Dream Land's peaceful moniker is surely false advertising. There are constant problems with invasions and takeovers, the bad guys are apparently impossible to evict, based on how often they show up and the fact that some buffoon keeps dumping huge piles of those star blocks in everybody's way. It's an absolute nightmare.
You wouldn't get that impression from Kirby's chubby chops, though. He's as cheerful as ever in Kirby's Dream Land 2, a 1995 Game Boy platformer that could be considered among the series' best. Coming towards the end of the handheld's life it's also a bit of a showcase: it boasts big, clear visuals with superb animation that makes you just want to squeeze the little hoover bag, plus great renditions of many of the franchise's musical favourites.
Our obliviously positive protagonist trots around doing what he does best: by inhaling enemies, items and obstructive scenery alike and spitting them about as powerful stars, he can overcome most hazards. As ever, taking certain foes into his elastic innards and hitting Down steals their special powers, allowing Kirby to change into a raging fireball, shoot electricity or become a slightly-less-exciting rock. With a few taps of Up he can also inflate like a balloon to float around the levels, which often switch between scrolling horizontally and vertically.
Each of the seven worlds — the usual array of series staple environments such as grasslands, volcanoes and ocean make their all-too-predictable appearances — includes three to six stages plus a boss fight against a familiar irritant such as Kracko or Mr Frosty. Many stages also feature mini-bosses; small or not, bosses are generally destroyed by snatching up any projectiles they might hurl to throw back in their faces.
There are often multiple ways to reach your goal, whether it's a concrete second route or simply room to puff up to maximum size and glide over danger rather than stick to the platforms exclusively, so despite the rigid structure there's some freedom to experiment. Once you do step through the sparkly gate at each level's conclusion you're met in typically cute fashion by a trampoline bonus mini-game. Kirby hops down onto a cloud, and if you get the timing of a button press just right you can launch him through several layers of fog to collect goodies, such as extra lives and health-refilling treats. It's a great way to both close off and reward the end of a chapter without handing you something on a plate.
A smaller array of powers are yours to 'borrow' in Kirby's Dream Land 2, but that's balanced by some new additions. Possibly jealous of Donkey Kong's exploitation of his fellow beasts, Kirby switches on his own bit of animal magnetism this time around to employ the talents of a few furry, fishy and feathery friends. Kirby can hitch a ride on Rick the Hamster's back, give those stretchy cheeks a rest by letting Coo the Owl fly him about or, somewhat disturbingly, actually get inside Kine the Ocean Sunfish, leaving only his face protruding from between his fishy lips.
These animal pals are found in squirming sacks, usually guarded by mini-bosses or in off-path rooms, and their advantages are threefold. They add an extra health barrier by taking a hit for you. The number of special abilities that Kirby can steal seems paltry compared to other titles, but each pet can use the powers in their own unique ways: the owl can spray fire from above, while the hamster turns its mouth into a flamethrower, for example. This essentially quadruples the number of possibilities in a way that is more interesting than simply piling more power ups in. Finally they bring their own skills: the hamster can run faster, the owl can fly against gusts of wind, the fish can swim against water currents – though, as you'd expect, it's a bit useless on land.
Kirby's Dream Land 2 continues the series' tradition of being ludicrously easy. A couple of sections excepted, it's a simple — almost relaxing – meander through a stream of well-designed levels, offering straightforward fun over challenge. The difficulty does increase significantly from world five onwards as the end game approaches, but even then it's far from tough, partially because the spike is compensated for by a skyward soar of collectable lives.
There are a few bottomless pits to watch out for, but with Kirby's floatation abilities they don't pose too much of a problem; it's almost impossible to get frustrated with this game. The only times you might possibly approach annoyance is during the levels that automatically scroll along, forcing you to stay on the move. If you touch the edge of the screen, or Kirby is unceremoniously crushed between it and a wall, there goes a life.
It takes about three and a half hours for a basic first time run, though to complete it properly you have to find a Rainbow Drop on each of the seven islands to unlock the final boss. This ensures a bit of extra play time, as to recover them all you have to collect the appropriate powers and return to earlier worlds; thankfully you can warp to other worlds at your will whenever you're on the stage hub screen.
Kirby's Dream Land 2 is great, simple fun and one of the better traditionally-styled Kirby titles. The technical mastery of Game Boy really shines through even now, with great presentation and a fairly big world to conquer. Even though its low level of challenge makes it seem smaller than it actually is, its length and numerous power-ups to experiment with makes it ideal for repeat playthroughs. For £3.60, this is a great opportunity to grab a classic that still plays like a dream.