REVIEW: Kirby's Return to Dream Land Deluxe brings the heart
A Kirby classic that stands the test of time
With Kirby’s belated 3D debut in Kirby and the Forgotten Land arriving to massive success – and ultimately usurping the original Kirby’s Dream Land as the best-selling Kirby game – one might wonder what room a post-Forgotten Land world would leave for Kirby’s bread-and-butter 2D adventures. The existence of Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe might prove series developer HAL Laboratory wouldn’t be so quick to toss aside its legacy, yet when my Nintendo-crazy nephew shrugged at the news of the 2011 Wii game receiving a remaster, it was the question he posed that gave me pause: “Why can’t the new games just be 3D?”. It’s a spine-chilling question for ye olde gamers I’m sure; however, gaming history has proven since the medium’s foray into 3D that evolution doesn’t necessarily preclude tradition, as evidenced by how said nephew caved and fell in love with this remastered 2D Kirby game anyway.
Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe is an interesting choice for a remaster. The original game was released during a hectic holiday season, and while often overlooked as a late footnote for the dying Wii, it sparked something of a new era for the beloved pink marshmallow. Following a belabored development, it was the first new, fully homegrown Kirby game from HAL in over a decade – an occasion well-suited to its North American name. Copy Abilities that were one-trick abilities evolved into full-fledged combo fiends. The wafer-thin, sugary-sweet world of Kirby was recontextualized with newfound lore, callbacks, and unearthed mythology which provided the proverbial building blocks that are still being used to this day.
Putting it this way: for all of Return to Dream Land’s relative modesty in its commitment to 2D platforming, it drew a rock-solid roadmap for Kirby for the first time since creator Masahiro Sakurai left HAL Laboratory. Since then, the series has treated fans to a plentiful bounty of confident sequels and derivative spin-offs, paving the way for the resounding success in Forgotten Land. That being said, this evolutionary progression makes Return to Dream Land’s aging foundation come across as especially redundant in its familiar gameplay. However, it still remains a strong Kirby game in and of itself, with this Deluxe remaster going the extra mile for new fans and old with ample new content in the form of its carnival of time trials, mini-games, and epilogues.
Return to Dream Land Deluxe plays like any other Kirby. In his quest to recover the missing ship pieces of the Lor Starcutter, the cherubic pink marshmallow runs around colorful environments and swallows anything that dares cross his cavernous maw. Said gobbling spree gives rise to Kirby’s signature Copy Abilities, wherein Kirby “copies” the powers of his hapless prey and wreaks havoc around the fairytale plains of Dream Land. From Water’s surfy fountain-spurts to Fighter’s punchy command inputs, the flexible heft behind every ability – a staple delight of modern Kirby – remains intact. The innumerous inputs also encourage experimentation, granting you the power to pound wave after wave of cherubic baddies into dust in unique and destructive ways.
Because this isn’t a ground-up remake, fans of the original will note how Return to Dream Land Deluxe doesn’t deviate from original framework, but they can enjoy the occasional new perk; namely, the new Copy Abilities in Sand and Mecha. With both abilities emphasizing range, the developers took care in weaving balance throughout the game’s fabric. For instance, when the desert-themed Radish Ruins introduces Sand, nearby puzzles that may’ve required the stretchy Whip can also be solved with Kirby’s newfound mastery of granular minerals. Mecha is a particular joy to play, too, with its rapid-fire beams, anti-air artillery and electrifying punches proving to be especially effective against nasty bosses. Where oh where was this ability in the mech-themed Planet Robobot?
The Kirby series walks a delicate balance of being welcoming to newcomers while offering plenty of challenge for hardened gamers who decide to dig below the surface. Thankfully, Return to Dream Land Deluxe offers some new surprises in store for those wishing to walk the road of 100% completion. For starters, new Copy Abilities means new Challenge Stages. These time trials were already some of Kirby’s toughest ordeals, emphasizing perfect movement, precise combos, and razor-thin wins to earn those coveted Platinum Medals. With the new Sand and Mecha stages ready to give you a run for your money, the expert Kirby player should hope their muscle memory from the 2011 game is still active. Rumor also has it that The True Arena – the boss-gauntlet that’ll leave any fan quivering with tears – might throw in some new bosses in the mix, so it’s best to prep for inevitable trial-and-error.
Also worth mentioning are the Another Dimension segments. These thrilling escape sequences rely on a powerless Kirby who can only fight back against the looming void through the satisfying crunch of his giant Star Spits. Seeking all the Energy Spheres is an addictive challenge, too, as they are all cleverly interwoven throughout the game in hidden crevices and tricky puzzles. Even at times where it feels like its spinning wheels, Return to Dream Land Deluxe simply feels great to play.
Naturally, this remaster throws a new coat of paint over the Wii original, and while it won’t blow you away ala Metroid Prime Remastered’s mouth-watering realism, Return to Dream Land Deluxe’s cel-shaded approach gives the game a newfound storybook feel that eagle-eyed fans draw parallels with one of the cancelled prototypes. The game was already very plush and pleasant to look at, with its brand of warm fantasy populated by imaginative phenomena and an adorable cast, but now it’s brimming with new life in detailed HD. Forgotten Land might have forged new ground with a post-apocalyptic world, but Return to Dream Land’s trademark coziness remains a fuzzy blanket to wrap yourself up with.
