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Kirby does some retro dreaming

Feb 21, 2012

By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada

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Kirby's Return to DreamlandThere are a few certainties in life - death, taxes, and retro gaming. The latter in particular will surely never go away, because video gamers are some of the most passionate and loyal fans you'll find anywhere.

It should come as little surprise that Nintendo decided to bring its lovable Kirby character back to Dreamland on the Wii. After 2010's wonderful "Epic Yarn" - which was  quite a departure from the NES-era Kirby - the tough-as-nails pink sphere is again doing what fans have always loved best, copying the abilities of enemies in the new "Kirby's Return to Dreamland".

The latest adventure begins when a spaceship called the Lor Starcutter crashes on Kirby's home world of Planet Pop Star. The ship's captain, Magolor, begs Kirby for help finding the missing pieces of the ship. In return, Kirby will earn a first-class trip to check out Magolor's home planet of Halcandra.

This is all just a simple setup to allow players to float, dash, and fight their way through dozens of levels that feature all sorts of platforming goodness. There may not be much in the way of originality here, but like so many Nintendo platformers before it, "Return to Dreamland" is rock-solid in terms of level design. The fact you control Kirby by holding the Wii Remote sideways like an old NES game further adds to the retro allure, making the game more accessible to players of any age.

Kirby's Return to Dreamland The aforementioned copying abilities are what really set Kirby apart from other platformers. Kirby's big mouth will inhale just about any enemy or object that comes its way, and once you've sucked up a baddie, pressing down on the d-pad will transform the protagonist into a round version of just about anything the game throws at you.

The possibilities seem endless; one minute Kirby is freezing enemies into blocks of ice, and the next he's lighting himself on fire to keep bad guys at bay. Then there's the less-common, but just as fun, abilities such as Ninja - devastating flying kicks galore - and Hi-Jump - endless mid-air leaps in every direction.

You've seen the blueprint for these levels countless times before, whether you're sliding across ice in the "winter" stage or avoiding jets of lava in the "fire" world. What keeps things fresh are these abilities, and there's a good chance you'll still be discovering new ones several hours into the game.

There is admittedly more to the game then running from one end of a level to the next. Each world culminates in a boss battle, and although developer HAL Laboratory does its best to keep things interesting, many of the bosses can be bested by simply going on the offensive, overwhelming them with a flurry of hits from whatever ability you have equipped.

Later bosses do take some practice and like any good old school game they occasionally require a certain degree of pattern memorization, but for a true boss challenge, you'll want to take a gander at the Arena mode that's unlocked after finishing the game.

Kirby's Return to Dreamland Certain stages also include a special gate that takes Kirby into a dream-like mini-level. In these levels, an impenetrable glowing wall moves from one side of the screen to the other, and the player has to negotiate all sorts of obstacles in order to keep from being crushed by the wall.

Though none of these levels are terribly challenging, they do require some quick thinking. Like video games of the past, these special levels can be a little less unforgiving too - die during the level or at the boss fight that can be found at the end, and you have to start all the way back at the beginning.

Speaking of which, it's difficult to nail down what type of game this wants to be in terms of challenge. The initial few worlds are pretty much a cakewalk, but without warning, the difficulty ramps up excessively.

A lot of the challenge for each level involves finding hidden energy spheres. Gathering these allows you to unlock challenge levels and minigames, but many of these spheres can only be acquired through the use of a very specific ability. This means that it's not so much the skill of the person playing that will allow them to obtain a certain energy sphere, but knowing exactly what ability to have at a specific section of the level.

This basically forces the player to go back to certain levels and memorize what ability to have equipped, which feels somewhat cheap.

The minigames are sure to add a few extra hours to your time with Return to Dreamland. Simply completing some of the challenge stages before the counter runs out is a challenge in itself, but then there's the whole issue of beating the high scores.

There are also two minigames that are played using the Wii Remote's pointing and motion sensing features. Once unlocked, these games are (smartly) accessible from the main menu, so if you just want to throw virtual ninja stars at targets with some friends without going into the main campaign, you can do that.

Kirby's Return to Dreamland It's not just minigames that allow for multiplayer fun in Return to Dreamland. Couch co-op plays a big part here, as each level allows for up to four players to join Kirby in his adventure. Jumping into a game is as easy as pressing a button - any button - on a synched Wii Remote, though keep in mind that it'll cost one of Kirby's lives. Dropping out can be done at any time, too.

Beyond the gameplay itself, Return to Dreamland is as cute and vibrant as you'd expect in terms of visuals. It's a far cry from the wonderfully unique world of Yarn in Kirby's Wii predecessor, but the worlds of Planet Pop Star and Halcandra provide plenty of eye candy for young and old gamers alike.

Music also falls short compared to Epic Yarn. None of it is terrible, but with very few exceptions, none of it is particularly memorable, either.

Besides one hook, Kirby's Return to Dreamland is fairly standard platforming. Still, it's all done extremely well, making it difficult to be anything but enraptured with this classic gameplay redone for the 21st century.


Kirby's Return to Dreamland
Format: Nintendo Wii
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: HAL Laboratory
ESRB Rating: E for Everyone 10+
Official Site:

Rating: 8 / 10

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