Kirby's Return to Dream LandESRB:
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Wii Remote Compatible
Drop-In/Drop-Out Anytime Cooperative
Kirby makes a return to the Nintendo Wii in Kirby’s Return to Dream Land. Being that the pink and pudgy star and I share the same name, I am drawn to any game starring this lovable character. Return to Dream Land started its development on the GameCube, but it was delayed. Well it has finally seen the light of day and is now on store shelves for everyone to buy. So, does a typical Kirby platformer make the grade?
Visually, I have to say that Return to Dream Land is a solid game. Sure, it does not push the limits of the Wii, but the vibrancy and cheeriness of the graphics make the game what it is. Kirby and company are animated to perfection, and in many ways have never looked better. HAL Laboratory has gone to great lengths to make sure even the smallest detail is drawn on all the characters. This was clearly evident to me when I was playing some multiplayer and Kirby and King Dedede went into the water. All of a sudden Kirby was wearing a diving mask and King Dedede was wearing a pair of swimmers goggles. My kids, who were watching at the time, got a kick out of this.
As for the games many levels, they too are rendered with the care and detail that is usually found in a Nintendo published game. All the levels have an old school 2D look, but there is a lot going on throughout. Take a look in the backgrounds and you will see animations taking place to bring the background to life too. There is a nice variety in the levels and HAL Laboratory made sure to add a lot of mixture of where you will explore. I was really enamoured by the level where you had to carry a candle to navigate while avoiding all the obstacles. It's a simple level, but the execution is great and the visuals really help make it stand out for me.
Technically speaking, Return to Dream Land is solid. During my play through I found no issues to be noted. The game runs at a smooth framerate, and there was no clipping, no tearing, or anything else to bring the game down in this area.
Given that this is indeed a Kirby game, the sound matches the content perfectly. The music is cheery and upbeat, and is what I have coined "typical Nintendo". The sound effects are great too, and you can tell that the game is meant to have that light hearted feeling as the effects are cute and equally as cheery as the music. To hear Kirby swim through water or wield his whip when using the special ability to do so, everything is as it should be and you know you are playing a game that is meant to be fun.
In Return to Dream Land, Kirby has offered his services to help a strange alien named Magolor. Magolor's ship has crashed on Planet Pop Star and pieces of his ship are scattered across the planet and Kirby is tasked with finding these lost parts. Along for the ride, should you desire, is Meta Knight, Waddle Dee, and King Dedede.
Return to Dream Land harkens back to the old days when Kirby was meant to be released as a platform game. Yep, Kirby is back old school as Return to Dream Land is a game that shows what Kirby does best, inhales enemies, absorbs powers, jumps around and floats through levels with the grace and style that he has been known to do over the years. For those who really know their Kirby history, you'll know that this is a big thing given that there has not been a Kirby platform game for a very long time (when researching exactly how long, it has been about 10 years). So to say that this game is a celebration of what Kirby is all about is an understatement to say the least.
Kirby, and company if you choose, venture over a variety of levels through six worlds that have their own specifically themed stages and bosses. As you make your away through these levels and do what Kirby does best, inhale enemies and items and use them to your advantage by once again absorbing their powers. For those new to the Kirby franchise and the traditions it brings, Kirby can inhale most of what he sees, and by doing so, and then pressing down on the d-pad, you will then absorb that enemies or items abilities. This ranges from simple sword carrying enemies to those that breathe fire. You can also find certain spots in the game where you can jump onto an item that allows you more abilities such as being able to use a whip, wear a helmet with spikes, and even transform into various states of stone (e.g. a rock, a concrete statue, or a large weight). The use of these abilities is also context specific, so you will get different actions depending on what you are doing such as running, jumping or standing. Each of these abilities is not only an offensive weapon, but they also allow you to reach specific areas that are not reachable without it.
As you venture through each level, you will also come across the ability to use super abilities. These are far and few between, but when you find them they are very useful indeed. They can take the form of a super sword, flying dragon, or controllable fire ball. Each of these super abilities can take out every enemy and item on screen, and they also open up secret areas that are not accessible without using them. These areas are usually bonus levels that allow you to fight a mini-boss and collect hidden energy spheres that are not found anywhere else on the level. Overall these super abilities are fun to use, and their dual purpose makes them important to use at just the right times.
New to the world of Kirby is his ability to inhale enemies or items that would normally be too large. While pressing the inhale button you only need to give the Wii Remote a few shakes and viola, you inhale those really big enemies or items. The key to this new ability, the super inhale, is that when you exhale you will unleash a large projectile that allows you to punch through impenetrable areas, or you can just run and follow this projectile for as long as possible as it mows down everything in front of it. Just like the aforementioned super abilities, there are key points where you will want, and even need, to use this in order to get to a hidden area or find a hidden item.
Return to Dream Land also allows for up to four players to participate in the fun. I for one was appreciative of this fact as "the more the merrier" I say. What is really great about this aspect is that players can join anytime and at any point while the original player is playing. As mentioned, Kirby can be joined by Meta Knight, Waddle Dee, and King Dedede. Each of these characters brings something special to the table, a skill so to speak. Meta Knight has his sword, Waddle Dee has a spear, and King Dedede has his hammer. Each of these weapons has a strength and purpose should you have a friend or two playing along with one of these characters. That being said, you don't need to play the cooperative mode as all levels can be completed alone. Something to note here is that player's lives are pooled off of a single tally as each character does not have his own set of lives. Should the number dwindle to zero, the secondary characters are given infinite lives, but should Kirby die, then you have to all start over. All in all being able to play this game from the same couch with others, be they friends or family, is a great experience and something that should be done by all as it is so fun.
One of the most notable things about Return to Dream Land is the skill level, and this is a double edged sword so to speak. The skill level needed to complete the whole game is not particularly high. Granted, the final few levels, and boss, can challenge you, but in the end the whole game is not that tough to beat. Hardcore gamers may balk at this, but as a reviewer with children I loved this aspect. My 5 and 7 year old kids were able to play Return to Dream Land and have a blast. I got a kick out of watching the two scream and holler, in fun, as they took Kirby and company through some of the game's levels. Hardcore gamers need not fret though, as there is something here for you. Once you finish the game by flying through the story, you can play the game again with reduced health. Believe it or not, this amps the challenge quite a bit and the hardcore will appreciate this.
For those looking for more challenges, and more replayability, Return to Dream Land has you covered here. I mentioned collecting hidden energy spheres earlier on. There are 120 of them spread throughout the game. Collecting these is one thing, as they can take a bit of 'brain-power' to find them all. As you collect them this opens up mini-games that can be found in Magolor's ship. Some of these mini-games are quite addicting and they do add to the overall package that Return to Dream Land presents given that it adds more playtime and even more fun to an already entertaining game.
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