While writing for Toonzone I wrote two videogame reviews. One of which was for ‘Kirby’s Return to Dreamland’ on the Nintendo Wii. The Kirby review went live on the site November 16 and I’ve reposted the review here in its entirety:
“Kirby’s Return to Dreamland” (Wii) Review
Developer: HAL Laboratory Inc.
He’s been turned to yarn and split into pieces, but now Kirby is back. Back to his traditional gameplay roots. Now, as a long standing Kirby fan I came into this game with certain expectations that were met. I expected a wonderful romp through plenty of creative levels, lots of copy abilities, some sort of collectible item(s), and a game larger than any classic style Kirby game before it. I also knew there would be some sub-games that would take more advantage of the Wii’s functionality than the rest of the game, an unlockable area where I can grab any copy ability, a boss arena, and I wasn’t surprised that the game includes an Extra Mode. However, there are also a few pleasant surprises to this game that surpass my expectations, making it the best traditional style Kirby game to date.
- 20 different copy abilities, 5 super abilities, and 2 limited use abilities.
- 120 Energy Spheres hidden in the stages, collecting them unlocks more content.
- 7 Challenge Stages, in which you must use only a specific copy ability.
- 2 unique sub-games.
- Unlockable Extra (hard) Mode, Arena (boss endurance), and sound test.
- Roughly 20+ hours of gameplay to fully beat both Main and Extra Mode.
- Up to four players can participate at any time.
Kirby and company are just enjoying another peaceful day when suddenly a spaceship appears and crashes, scattering its pieces all over Dreamland. So the team sets out to help the alien recover the pieces of his ship. And yeah, that’s it. The story is very predictable; the “twists” at the end I saw coming from the very beginning. Now Kirby games aren’t known for their storytelling prowess and the story does get the job done here, but it’s weak and I have seen better in a Kirby game before.
“Kirby’s Return to Dreamland” is best described as a platforming action-adventure game; there are multiple levels which are further divided into stages. The goal in each stage is simply to make it through the final Star Door without losing all your lives. Contained within each stage are hidden Energy Spheres, plenty of challenges, and lots of enemies to suck up and then spit out or swallow. Most enemies give Kirby a copy ability if swallowed. And that takes me right to the best part of the game: the copy abilities.
Every ability in this game that has appeared in a previous Kirby game has been improved. These improvements aren’t just minor, they make the powers more versatile and add more depth to them. For example, I’ve always found Hi-jump to be a rather useless power which only served its purpose in the areas that were deliberately designed with said power in mind. But thanks to the simple addition of a downward thrust attack the power is much more useful. In fact I’d be willing to use Hi-jump practically anywhere now. Another example would be the wild and difficult-to-control Tornado power. Tornado users can now exercise greater control be using other attacks beyond Tornado’s primary attack, which used to be its only attack. Every ability has its own unique style and feels as it should, thus adding further enjoyment to using all of the abilities.
The game also includes two sub-games, Ninja Dojo and Scope Shot. One requires throwing shurikens at moving targets and the other involves shooting giant robots. Both are entertaining little unlockables, but neither significantly garner much attention from me. A much more interesting unlockable feature are the Challenge Rooms. Each one is a timed stage in which you’re only allowed to use one ability, and your goal is to make it to the end while collecting as many points and killing as many enemies as you can. At the end, you’re given a score and a medal for your performance. Challenge Rooms live up to their name, my only complaint is that there’s only seven of them. I hope to see more of them in a future Kirby game. The game also introduces new items that I hope become a mainstay within the Kirby universe, such as a super powerful bomb, a candle, and more. The catch is that when holding an item Kirby can’t fly or attack, and there are often gaps and moving platforms to jump on. This adds challenge and more platform elements to the game, a fact that I love.
