Review by DarkChocobo47
Why didn't I buy this game sooner?
A question I will always ask myself will be why I didn't buy this game sooner. I knew it was good, and I knew it was fun, but over time I've become a skeptic f the wii and I wrote it off as fanboyism. Guess what? I was poorly mistaken. I've been a fan of Kirby since the first ever Kirby game, Kirby's Dreamland on gameboy. I had also played Kirby 64, Superstar, and Amazing mirror, the latter two I considered to be the best Kirby games to date. After playing this game, I can say without a doubt that it is the best Kirby game ever made. It trumps Amazing Mirror in terms of abilities and trumps Superstar in gameplay, without any of the flaws that either of those two games had. Return to Dreamland, in my opinion, is the only Kirby game so far to do everything right. The controls are right on, the abilities are fun, and most of all, the game isn't too easy like Kirby games are prone to being. I know they're targeted at kids, but being able to beat the game without even trying is never fun. This game has a legitimate level of challenge and keeps things fresh throughout the entire adventure.
The first thing I noticed about this game was it's perfect controls. A problem I've always had with Kirby games is that Kirby feels stiff and clunky sometimes, especially in the air. This game has tight and precise controls in every category. The very first thing I checked was the ability to have a variable jump height. This was something that was SORELY missed in Superstar, and lo and behold, variable jump in this game. This game also makes some nice QOL changes from superstar, like the ability to dash off of ledges with dash attacks (stuff like cutter dash attack and sword dash attack) where previously you would stop short on the ledge. Admittedly this isn't always a good thing, but it is more often than not and was a welcome change. Overall, Kirby is a lot faster in this game than in previous titles. His dash speed is fast, his jump is fast, and his continuous puffy jump gains height much faster than it usually does. All of these small changes come together to make Kirby feel much more fluid and not at all clunky. The other playable characters are just as smoothe as Kirby, and they all control differently, which I will explain later. Underwater control is good and responsive, but is really missing the free moving feel that would be offered by playing the game with an actual joystick. 8 directions doesn't quite cut it here, especially since you lose most of your momentum each time you change directions, but I attribute this to be the fault of the controller, not the game itself. The starship controls (would it be a Kirby game without a 2D shooting level?) are better than most bullet hell games I've played, but the shooting is a little wonky. Almost every spammy projectile in this game (ninja knives, starship bullets, bombs, etc) is on a metronome, meaning you will shoot much faster if you time your shots to be in rhythm than if you button mash as fast as you can. You can't hold down the fire button for a steady stream either because that will just start charging a shot. It's a little inconsistent, but with some practice you can get it down pretty well. It's just confusing when you first play it and you shoot at a snail's pace. The only problem I have with the controls is that every time you jump and use an ability that has an aerial attack (sword, hammer, cutter), your jump is cut short even if you continue to hold the jump button. This is really only a problem with a few abilities, but the ones it happens to affect are my favorite ones. This is a very minor issue though, most people probably won't care.
Another cool thing they added to the mix was shaking the wiimote to enhance effects. You can shake the remote while inhaling to get a bigger inhale range and to suck up large enemies, you can shake the remote while using the spark ability to charge it up (similar to plasma in Superstar), and sometimes you have to shake the remote to escape enemies who eat you. When enemies eat you however, the damage they do is front loaded, meaning it decreases over time the longer you are in their mouth. This means you have to shake as fast and as soon as you can to avoid the bulk of the damage. This mechanic adds a lot to the game in terms of gameplay options, and also forces you to pay attention.
Another thing that makes this game a cut above the rest are the abilities. Every ability in this game has multiple commands and multiple functions, allowing for very fluid gameplay. Most of the abilities are copy/pasted from Superstar, but with MORE STUFF. They added a lot of stuff to the already deep abilities present in Superstar. The only problem is that they made the abilities so that some are better than others because you don't have access to every ability right off the bat. Things like cutter and beam, which you can get right away, are trash compared to abilities like fighter and hammer which you get much later on. That aside, all the abilities are fun to use and never really get old. Each person naturally has their own preferences, but once you find a set of your favorites you'll never want to put the game down. I should also probably talk about super abilities. In maybe 1 out of 3 levels, you get to use a super ability. These let you basically wipe out everything on the screen and let you destroy the environment to create a new path. You'd think this would be boring because you can't possibly lose, but it's not. It's quite fun to steamroll through people once in a while, and you have to use the abilities at the right time and in the right place of you want to uncover the correct path. Every time you get a super ability, if you use ot correctly and in a time manner, you will destroy a piece of the environment that leads to a portal. In the portal is a speedrun stage that you have to complete before a wall of death wills you, and at the end is a boss. If you kill the boss you are rewarded with 2 gears and the end of the level. In the early stages it's pretty easy to get to the portal, but by the end you have to have precise timing, and you need to hustle or else the ability will run out and you'll be out of luck. I really like this mechanic because it gives you a break from just going through levels, and there is no way to know if there will be a super ability in the level or not, so you're kept in the dark about if you got all the gears.
