Review – Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe
Kirby has such a roller coaster dynamic across his various games. Sometimes he’s a ball of yarn, sometimes he’s a strong fighting machine, sometimes he spends most of his life on the back of a hamster because Kirby’s Dream Land 2 was a magnificent evolution of a franchise. Last year was the big anniversary celebration of Kirby, which brought both one of Kirby’s boldest steps forward ever and also the cutest waste of twenty dollars. The little pink puff can’t pick a lane and stick with it, and I think it’s because of how the games approach themselves. You can never quite tell if Kirby and HAL Laboratory is more interested in gameplay or merchandising, and that’s confusing. Pokemon seems to lose no sleep at night cranking out games that lack the draw power of a PlayStation 3, but the titles are still utterly addicting. Why shouldn’t Kirby be able to fall into the same groove?
Well, as we’re seeing with Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe, it’s a matter of positioning as well. Reinvigorating a Wii title from 2011, Return to Dream Land Deluxe is taking the classic tale of Magolor crashing his spaceship onto Planet Popstar and promptly losing all one hundred twenty gears of his spaceship. Kirby, King Dedede, Waddle Dee, and Meta Knight put aside their differences (of which there are many) to try and help Magolor out, and off we go on the most prolific Kirby collect-a-thon there is.
You got a whole bunch of levels, some very colorful bosses, and more incentive than ever to have a friend/family member play with you because they get to have more fun than the first player. Oh, and an unbelievable number of minigames, because Kirby is all about you taking time away from helping out your friends so you can practice target shooting or who can find the books the fastest.
Return to Dream Land Deluxe brings a lot to the table in terms of updates visually. As the Wii was not the most powerful device on the block, it’s really great to see colorful, more detailed graphics to encapsulate all that is Kirby, which is very pink, very animated and very excitable. It’s a visual feast of cute character concepts and silly designs, and it’s very engaging without being overwhelming.
The landscapes, which all fall into classic Kirby tropes (the woods, the caves, some beaches, magma) bring a certain charm along with them to help players find their favorite levels. Aesthetically, I think it’s even more on point than The Forgotten Land was: as much as the open world, post-apocalyptic vibe was exciting, it ultimately didn’t feel like Kirby as we knew him. This, being a natural extension of the original Kirby games, is quite in vein with what we knew about Kirby from his start and how it’s naturally evolved.
The improved graphics also give a better sense of grandiose energy to the Super Abilities, a skill set that carried over from Return to Dream Land. Kirby’s opportunities to inhale glowing enemies and then have weapons that are cataclysmically effective are spurts of chaotic fun that I would love to do over and over again, because of how beyond they all felt. When you go from swinging a tiny sword to now wielding a machete that obliterates everything on the screen, you lose sense of yourself for a moment and just revert to primal violence. Yes, I am a small pink puff ball, and, for a moment, I am destroyer of worlds.
Additionally, the different mechanics are ones that vibe well, but there simply aren’t enough of them. The mecha suit, a new addition, is spiffing fun: there’s nothing quite like being a Kirby Gundam to completely take you out of your own head for a while. It’s not the perfect power-up (not like Forgotten Land’s gunslinger) but it’s still hilariously overpowered and gives you a sense of overkill. The sand ability, by contrast, just feels like a mashup of the existing elemental abilities, specifically a blend of water and ice. It’s cute, and it makes sense in the more arid areas of the game, but it’s nothing that I’d chuck my original Return to Dream Land into the trash over.
Lastly in the “new” department is Magolor’s Epilogue, a post-game setup where you get to play as the stranded alien wizard in his own little side adventure. This is where things get a bit sticky, because I really enjoyed Magolor’s section and saw a lot of potential as a side game all its own. The idea of Magolor slowly gaining back his incredible catalog of powers (which players get to see a little off in the final boss fight) as you quest along is really fun.
It’s almost like a metrovania adjacent concept without the need for exploration, just normal side-scrolling action. It’s well built and feels like a natural extension of Return to Dream Land, which is fantastic given that the base is a more than ten years old expedition. Magolor’s arc from helpless side character to inadvertent villain and finally intrepid hero is a satisfying one to follow, and I almost wish that this was a separate entity entirely.
Had Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe launched last year, I think it would have been a more welcome and fitting placement, even in a year already saturated with Kirby games. It’s a fantastic in-between of Forgotten Land and Dream Buffet, giving a good balance of adventurous platforming and silly minigames with a fantastic number of collectibles. It graphically pops and has all the things that made Return to Dream Land work so well in the first place: a good amount of exploration, some collectibles to encourage replay, and a solid drop in/drop out multiplayer setup that allows families and friends to participate and be a part of the game while one player is captaining the ship.
Yes, the main storyline is too damn short, but that’s par for the course for Kirby games: these are designed to appeal to younger players and people looking for a light challenge, not something daunting and frustrating. Forgotten Land took players to task with some serious boss fights, but you’re not seeing anything like that here.
However, we’ve just recently had the release of Metroid Prime: Remastered, and that really changes the game for all forms of re-released titles. In comparison, Return to Dream Land Deluxe feels both overprice and undertaker, creating something that is shockingly easy for anyone looking to play with others. Let’s be clear: this is a far cry from the slap on the face that was Kirby Star Allies, so no one needs to raise their pitchforks just yet.
But the bosses and the enemies don’t seem to scale in any way, which means the challenge of it all flies out the window the second another player drops in. Like all Kirby games, the “death” of players two through four mean nothing, and they can simply respawn, full health, in a matter of seconds. So the tried and true strategy of “hide in the corner while someone else wails in the boss” is incredibly effective, right up through the end.
My opinion and my view is that something like this, even if it is a first party release, could have launched at a similar price point and gotten a much better reception from players overall. I have no issues going back and replaying Kirby and the Forgotten Land because there are missions, secret areas, and a surprisingly indepth storyline that gives me pause. It feels like a sixty dollar game because there’s that much value leaking out if it in terms of effort and reward.
Return to Dream Land Deluxe has a lot baked in, but I would have rather that Magolor’s quest launch as a separate game, and then had Dream Land Deluxe be a forty dollar standalone with the option to DLC Magolor in if it meant that much to people. We’ve seen what Kirby can be, and yes, the next “new” Kirby game probably will be. But this is what we’ve gotten this year, and I have to call it like it is. It’s cute, it’s fun, and it makes my family happy. It’s just slightly overvaluing its own worth to make it a solid purchase at the time, and that, like Kirby, sucks.
A solid step up from the source material without things going too strongly in terms of revitalizing the design. I wasn’t sure if Return to Dream Land Deluxe could deliver more, but I didn’t think it was necessary if it could.
Classic Kirby styling, with a little bit of havoc and collect-a-thon moments. Nothing challenging to speak of, but also not so dirt simple that I lost interest. Minigames are the big pull in terms of relay, because the main storyline can be done in an afternoon. Magolor had the best arc out of everything.
It was there, it was good, but it wasn’t memorable. There wasn’t anything sweeping or majestic to capture my imagination and attention. Just something that I could say “yes, this is how Kirby should sound.” Which doesn’t feel complementary, does it?
Fun Factor: 7.5
I honestly could have enjoyed this more if I waited a month and picked it up used or rented it. The excitement of the previous title overwhelmed my expectations, and I was left feeling a bit flat. It’s good, but it just isn’t as good as I’ve seen Kirby.
Final Verdict: 7.5
Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe is available now on Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.