Unfortunately, not all the new features are things that I love. Multiplayer is great and it works fine, but it doesn’t really impress me that much. it isn’t anything new to the Kirby universe. In fact “Kirby and the Amazing Mirror” for GBA had much better multiplayer. You could only play as a Kirby but you could explore anywhere separately and then call in your friends for help when necessary. In “Kirby’s Return to Dreamland” you can play as more than just Kirby but you have to always travel together. Unlike that previous game, none of the game’s puzzles or stages are really designed with multiple players in mind. This means that when other players join in, the levels get overcrowded and everything becomes way too easy. It also isn’t always easy for all the players to keep up the same pace; some players may be left waiting for the main Kirby to advance while others may have to try to keep up. A split-screen approach and multiplayer like “Amazing Mirror” would’ve worked much better. Still, it’s not all bad, since it can be some fun to mess around in levels with friends after you’ve cleared them.
Another new feature which failed to impress me were the Super Abilities. Every few stages has an area where a Super Ability granting enemy appears. The area is filled with a destructible environment, usually indicated by stars all over everything vulnerable to the Super Ability. You grab the power and then destroy everything in your path. No, it’s not as fun as it sounds. Why? Because there’s no challenge. These areas always have one Star Portal hidden somewhere within them, and I expect there to be challenge in either finding the portal or getting to it before the timer for the Super Ability runs out. But the portal is never hidden or difficult to find, while the time limit for the Super Abilities is virtually irrelevant. I’ve literally never run out of time for a Super Ability. However, although the Super Abilities are a disappointment, the Star Portals are not. They lead to a mini-stage where you have to make it past obstacles and reach the end before a wall of constantly moving energy catches up and crushes you. If you survive you’ll face off against a mini-boss that rewards you with two Energy Spheres when defeated. These mini-stages are a blast to play through. In contrast to the more relaxed nature of most of the game, these mini-stages provide a wonderful and faster change of pace. There’s also just the right number of mini-stages, so I don’t grow tired of them or crave more. Unfortunately, they don’t don’t redeem the Super Abilities.
The graphics in “Kirby’s Return to Dreamland” are beautiful, vividly bright eye-candy that perfectly showcase the rather cute world in which Kirby lives, with the later levels having the right darker tones to them as well. The visuals are perfect for Kirby and takes things to the next level with an incredible attention to detail. The presentation is spectacular and stands out in the best of ways throughout the whole game; it couldn’t have been any better.
“Simple, yet effective” is the best way to describe the games controls. The three main controls that are used for the game are the Control Pad for movement, the 1 Button to perform actions, and the 2 Button to jump as well as fly. With the right combination of these controls and the games many power-ups, you can perform over a hundred moves depending on which power you currently have. The pause menu beautifully shows you all of your currently available moves while also simultaneously showing you how to perform them, which makes it easy to quickly figure out how to use all the powers you have available for every copy ability. There’s also a few other controls that you’ll use to varying degrees. The – Button expels whichever copy ability you currently have. The A Button is for guarding. And shaking the Wii Remote causes Kirby’s inhale to turn into a super inhale, and can also be used to charge up certain powers. All the controls are responsive and work perfectly. The only issue here comes when guarding, since you have to remove your finger from the Control Pad to do it. You can’t move when guarding anyways, but this is still a bit annoying to get used to.
The music is a mix of classic Kirby music, remixed Kirby music, and brand new music. I love all the classic and remixed music, but the new music was a mixed bag. Some of it fit the Kirby universe perfectly, while other tracks felt a bit off. By off I don’t mean bad, just that it seemed like music that would’ve worked better in a different game or genre than Kirby. But I grew used to it either way and the sound effect were all great; they are perfectly familiar to anyone who has ever played a Kirby game before.
“Kirby’s Return to Dreamland” is the best traditional style Kirby game to date. It has everything that makes the series great, plus plenty of new elements which I hope Kirby games will see again. If you’re a fan of Kirby you won’t be disappointed, while fans of action-adventure and platforming should definitely check this out. For those that love a challenge, the game delivers especially with Extra Mode and the Challenge Rooms. I fully recommend this game.