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Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe is Better With Friends

Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe is a fantastic return to form for 2D Kirby fans, and the next in a long line of great Nintendo remakes.



Kirby Nintendo Switch Return to Dream Land

Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe Switch Review

Developer: HAL Laboratory | Publisher: Nintendo | Genre: 2D Platformer
Platforms: Nintendo Switch |  Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch

Just like how Kirby’s signature ability allows him to copy any of his foes, Nintendo has had great success adapting the powerful pink puff into dozens of different types of games. Kirby and the Forgotten Land was a triumphant expansion of what a modern Kirby game could look like, bringing HAL Laboratory’s hero into 3D; Kirby‘s Dream Buffet was a playful, digital-only entry into the online multiplayer space. But the roots of the series have always been in 2D, with Kirby inhaling enemies and floating blissfully through the air.

Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe is video game comfort food. Players who enjoyed the 2011 original Wii game will find a faithful remake here with a lush new art style and a ton of added content, and newcomers to the series can enjoy what is perhaps the definitive 2D Kirby experience. While the pacing occasionally feels slow, especially while playing solo, it is impossible not to smile while playing Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe.

Kirby Nintendo Switch Return to Dream Land
Image: Nintendo

Returning to Return to Dream Land

During Nintendo’s Wii era, the Kirby series was going through an existential crisis, which lead to a developmental one. Despite being a beloved character, Kirby hadn’t appeared in a new 2D adventure on a home console since Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards. Despite HAL Laboratory’s best efforts, plans for a traditional, mainline Kirby game on the GameCube were scrapped. In fact, not one, not two, but three Kirby games hit the bin before Kirby’s Return to Dream Land graced the Wii in 2011. Developed with multiplayer in mind, Return to Dream Land felt focused and nostalgic, landing in the sweet spot of familiar yet gratifying.

Deluxe is an amped-up and expanded version of the original Wii title. This new version of an older game is a perfect companion piece to the more experimental Forgotten Land. In many ways, it feels simple and straightforward, but this is hardly a negative. The draw of Kirby games lies in the meditative nature of playing them. They are never complicated, but still offer something to chew on for the more seasoned gamer. This entry’s focus on multiplayer allows everyone to join in on the fun and experience what makes Kirby unique.

Kirby Nintendo Switch Return to Dream Land
Image: Nintendo

The first thing players will notice is the vibrant art direction that permeates every corner of Return to Dream Land Deluxe. Characters are now thickly outlined, lending the entire game to a storybook feeling HAL Laboratory previously experimented with in one of their aforementioned scrapped Kirby console attempts. In the opening cutscene, Kirby, along with King Dedede, Bandana Waddle Dee, and Meta Knight, witnesses a portal open and a spaceship crash to the ground. The pilot, Magolor, pleads with Kirby to recover the scattered pieces of his spaceship strewn across Dream Land. Kirby’s an upstanding guy, and of course, happily agrees to do so. Though there is little voice acting in this game aside from the occasional (adorable) “hiiii!”, the animation is clean and evocative.

After this short opening, Kirby and friends are set loose to explore Dream Land’s seven levels with multiple stages in each. The goal is simple: make it from one end of a stage to the next, overcoming obstacles with Kirby’s signature copy ability, battling minibosses, and finding some collectibles along the way. Capping every level is a boss stage, which must be overcome before our heroes can move on to the next level.

The main story clings closely to this model. Gameplay may be repetitive in story mode, but there is plenty of variety across all seven levels. When a formula is as well-established as Kirby’s, why mess with what works?

Playing the Hits

Kirby’s Dream Land Deluxe could have just been a straight port and still be well-received. Fortunately, this game offers more than just a new art style. For diehard fans, the main story is a welcome return to form with a few brand-new elements. The game may not feel revolutionary, but it does Kirby justice. Deluxe plays the hits with a few added twists.

Levels are fairly linear, but deserve credit for offering plenty to do. Energy spheres, collectibles that appear in every stage save for boss battles, provide plenty of reserve to dive back into already-finished areas. Finding enough spheres unlocks challenges and classic Kirby subgames at the Lor Starcutter, Magolor’s crashed spaceship that serves as a hub at the center of the world map. Up until stage six or seven, no stage is so difficult that a seasoned player won’t be able to finish it in one or two tries.

Kirby Nintendo Switch Return to Dream Land
Image: Nintendo

If the player has completed any 2D Kirby in the past, they’ll generally know what to expect from this game. Kirby’s copying remains one gaming’s most exciting ways to keep gameplay fresh, and Deluxe has what feels like an endless supply of new abilities. Two mechanics introduced in Return to Dream Land, Super Inhale and Super Abilities, are spectacular showcases of Kirby’s power. Super Inhale allows Kirby to suck in massive blocks, multiple enemies, and even allies, to shoot them out as a massive, destructive star.

Super Abilities essentially act as a precursor to what would become Mouthful Mode in Forgotten Land. Occasionally, sparkling versions of iconic Kirby enemies will appear, and their copy abilities are supersized versions of those players have come to expect. Instead of a normal sword, the Ultra Sword is a screen-filling, terrain-destroying blade of doom that is an accurate reflection of Kirby’s secret power. These abilities never last more than a few minutes at a time, but they’re a fun way to uncover secrets and blast enemies to smithereens.

