Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe Is Familiar 4-Player Fun

Kirby’s Return To Dream Land originally came out in 2011, right at the tail end of the Wii’s incandescent lifespan. It aimed to be Kirby in its purest, SNES-aping form; a bright, side-scrolling beat-em-up laden with digestible power-ups, airy platforming, and a flat difficulty curve. (In other words, it wasn’t a kart racer, or a pinball machine.) Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe, which hits the Switch later this month, is effectively the same game with some notable bells and whistles tacked on. If Kirby’s recent foray into the Forgotten Land has you hungry for more of his trademark dayglo hijinks, then Nintendo will gladly let us explore the fairly recent past.

Return to Dream Land was built around the chaos of four-player co-op, which translates nicely to the Switch’s flexibility. I played the game using a single Joy-Con on its side, and given how Kirby has never been the most mechanically dexterous series on the planet, I had no trouble chowing down on the many hapless Waddle Doos in my reign of terror. If Kirby doesn’t resonate with you, players can also strap into either Meta-Knight or King Dedede — both of whom have apparently defected to the side of righteousness for this adventure — to aid in the campaign. The controls are eerily similar to what you might find in Super Smash Bros., with distinct attack abilities mapped to the directional tilt of the joystick. Yes, Kirby has an up-B, a down-B, and even a bubble shield in Return to Dream Land. All that’s missing is a grapple.

Hal Laboratories has added a few new enemies (and their corresponding morph suits) to the campaign to spice up the action for returning Dream Land residents. I encountered one who, upon consumption, turned Kirby into a mechanized gundam warrior. He reigned hellfire down on his enemies with hilarious splendor. There are also a few “ultimate” transformations to find, which as the name implies, can clear the screen in a hurry. After snagging one, I was able to expand into a giant runaway snowball, rolling up everything — yes, even my teammates — in my wake. It wouldn’t be a multiplayer Nintendo game without a bit of anarchy.

In Deluxe’s new epilogue, you play as the ostensible final boss — Magolor — who finds themselves bereft of their powers and left for dead.

Our squad breezed through the gauntlet and the corresponding boss battle, so if you’re expecting a foreboding challenge — the prophesied Dark Souls of Kirby — you won’t find it here. What you will find are a number of mini-games that are siloed off in a different mode called Merry Magoland. We played one, called, adorably, Kirby on the Draw, which was a standard shooting gallery affixed to Joy-Con motion controls. If you tire of the story missions, it appears that Return to Dream Land can easily double as a party game.

But the most interesting new wrinkle is what Nintendo is describing as an epilogue attached to the end of Return to Dream Land’s story. In it, we play as the ostensible final boss — Magolor — who finds themselves bereft of their powers and left for dead. At the start of the chapter, the only character functionality you’ll have access to is a floaty jump and a wimpy pea shooter. However, as you and up to three friends blast through the enemies (and maintain Devil May Cry-style combos), you’ll be able to purchase upgrades to your arsenal, as if you were outfitting a League of Legends Champion. After going under the hood, suddenly Magolor’s energy beam covers more ground, and he’s able to drop bombs from the sky. I wasn’t able to see the full depths of Magolor’s journey, but structurally, it does appear to pack more of a punch than the effervescent levity that has defined the Kirby series for decades. I doubt it’ll match the daunting challenge of, say, Metroid Dread, but it’s still an interesting direction.

Will that be enough for Return to Dream Land to leave a dent on the release schedule? It’s difficult to say. There are certainly more auspicious re-releases lingering in Nintendo’s back-catalog, and a deluxe version of a tasteful but featherweight Kirby game can’t hope to match the same megaton appeal of a remastered take on Skyward Sword or Link’s Awakening — both of which recently made their way to the Switch. Still, this is a surprisingly generous package for a game that could’ve easily been saddled with the standard HD up-res and a few quality of life improvements. Kirby’s Return To Dream Land wants to be regarded as a brand new game. We’ll see if gamers agree.

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Stevie Flavio
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