Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe Review
I’m going to be honest with you, I don’t really remember playing Kirby’s Return to Dream Land on the Wii. I know that I did, I still have the copy I played (titled Kirby’s Adventure Wii in PAL regions), and I have very vague memories of some of the characters and cutscenes. But the gameplay? No memory whatsoever. That means, for all intents and purposes, Return to Dream Land is essentially a new game for me, and likely a new game for many. And yeah, it’s a Kirby game… and yeah, it’s really good.
The story is fairly light, as most Kirby stories are. Our pink puff is hanging out with their friends, King Dedede, Meta Knight, and Bandana Waddle Dee, when suddenly a huge airship drops out of a huge portal in the sky. It crashes into the landscape, causing Kirby to drop their treat (the poor fella can’t catch a break), and prompting the crew to go investigate.
There, they find the Lor Starcutter, an ancient spaceship helmed by an adorable space critter named Magalor. Magalor tells the crew that he came from another dimension, and he needs to recover parts of the ship lost in the crash so he can return. Thus begins our tale.
Kirby games are rarely known for their stories, and Return to Dream Land Deluxe is no exception. It’s not particularly enthralling, although it does have some (admittedly predictable) twists and turns. It’s fine that it takes a more understated approach, though, because the main focus is on the gameplay, and that’s where the Kirby series shines.
Stepping away from Kirby and the Forgotten Land’s 3D gameplay, RtDLD is the 2D affair you’ve come to know and love. As far as I can tell, having looked up gameplay from the original, it’s pretty much identical. You’ll be running, jumping, and swallowing, just like you’d expect. There’s also multiplayer gameplay, but we’ll get to that in a little bit.
The level design present here is nothing short of fantastic. Every level feels expertly crafted to make the most of Kirby’s diverse moveset, and they’re an absolute joy to discover. Most of the game’s secrets are fairly easily findable if you keep an eye out, but there are a couple that feel pretty cheap. One level has you picking a random path out of three, and if you pick the wrong one you’ll miss out on an Energy Sphere. There’s no way to go back and pick a different path, so the only option is to replay the entire level — incredibly frustrating, but thankfully a very rare occurrence.
Copy abilities play a huge part in any Kirby game too, and there are plenty on offer here. Not all of them are bangers, but given there’s 26 abilities and many of them fulfill similar environmental roles, it’s usually not difficult to find something that’s a little more your style.
Three new copy abilities have been added over the original, too, one of which (Festival) returns from Kirby Star Allies, while the other two are brand new to this game. Sand is the first new ability, and it’s frankly kind of busted. It can grab items through walls like Whip, has a perfect guard, can fire projectiles, summon tornadoes, and can behave somewhat like a hammer with its down attack. It’s almost too versatile and useful, let down only very slightly by its lacking damage output.
The other is Mecha, which is very cute and focuses more on ranged attacks than I think any other ability in the game does. It has much less utility than Sand, but it can still be quite useful in some regards, having access to rope-lighting fire skills and some very powerful damage output.
Now let’s go back to multiplayer, because this is where the cracks start to show. Despite being billed as a multiplayer game, RtDLD does not, even for a moment, feel like it was designed to have more than one player participating at any given time.
Other players can choose to be a Kirby themselves, offering the full range of copy abilities like the first player. This can get a bit chaotic at times – and it’s very funny that you can steal another player’s copy ability by swallowing them – but it does allow for some neat strategies and that almost makes up for it.
They’ll also be able to choose from Dedede, who has the stock-standard Hammer ability set, Bandana Waddle Dee, who has the Spear ability set, and Meta Knight, who has the Sword ability set. All of these are fine, but it’s usually much more fun to play as a Kirby and have more options. It would have been nice to play through in solo mode as one of these additional characters, just as a fun little extra challenge, but alas, it’s not on the cards.
As mentioned though, the levels and even the game itself are not really designed for multiple players. Multiple sections throughout the game have segments that can be extremely difficult to get through with multiple players, and if there’s any sort of skill gap between player one and the other 1-3 players, the experience becomes an exercise in frustration very quickly.
It’s complicated by a camera that doesn’t seem to want to play nice for multiple players, zooming out and panning awkwardly when players are far apart. Some sections outright require players to be able to see ahead, so a better choice might have been to have the camera focus on player one, others be damned. That’s not what happened, though, and the result is an experience that feels much harder with other players than it really should.
The lack of online multiplayer is similarly frustrating, though not something I could have tested during the review period anyway. Super Mario 3D World showed that multiplayer platformers can be pretty decent when played online with friends, so it’s a little disappointing that in 2023 we’re still stuck with couch co-op. HAL is a much smaller company than Nintendo themselves, so I can give a little bit of leeway, but I’ll be very disappointed if future games don’t at least attempt it.
Thankfully, the main game isn’t the only place to play multiplayer, thanks to the brand-new Merry Magoland. A theme park that was seemingly built by Magalor, it features all of the multiplayer minigames that would normally be unlocked by collecting Energy Spheres. Not every minigame from the original has been brought back, but the vast majority are here, and a couple new additions are decent enough.
Playing through minigames at Merry Magoland will earn the player stamps for their stamp cards, and filling out a stamp card will unlock cute little masks that can be worn by any character in the main game. All of these masks are great, with characters from throughout the series making an appearance, so even if they don’t seem to do much else, they’re fun to collect and wear.
There are also a few interesting additions to the minigames, such as a daily online challenge in Samurai Kirby that has you competing against 100 other players to get the best time, and a rally mode that picks four minigames at random to run through and compete with friends or against AI. Both of these activities give a huge chunk of stamps, and they’re a lot of fun too, which always helps.
Perhaps the biggest draw of this remake, however, is a brand-new epilogue episode focused on Magalor — and Magalor is not only playable, but the only playable character throughout this section of the game. I won’t spoil the story, as there’s some really interesting stuff going on here, but playing through a series of levels as Magalor and seeing his progression following the events of the main game is a really nice addition.
The levels are much shorter than main game levels, but have much more of a focus on using Magalor’s limited move set in creative ways. The move set will grow and evolve as you progress, too, giving you access to more health, stronger attacks, and longer jumps and levitates.
It’s a strange little addition, and I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would going into it. It’s a pretty big departure from the main game, but I think it presents a bold opportunity for HAL going forward. The Magalor epilogue proves that Kirby doesn’t necessarily need to be present to make a good Kirby-ish game. Playing as Magalor is a hell of a lot of fun, and the level design focusing on his skill set is incredibly tight and satisfying.
So, if you’re somehow reading this HAL, why not make a standalone game with another character in the Kirby cast? Give us a Meta Knight game, or a Dedede game, flesh out their stories a little bit, flex your level design muscles. We’ve seen that you’re more than capable of doing it now, and there are plenty more stories to tell in the Kirby universe. Think about it, hey.
Visually, Kirby is looking wonderful in this new cel-shaded art style. There’s been some minor character redesigns on some characters, Dedede being the most noticeable, and they allow for a much more expressive character overall. It also runs at a silky smooth 60fps, the first mainline Kirby game on Switch to do so. Previous games probably should have, too, but hey, progress is progress. Hopefully this is the new standard going forward and not just a one-off.
Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe is a wonderful Kirby game that will feel both fresh and familiar to veterans and newcomers alike. While it isn’t particularly well-suited to multiplayer gameplay, everything else is as polished as can be, and the new epilogue is some of the most refreshing Kirby gameplay in years.
+ Fantastic level design and gameplay
+ New epilogue is incredible
+ Minigames are fun with friends
- Still no online multiplayer
- Levels are not designed for multiplayer
- I want more Magalor