To say that long-time Kirby fans have been clamouring for Nintendo to release a good old-fashioned Kirby title would be a gross understatement. While Nintendo has released several instalments in the series over the past few years, the majority of them, such as Kirby's Epic Yarn and Kirby Mass Attack, have been fairly radical departures from the classic gameplay fans have grown to love. Thankfully, after quite a few years in development, HAL Laboratory has finally resurrected old-school Kirby gameplay and taken the beloved pink fluff back to the place where his adventure first began.
Fans of the earlier Kirby release will immediately feel right at home in Kirby's Return to Dream Land as the majority of the classic gameplay elements have returned. You'll be given a quick cutscene setting up the storyline and then tossed into the stage select screen. As with most Kirby titles, your goal is simply to navigate your way to the end-of-level doorway, collecting abilities and speciality items along the way.
Kirby only has a basic move set to start with: running, jumping, floating and inhaling enemies and items that can be swallowed or spat out as projectiles. There will also be times when you must wiggle the Wii Remote while performing your inhale move in order to suck up items and enemies that are too large for your regular inhale. Of course, it wouldn't be a classic Kirby game without the ability to absorb enemies' special powers and there's plenty of variety here with the abilities and their respective moves.
While the basic special abilities themselves are quite useful in tackling the barrage of enemies, the developers have also included a new feature that takes these special attack powers to a whole new level. If you're able to inhale certain enemies, you'll gain a Super Special Ability; think of these as much more powerful versions of some of the standard abilities. You'll be able to unleash mammoth screen-filling attacks that are as devastating as they are spectacular to watch. Of course, you only have these abilities for a short time, but they can be extremely useful.
In addition to the highly enjoyable single-player campaign, up to three more players can join in on the story mode. These additional players will be able to choose from three special series characters, such as King Dedede or Meta Knight, or even a different-coloured Kirby. Bringing in additional players will cost you a life for each one inserted into your game, but the trade-off is worth it considering how helpful more players can be. You can even hop on each other's backs and combine strength to execute powerful special moves that can't be performed by a single character.
As you manoeuvre through each level, finding well-hidden Energy Spheres allows you to unlock vast amounts of additional content, ranging from mini-games and challenges, such as time trials and target practice, to rooms that allow you to copy a special ability before entering a level on the world map. As trivial as these additional tasks might sound, once you've seen how fun and challenging they are, you'll definitely find yourself going back to completed levels to pick up additional Energy Spheres.
When it comes to the feel of the game, it's clear that the developer wanted to try to retain a classic Kirby sensibility — aside from the added number of copy abilities, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference in most cases. While there are bits of floaty physics tossed into the mix for times when Kirby is flying or swimming, for the most part the controls are extremely responsive. Using the Wii Remote on its side works quite well in using the classic control scheme, but having to stretch over to use the Minus button to drop abilities can be a bit inconvenient. However, it's a very minor gripe in what is, overall, a very solid control set up.
Over the past couple of years we've seen Nintendo and a handful of other developers really stretch the Wii console's graphical capabilities, but the presentation of Return to Dream Land should give the more flashy titles a run for their money. Not only is the world vibrant and colourful, but the level of detail in the various scenery and characters is impressive. The multiple levels of scrolling do a fantastic job of conveying depth and touches like distant backgrounds having the same level of detail as those found in the foreground shows the care HAL poured into Dream Land — and a monochromatic sub-level in various levels has to be seen to be believed. It's this attention to detail that really brings the storybook world of Dream Land alive and show just how capable the Wii can be when given the effort.
It wouldn't be a Kirby without a sugary sweet soundtrack and you're likely to crack a smile just listening to the whimsical musical tracks strung throughout the game. There are some amazing new musical tracks in the game, but the ones that tend to be the most catchy are the classic tunes that have been remixed for this release. There's honestly not a bad song in the entire game and gamers who stick with the game until the latter stages of the game will be treated to some of the best music the series has ever featured.
Kirby fans have been waiting a long time for a return to the classic Kirby experience, but after playing Kirby's Return to Dream Land, it's perfectly clear that the wait was well worth it. Not only are the colourful visuals absolutely stunning, but the classic gameplay, although a tad on the easy side, has never played better or featured more variety. And when you take into account how much additional content has been included, not to mention the engaging multiplayer mode, you end up with what is easily one of the most well-rounded Kirby titles ever crafted and the old-school Kirby adventure fans have been dreaming of for years.