature single/multiplayer fun. The point I'm trying to stress is, there's plenty of content and reasons to keep busy in Kirby's Return to Dreamland. You just have to be willing to hunt them out.

Kirby's Return to Dreamland has been a very long time coming. Surprisingly, I found it very much worth the wait. I've been mulling it over for days now, and I really do believe this title to be my favorite traditional Kirby adventure. It plays great, it adds in some new mechanics, it looks and sounds fantastic, and it's got plenty of content for the completionist. I really hope that Kirby fans sit up and take notice of this title. Kirby's Return to Dreamland shows that there's still new adventures and ideas waiting within the Kirby franchise. I love my Kirby spin-off games, but there's nothing quite like a traditional outing with everyone's favorite cream puff.

Kirby's Return to Dreamland gets a 9 out of 10