The real strength of Kirby games has always been its friendliness towards less experienced players, and Return to Dream Land Deluxe leans into that sensibility. This game is best with friends. At any time, additional players can hop into the action by grabbing a Joy-Con and pressing a button. Multiplayer variety is huge, with additional players being able to select from Dedede, Meta Knight, Bandana Waddle Dee, or even another color of Kirby to join in on the action. The more players on screen, the greater the chaos, with Kirby able to inhale allies and spit them out on a whim. But there is nothing quite like seeing multiple versions of the irrepressible hero rocking different copy abilities to absolutely hose a miniboss.

A note on minibosses: compared the wide variety of normal enemies, minibosses and end-of-stage bosses are limited. Fighting different colors of Sphere Doomers (winged enemies that tend to guard collectibles) feels uninspired, especially after fighting dozens of them over the course of the adventure. These encounters start to feel rote, especially if the player has a favorite copy ability to spam. More players on-screen help liven up the fights, which points to the balancing act Kirby’s Dream Land Deluxe tries, and mostly succeeds, at accomplishing: creating a game that is satisfying in both single-player mode as well as multiplayer.

Kirby Nintendo Switch Return to Dream Land
Image: Nintendo

Play With Friends, Play As the Enemy

Whether it’s careening through stages with four powered-up Kirbys or engaging in the surprising amount of subgames, Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe plants its flag as one of the most enjoyable multiplayer experiences available on the Switch. Those who grew up with Kirby will know that subgames have always been one of the franchise’s best-loved modes of play, and in Deluxe, Merry Magoland is a full-on celebration of Kirby fandom and series history.

Merry Magoland, available after completing a level or two of the main story, is an alternate mode of play. While not strictly multiplayer-focused, it serves as a welcome way to mix up gameplay. Merry Magoland is a virtual theme park, styled after Disneyland, where players can freely pick and choose between ten different subgames pulled from across Kirby games new and old. Older fans will remember Egg Catcher from Kirby’s Adventure, where Kirby must eat eggs while avoiding bombs. Every game is easy to learn, but tough to master, and players can enjoy multiplayer matches with friends or against AI. Completionists will enjoy the addition of 100 missions, with completion criteria ranging from the simple (play a sub-game for the first time) to the wildly difficult (clearing Samurai Kirby on the hardest difficulty against the computer without faulting once).

Merry Magoland is inviting, and longtime Kirby enthusiasts will love the theme park’s nods to the puffball’s past. Players can unlock character masks to wear, and even bring those masks into the main story mode, allowing for a little self-expression. By completing missions, there are unlockable statues featuring characters from all across the series. There is also a material benefit for messing around in Magoland: the player can earn Souvenirs, items like energy drinks or powerful Cracklers, which can be used in the main story mode. Swapping between story mode and Merry Magoland proves to be an irresistible loop. The only real drag is that framerate takes a hit the more that players unlock in Magoland; as more NPCs populate the square, the Switch occasionally struggles to keep performance smooth.

Kirby Nintendo Switch Return to Dream Land
Image: Nintendo

As a single-player experience, Return to Dream Land Deluxe is a mixed bag. Kirby’s movement is glacial, and the challenge level is pretty low, save for the final few stages. The unlockable Extra Mode ramps up the difficulty, but may not be enough to entice those who crave tough combat. That said, there is an unlockable boss rush which may satisfy the combat-ready, and the copy ability challenges on the Lor Starcutter are addictively painful to perfect.

The other big new thing in Deluxe is the Magolar Epilogue, subtitled The Interdimensional Traveler, which is playable after defeating the final boss in the main story. For those not in the know, Kirby has some shockingly deep and complicated lore, and this epilogue provides players the chance to step into the robes of the trickster Magolor. Gameplay here is completely different from the rest of Return to Dream Land. Magolor is not capable of copying enemy abilities and instead must rely on his magical powers. This short episode feels like a stripped-down 2D action-RPG, complete with a miniature skill tree to fill out. Overall this epilogue is a breath of fresh air, and even carries over the multiplayer aspect, allowing other players to control different-colored Magolors. The entire experience is fairly fun, even if its ideas never feel more than half-baked. Who knows; perhaps The Interdimensional Traveler is a test run for more Magolor content in the future.

Keep ‘Em Coming

By remaking Return to Dream Land, Nintendo proves that pulling from their own history is a great way to create new fans of classic franchises. Deluxe arrives at the perfect time, the tail end of Kirby’s 30-year anniversary, a welcome return to form in its most easily accessible version yet. Minor quibbles aside (the updated King Dedede model is, in this writer’s opinion, terrible), Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe is a welcome addition to the Switch’s ever-growing library of ports, remasters, and remakes. Fans of the original will have a blast experiencing the new content, and newbies have plenty to look forward to.

Cameron Daxon is a video game evangelist and enthusiastic reader. He lives in Los Angeles, California and once nearly collided with Shigeru Miyamoto during E3. His favorite game is Bloodborne, but only when he’s not revisiting Super Mario World. He’s also in the writer’s room for YouTube personality The Completionist and other places on the internet.