There are other changes here and there – such as music tracks that have been supplemented with reverb – but Return to Dream Land Deluxe is more or less the same game from 2011. For those who enjoyed what would mark the beginning of Kirby’s golden age, it remains a delectable delight, channeling the best of Kirby’s Adventure and Kirby Super Star into a more modern package. That being said, the remaster’s dedicated adherence to the original Return to Dream Land does mean the innate flaws found in the original remain intact.
The Super Abilities – supercharged versions of Copy Abilities that wreak havoc across destructible landscapes – exemplify the game’s emphasis on raw power, right down to the newfound effect of smashing hapless enemies against the screen. But for as fun as that destructive gameplay is in single-player mode, it’s not the most multiplayer-friendly feature. The other players are forced to watch whoever’s playing Kirby hijack the level progression while they’re left uselessly hopping around. For the game’s marketed appeal of a four-player adventure (ala New Super Mario Bros. Wii), it’s an incongruous fit that elevates one player as being an imperative necessity.
It’s easy for old fans to fault this remaster for its familiarity or slow opening stages, but it’s the new side-content in Return to Dream Land Deluxe that allows us to forgive the game’s imperfections. While the original offering of mini-games was full of disposable ventures back in 2011, their reinvented presentation here in Deluxe’s Merry Magoland rides the high of last year’s 30th anniversary by hosting a variety of attractions from Kirby’s historic gallery of mini-games. From Checkerboard Chase (Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards) to Crackity Hack (Kirby and the Amazing Mirror), these classics bring back all the fun and nostalgia you remember, be it split-second reprieves in the heart-pounding Samurai Kirby, or intense multiplayer shoot-outs in Booming Blasters (which replaces the motion-controlled Scope Shot from the original Wii game).
With mini-games being such a series staple, it’s interesting to see how these gameplay time capsules hold up in the modern age. For instance, Checkerboard Chase’s ring-out chaos already rendered it a popular choice from years past, but the unlockable High-Speed mode escalates it into an addictively cutthroat death match. Meanwhile, Smash Ride – the throwaway Squeak Squad game hampered by poor touch controls – is finally vindicated by traditional inputs, operating as a veritable Smash Bros. tribute in bopping and smashing opponents in a game of bumper cars. Samurai Kirby even joins the recent “99” gaming trend with Samurai Kirby 100, wherein your reaction time is put to the test against 99 other samurai challengers. Those who previously mastered Kirby’s tension-filled duels back on SNES and GBA will eagerly heed the crack of the signal cue once more.
Merry Magoland ensures these mini-games won’t be one-and-done ventures, either. All attractions come complete with their respective checklist, offering a variety of challenges from the mundane (“Play X amount of times”) to the excruciating (Hit two people at once in Booming Blasters? You’re kidding!). Another addicting aspect of this game is the collectible Dress-Up Masks, representing a menagerie of Kirby characters from the familiar (Rick the Hamster) to the obscure (Rick the Hamster’s girlfriend from Kirby’s Dream Land 3). Most are merely cosmetic – the attentive Kirby fans might even notice the occasional hidden buff – yet all are playable in the main game and offer some fun visual variety. Ultimately, for those disappointed by how more recent Kirby games eschewed the sub-game depth found within Triple Deluxe and Planet Robobot, you’ll find a happy balance here in Magoland.
This remaster’s new offerings are rounded out with the post-game Magolor Epilogue: The Interdimensional Traveler. Without spoiling too much, Kirby’s mysterious friend Magolor is down on his luck, having been isolated in another dimension and sapped of his sorcery. Guided by a mysterious fruit, he gradually recovers his powers by siphoning Magic Points from defeated enemies as he travels across this mysterious void, chaining combos and encountering familiar faces.
The level-up factor in this epilogue is an interesting twist on Kirby gameplay. When it came to bonus modes like these, past entries generally just plopped fan-favorite characters with pre-set tools into campaign rehashes. Yet Magolor is more adventurous, powering up everything from teleportation to black holes of death until he’s a magical fiend. The combo system also lends itself well to Kirby’s punchy gameplay. By chaining together lethal feats of wonder to score more and more Magic Points, Magolor Epilogue makes the player feel like a literal god of death, encouraging replays and perfect scores to earn every last Platinum Medal.
And yes, for those like myself fascinated by Kirby lore… well, I won’t spoil too much. But let’s just say the events of a certain spin-off series got that much more interesting. As the book finally closes on the Master Crown, what destiny befalls this little magician?
Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe is a loving tribute to a Wii classic, but your mileage may vary depending on your relationship with the pink puffball. For those who’ve always scratched their heads at the series’ appeal, this relatively conservative entry will likely elude you. Yet for those of us who once treasured it as a wily step forward, Return to Dream Land remains true to its heartening title. As the next chapter unfolds in Kirby’s future, Deluxe’s existence isn’t just a reminder that the series will always keep the seat warm for 2D gameplay – it’s proof that, in appealing to all audiences, Kirby’s beating heart will always persist no matter the form it takes.