Same Kirby, new costumes
Kirby is returning to Dream Land… again! Over a decade after its original release on the Nintendo Wii, Kirby’s Return to Dream Land is getting a Switch remake in the form of Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe. As opposed to last year’s Kirby and the Forgotten Land which shook up the Kirby formula, Return to Dream Land, is very much a throwback to the series’ more traditional gameplay roots.
For anyone unfamiliar with the original game, Kirby’s Return to Dream Land is a side-scrolling platformer starring everyone’s favorite pink puffball (he is your favorite, right?). This time around, Kirby and the gang meet up with the mysterious outsider Magolor, who has crash landed on the planet Popstar. It’s up to Kirby to traverse levels in order to recover the missing pieces of Magolor’s ship and send him home again. As Kirby, you’ll be encountering enemies, sucking them up to absorb their powers, and hunting down hidden collectibles. You can also play with up to three of your friends as King Dedede, Meta Knight, or Bandana Waddle Dee, who have their own unique movesets.
If you did play the Wii version, then you’ll be ready to jump into this remake without any prep. The core game experience is largely unchanged from that first iteration. Levels, bosses, enemy placement, etc., is all right where it was back in 2011. You shouldn’t go into Deluxe expecting a brand new adventure, but there are some changes worth noting.
First, the game’s graphics have been touched up to better suit modern TVs. As you’d expect, the game now runs in HD resolution with a clearer and sharper picture. Colors and textures seem to have been made more vibrant, and most noticeably to me, a black outline has been added around playable characters and enemies. Combined, these effects give the game an overall cartoonier, more cel-shaded look.
That cartoony aesthetic is a fitting touch for what was already a pretty cartoony series. Other than that though, you probably won’t notice a significant difference in visuals unless you’re directly comparing the two games. Kirby’s Return to Dream Land was never designed to wow people with its graphical power, but there’s charm in its simplicity. It’s bright and colorful in all the ways a Kirby game should be, and the presentation is clear enough that you’ll rarely get lost keeping up with the on-screen action.
Beyond the graphical updates, there are also a few new power-ups for Kirby to discover. These seem like the most significant additions to the game’s story mode, and you’ll find them peppered throughout various levels. I got the chance to play around with the new Mecha copy ability, which transforms Kirby into a miniature mech.
Equipped with a stylish jetpack, Mecha Kirby can zoom around smoothly while shooting lasers or dropping bombs onto enemies. His lasers can also be charged up in order to decimate foes with one devastating blast. It’s a fun set of moves that feels like a welcome addition to Kirby’s roster of powers. As usual, you’ll be able to read a full list of button combos for each copy ability via the in-game menu if you want to take full advantage of your powers.
In addition to the main game, Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe also features a brand new area called Merry Magoland, which can be accessed from the main menu. While the original Wii game included its own set of subgames, those options are expanded upon here. Deluxe has ten minigames on offer, two of which are brand new (the rest are taken from the original Return to Dream Land, as well as other past Kirby titles). You’ll be able to travel from game to game in this colorful hub area, earning rewards along the way.
During my time with Deluxe, I got to play a round of the subgame called Scope Shot, a shooting gallery in which players compete to hit the most targets and earn the most points. It’s a simple one, but it serves as a decent, casual distraction from the main game mode. Scope Shot was taken directly from the original Wii version, so there’s not much new to report if you’ve seen it before. However, I thought the Joy-Cons did a great job of replicating the Wii Remote’s pointer controls, no sensor bar required. (Other control options are available if you aren’t a fan of motion controls.)
Additionally, subgames now have a whole new set of rewards to incentivize you to keep coming back. The more you play each game, the more stamps you’ll earn. Earn enough stamps, and you’ll eventually unlock special items like “dress-up masks”. There are eighty-six total masks you can unlock, each of which is based on an existing Kirby character. Of course, fan favorites like Rick the hamster are there, but they even included masks for bosses like Whispy Woods.
Once unlocked, masks can be worn during subgames as well as the main campaign, so you can incorporate your favorite Kirby pal even if they aren’t technically playable. While the masks are purely cosmetic and don’t add any additional moves to your repertoire, some of them do alter your character’s sound effects. Originally, I never thought these subgames offered much more than a brief distraction from the main story mode, but fleshing them out with the new Merry Magoland setting really does make them feel like a bigger draw.
Of course, I have to highlight one of Return to Dream Land Deluxe’s best features, which is its multiplayer. Every mode in the game supports up to four player local multiplayer (you can use Joy-Cons or Pro Controllers). Running through the story with a few friends is a super fun experience. There’s a healthy amount of chaos as players race for copy abilities and power-ups, but the game is simple enough that the chaos isn’t overwhelming. Players will also once again be able to share food with each other in order to boost their partners’ health bars (it’s perfectly sanitary, don’t worry).
I’m even more excited to play through story mode with friends now that dress-up masks are a feature. Players now have the option to wear masks and add a little personal flair to their characters, and I imagine unlocking the mask of your favorite character will be an exciting achievement. This mode is also super easy to pick up and play, as players can leave or join mid-level, and switch characters on the fly. It’s the perfect fit for longer play sessions, or for a get-together where people are coming and going at different times.
Even for a remake, Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe doesn’t seem to be breaking much new ground. That said, it still seems likely to be the best possible version of the original. Based on my limited time with the game, it plays just as well as ever, and the new subgame features seem like the perfect addition to round out the experience.
If you can’t wait until the full game comes out, there’s going to be a demo available on the Switch eShop with a sample of the story mode, including local co-op! There’s also at least one more big surprise in store for returning players, but you’ll have to wait until the game comes out on February 24, 2023 to find out what that is!