While Nintendo’s core gamers are waiting for the new The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword game and anticipating the Wii U — announced at the E3 Expo in Los Angeles — this year, Nintendo is going to wring what it can from its “dead man walking” system, the Wii. Notwithstanding the recent DS release of Kirby: Mass Attack, I’ll save the questioning of Nintendo’s strategy of squeezing everything they can from every classic franchise they own, for another day. Kirby’s Return to Dreamland is a throwback to those 2D gaming days of the NES and SNES, more than a few older gamers long for. As those that have suffered through some of the blue hedgehog’s latest adventures will tell you, 3D isn’t always better than 2D.
Kirby’s Return to Dreamland was originally intended as Nintendo Gamecube game and, after playing it, it’s quite easy to imagine Kirby’s newest adventure on the short-lived console. Some may take it as knock on the game but, it’s arguable the Gamecube was a better console, at least measured by its amount of solid software titles. Many of the Wii’s editions of classic multiplayer games — Mario Kart and Mario Party, to name a couple — haven’t lived up to the magic of their non-motion sensing predecessors. Kirby’s Return to Dreamland will be a return the roots of family gaming and possibly Nintendo Thumb for a good number of people and is unlikely to intimidate non-gamers much.
The slightly psychedelic tale begins when Kirby and his friends find an alien spaceship crashed on the planet Pop Star. They enter the ship and find an alien creature lamenting that the pieces of his craft have been scattered across the five corners of Pop Star. Of course, Kirby and company offer to help find the pieces: players must then guide Kirby as he retrieves the ship’s parts and helps the alien return to its home planet. It’s never really that easy though is it?
Betraying its last gen origins, Kirby’s Return to Dreamland uses only a Wii Remote held horizontally, à la the classic NES controller. This does help facilitate multiplayer since, full sets of controllers aren’t needed or even supported. The D-Pad allows Kirby to duck and run and the 1 and 2 buttons serve as the suck/spit and jump buttons respectively. The A button serves as guard and + and – are used for the menu and to drop ability. Some shaking is also required and up to 3 more players can easily join in at the cost of a life. If you have no extra lives available, Meta Knight, King Dedede, Waddle Dee or an alternate colored Kirby can join in at reduced health.
There are few surprises in the game and in many ways that’s comforting. Sure Kirby has some new super abilities, new powers and some really fun ones at that. Who doesn’t love giant swords swathing across the screen destroying everything in its path while in a decidedly Link-ish outfit? The levels and their design in this outing are substantial and varied if not terribly stylistic or groundbreaking and while most will not find the game very difficult, there are lesser challenges to be found and an excuse for replay besides the multiplayer.
There is nothing groundbreaking or very innovative about Kirby’s Return to Dreamland and fittingly it’s kinda like crawling into bed after a really long day. It’s all very familiar and even makes you appreciate what you love even more about classic 2D gaming, almost cathartic. It won’t win Game of the Year or a Critic’s Choice award but it is good fun that you can play with your family, friends or significant other, even if they’re not gamers. If you love those old Mario games or are just looking for some of that old school fun that videogames used to be, Kirby’s Return to Dreamland is definitely for you.
Kirby’s Return to Dreamland is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Mild Cartoon Violence.