Kirby, Nintendo's bouncy pink ball of fun has been in a lot of strange games lately. He's been turned into yarn, split into ten smaller versions of himself, and rode rainbow lines drawn by the player in Canvas Curse. Heck, even before that he was tilted around in an early motion control experiment for Gameboy Color called Kirby's Tilt n' Tumble. All these games though are deviations from the original Kirby formula, the one created in Kirby's Dream Land and perfected in later titles like Kirby's Adventure and Kirby's Super Star. There hasn't been a new traditional Kirby game since Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards in 2000. After his 11 year experimental phase (perhaps he was finding himself?) Kirby is back in a traditional platforming, power-stealing adventure! But how does it hold up, and was 11 years worth the wait?
At first glance, yes, this is the Kirby game that fans of the series have been clamoring for. Kirby's power stealing abilities are back and better than ever, with even a couple new ones thrown in. Not only that, but littered around the levels are Super Abilities which act as amped-up versions of other powers throughout the game. They grant Kirby amazing screen-clearing super moves that are quite fun to unleash on Kirby's unsuspecting enemies, from humongous hammers to giant swords that cleave both the enemies and the ground itself in twain. The whole thing is controlled with a sideways Wiimote, like New Super Mario Bros. Wii or Donkey Kong Country Returns. It works well, Kirby controls just as well as he did eleven years ago, and it doesn't have the awkward remote shaking like in NSMB (used to pick up objects) or DKR (weird blowing move). The only time shaking the remote is required really is when having Kirby perform a charged up version of his regular suction attack-- and since you can't walk or jump anyways while inhaling, it never gets in the way or happens accidentally.
Challenge-wise it's perfect for a Kirby game, fairly easy for beginners but with hidden challenge for experienced Kirby fans. Each level has a set number of energy orbs to find, and finding those orbs is where the challenge lies. They are well hidden, and never feel cheap or obnoxious to have to go back and collect. The orbs are used to unlock really cool and innovative challenge levels that really tax your Kirby skill-- these levels track you for speed, collecting hidden coins, and not getting hit-- then reward you with a medal rating based on these factors. It's a really cool little bonus that adds greatly to the game's replay value. The other orb unlockables include 2 mini-games (one that is incredibly boring and has been in probably a half-a-million Wii games already, and one that is pretty neat and a lot like the SNES Super Scope game Battle Clash.) and rooms that let you pick up one of Kirby's abilities whenever you want, which is purely added convenience. The game's challenge does ramp up toward the later levels but is never anything all that fierce. It's a decently long game as well, and just when you think it's over it throws some more worlds at you to complete, which is always fun. Who doesn't love to be surprised by more content?
There's multiplayer as well, were your pals can jump in at any time in the form of King Dedede (identical to Kirby's Hammer power), Meta Knight (sword power), Waddle Dee (spear power) or another different colored Kirby. If you aren't a Kirby though you are stuck with one moveset throughout the entire game, which is kind of disappointing, but they are given some moves that Kirby can't do when he has their corresponding ability, which I guess eases the sting of such a limited moveset. The multiplayer is really nothing to write home about, it works, and you can jump in and out whenever you want. It isn't quite as involved as New Super Mario Wii's (you won't be bounding off each other and doing the co-op/competing thing) but it's a lot better than say, Donkey Kong Country Returns. It's just there because at this point, it's expected in these modern 2D platformer throwback games. It's competent and that's about it.
So it all sounds pretty good, right? Well, for the first several worlds it is. I was enamored with this game, it was nonstop smiles and excitment for at least 3/4 of the game. Then something happened. I realized I was getting bored. There just becomes a point where the game just runs out of new stuff to show you and interesting experiences for you to have. I felt like I was going through the motions at that point. No game should give you this feeling, let alone a Kirby game. I think the fault comes in predictable level design. All the puzzles keep using the same few elements (cannons, ropes to be cut, certain blocks need exploded) that become predictable by about the fifth or sixth world. I mean how many times, really, can it be fun to light a fuse then run to a cannon? Playing multiplayer probably helps this from happening, but it really shouldn't be a necessity. The level's graphic design isn't all the spectacular either, and while some of the backgrounds are lush and cool looking, the actual play areas are made of obvious building blocks and aren't as creative and interesting as the ones in Donkey Kong Country Returns where each level's backgrounds seem specifically designed to each be uniquely interesting, original, and memorable. They could stand to make use of multiple layers of the environment as well-- when Kirby rides a warp star it should look as cool as DK being shot out of barrels.
Overall, though, it's really not a bad game. Before it started repeating itself I had a great time with it. The gameplay is pure old school Kirby fun, and if you have ever enjoyed a Kirby game in any capacity you'll find stuff to like in Kirby's Return to Dreamland. There's plenty of additional and unlockable content to extend the replay value too, so you're definitely getting enough Kirby bang for your buck. There's just some niggling design flaws and things that could be better, but for what it is, it's decidedly not bad.
Title: Kirby's Return to Dreamland
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Released: October 24th, 2011
PXT final verdict: 8.0/10