Now this next part is my favorite part of the game, but also my biggest problem with it. The level design in this game screams good game design. Right into your ear. With a megaphone. The premise of the game is for you to collect these gear shaped pickups, similar to the crystals in Kirby 64 except that you don't need to break down walls with certain abilities to get them, every one can be gotten using the abilities already provided in the level. Anyway, some of the locations and puzzles to obtain these gears are very fun and you can tell that a lot of thought was put into them. I've been playing video games for a long time so I figured them out almost instantly, but to the children to which the game is marketed to, it will provide an interesting challenge. At the same time though, some of the gears are just... there. Go through a door, find a gear right there without having to do anything. It's anticlimactic and takes away from the game. Granted, some of the doors you have to go through to find the gears are cleverly hidden, but it's still pretty lame to find the hidden door and feel good about yourself, only to be handed the reward right away, shattering your sense of accomplishment. Besides this, the level design is generally amazing. The game rewards you for thinking outside the box, whether it be jumping up really high to get some coins, or looking in an unexpected place and finding a secret door. Also the game conditions you to be prepared for what's coming next. What I mean is that almost every time there is a mini boss, taking the ability from the dead boss with lead directly to obtaining a gear later in the level. The game also puts every ability you will need to obtain gears before you need them. The only thing you have to do is figure out which you actually need and which the game placed there to throw you off. The game also increases the difficulty at appropriate intervals. Each world is harder than the previous one, with more precise execution needed and with more difficult puzzles, along with more enemies and more challenging enemy placement.
On the other hand, some of the levels are very frustrating to play, especially the water levels. There are way too many levels where you get carried by and wind or water current and lose complete control of your character. I don't think I'm alone when I say that I hate losing control of my character WHILE I'M SUPPOSED TO BE DOING SOMETHING WITH HIM. Not to mention the scores of enemies you run into at high velocity that you can't avoid. There are many time when you are getting carried very quickly and see a gear pass right by you and you just sigh and know you'll have to do the level again. That's another problem. There are 3-5 gears in each level, but if you miss just one, you have to go back into the level and do then entire thing again. If you go back in, find the gear you and missing, and exit, it doesn't count. I don't know about you, but I don't want to play a level that I just played a second time when there are still more level for me to complete, especially if it's one where you lose control of your character.
The last thing I want to talk bout are the bosses, and of course the multiplayer. The bosses in this game are far and away the best bosses in any Kirby game. Even the mini bosses are better. Each boss has many different attacks and patterns, a vast improvement from typical Kirby bosses that only have 1 or 2 attacks. Every level boss in this game has enough difficulty and abilities to be a final boss in other Kirby games. Also, the bosses have rage mode. This happens when bosses reach 50% health. They become bigger, gain more defense, and change their attack pattern, usually to counter the strategy you just used to deplete the first 50% of their health. A good example of this is our good friend Whispy Woods. Yes he's back, how dare you think otherwise. Everyone knows how to beat Whispy, stand right in front of him and unload all your stuff, then run away or block when his apples drop. When he enters rage mode however, he will suck you up if you stand in front of him, which does quite a bit of damage. Instead you have to run away from his vacuum and then attack him when he's tired. Every boss has a rage mode, and they are actually pretty challenging if you use the ability they provide for you, not going to the copy room to get hammer.
Finally the multiplayer. This is the reason I bought the game in the first place, and it is a blast. Playing this game with a friend multiplies the fun, and promotes finding easier ways to do puzzles that would normally be difficult in single player. Nintendo also took the time to make each character different. Meta Knight is faster and more agile than everyone, and has the highest utility, but he has less HP. Waddle Dee has infinite jumps making him fairly fast, but he has no dash attack because he always has spear. King Dedede is the slowest, but he has increased HP and does the most damage. This allows for players to use a character that fits their playstyle preference instead of having the other characters be Kirby clones with a permanent ability. The only problem, which is somewhat excusable, is that player 1 HAS To be Kirby. Some levels and bosses are impossible to complete or defeat without Kirby. This means that if you just have 2 players, you can't both be who you want unless one of you prefers Kirby. What worse is that you can't play as the other characters at all in single player until after you beat the game. Even then you can only use them in the Arena and not in the story mode. Still, the incredible fun that multiplayer brings to this game makes it that much better.
As you can probably guess, I love this game. As far as I'm concerned, it is perfection as far as Kirby games go, and is easily the best one. It has very few problems, and all of them are minor. The game is extremely playable and the controls and abilities allow fluid movement through the levels, minimizing clunkiness to almost zero. The level design is very strong, save for a few levels that you lose control in, and the bosses are fresh and challenging. If you are even almost considering buying this game, go do it. I made the mistake of not buying it at release, don't be like me.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Kirby's Return to Dream Land (US, 10/24/11)
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