Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe review: First time’s the charm

Having missed the original Kirby’s Return to Dream Land on the Nintendo Wii in 2011 and looking forward to a light-hearted gaming experience, the Deluxe version of this Kirby outing arrived on our review desk.

As for a setting for this platforming adventure, players are given a cutscene showing the character Magolor crashing his ship and tasking Kirby with finding items to repair it. As far as a call to action goes this one is as bog standard as they come, even back in 2011 and more so in 2023.

But the paper thin “story” is not really the focus here. Instead raw gameplay is what you should look out for as you embark on missions throughout various worlds, each ending in the retrieval of a spaceship part.

Before you reach those parts, however, the secondary objective in each level (which may be the most important part of the game) is the collection of gears. The number of these collectibles are shown before you start each level and searching them out is imperative to unlock new subgames which is the other half of this game.

And so the gameplay loop is this: work through levels looking for hidden gears, end a world by grabbing a spaceship repair part, and then head back to Magolor to play subgames unlocked by gears.

This loop is a bit disjointed as the subgames are a major part of the offering in Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe (which, according to Nintendo, has more subgames than the original) but they feel disconnected to the main story mode.

It’s like the subgames are a pseudo party game experience that has been randomly tacked onto a platforming Kirby game.

The subgames that are more closely linked to the story mode are usually tests of skill of the various Copy Abilities. Many enemies that Kirby absorbs can have their abilities copied which creates an almost fighting game list of combos that players can use. The subgames focused on these Copy Abilities require mastery of these combos to get the best scores.

This is all well and good, but the main story mode is so easy that you can breeze through them with no real challenge, so it feels like a waste of time mastering them unless you’re the kind to 100 percent a game, or to simply chase high scores. That can be fun in its own right but, again, the various modes of Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe fail to combine into a focused experience.

With the meta talk out of the way, what are you doing moment to moment in this game? As mentioned this is a platformer but not a strict one. By holding the jump button Kirby can float so most actual platforming challenge can usually be skipped.

Instead how you deal with enemies and environmental puzzles makes for the main focus. Every Copy Ability interacts with the environment in unique ways so secret areas – usually containing gears – will be locked away by what Copy Ability you happen to have with you.

The game will clue you into this fact, however, so it’s (usually) not a guessing game. The enemy with the right ability to access these secrets will normally be right next to it, and they will respawn if you accidently defeat them without absorbing their power first.

Some secrets and unlocks are more based on problem solving and reaction time, however, with gears and other unlocks set behind puzzles and timed-based challenges.

In the first few hours of the game this makes for a nice mix of paying attention and juggling Copy Abilities to progress, but after the third world or so you will understand the design language of Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe and the experience will stop offering you fun surprises.

This isn’t us complaining about a lack of difficulty or variety, but we are pointing out the designers created a certain way of presenting challenge to the player and this format rarely varies. Once you “get” Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe, you can breeze through its offerings even faster. We would have liked to see bigger swings and surprises, especially in the later game.

Presentation is, as with most Kirby games, simply delightful. Even dangerous enemies have this cutesy charm to them and Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe is simply a nice place to be.

Watching videos of the original Wii version as a comparison, and this Switch incarnation definitely has been completely reinvented. This new version, aside from simply being higher fidelity, has been rebuilt with better art assets. This isn’t just a filter over the original game here and there, or some random swaps for new content, but a reimagining of Dream Land.

Those who played the Wii version, even recently, will be happy to see how much better this version looks.

The music and sound effects are fun too, lending to the overall cartoon happiness and infectious vibe that Kirby and company have.

As a complete package, considering the box of chocolates approach to content, Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe is a great time in both singleplayer and co-op. Those looking for something less than serious amid the sea of gruff games will find solace here, as will anyone with a love of games and their unique ability to create these kinds of otherworldly – should we say dreamy – experiences.

We can definitely see why this specific Kirby game was chosen to be brought back, and we can see why other reviewers and members of the public will rate it so highly, but for us it rarely broke above a simple fun time and a nice distraction with a carefree attitude.

Final score: 7 out of 10


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