There are generally two types of Kirby games: the standard platformers, where Kirby copies enemy abilities across easy-to-complete stages, and the more unique adventures, which wildly deviate from that formula. Kirby’s Return to Dream Land has been stuck in the former camp since its original release on Wii in 2011, making its deluxe re-release on Switch recognizable in more ways than one. Strong platforming fundamentals, creative late-game level design, and some rewarding new content still make it worth checking out, but it’s a more appealing pack for newcomers than those already embarked on the original adventure.
Like the traditional Kirby platformers mentioned above, the first few worlds in Kirby’s Return to Dreamland Deluxe are so remarkably undemanding that they drive away any sense of resistance and, frankly, fun. Flashy super abilities, such as allowing Kirby to roll enemies into a giant snowball or slinging a giant sword across the screen, often start out as almost automated sections that require very little player input. Having games that welcome newcomers is important, but it takes at least a few hours for this adventure to feel even remotely interesting, whether you’re playing solo or with friends.
However, once you get to the second half of the campaign, Return to Dream Land begins to reveal what it’s really about. Platforming levels begin to rely more heavily on Kirby’s copying abilities, like using the water ability to glide over fiery blocks, or the leaping ability to soar to new heights by letting him leap vertically and knock enemies out of the way. And all while throwing increasingly difficult challenges at you, whether they’re mini-bosses (often repetitive) that you fight on screens with pitfalls and other dangers in your way, or platform challenges that challenge you with creativity Wall of Death must escape obstacles to scurry around.
What We Said About Kirby’s Return to Dreamland (2011)
Kirby isn’t necessarily for you or me, it’s for our children, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews. It’s a quirky, charming adventure that was clearly designed primarily for younger audiences and others second. That’s not a bad thing, but it comes with caveats. It’s a little frustrating that Nintendo couldn’t have targeted both audiences at the same time, and I know when I was a kid I would have killed for the tougher challenge, but you can only blame the game so much for that. —Richard George, October 24, 2011
Read the full review of Kirby’s Return to Dream Land
The final stretch of Return to Dream Land in particular feels like the original developers were able to unleash a relatively challenging (but never frustrating) ending, filled with creative levels and enemies alike. The finale in particular is a wild ride with surprising twists and turns and a real challenge. Overall, it took me about six hours to float through the main story of Kirby’s Return to Dreamland Deluxe, and more than half of that running time seemed worth the trip.
It’s a lot of fun just fooling around with some friends through the levels.
Then there’s the multiplayer of everything. Up to three friends can hop on and off locally at any time. You play as either a Meta Knight, King Dedede, or Bandana Waddle Dee, each essentially taking on a different copy ability (sword, hammer, and spear respectively) and can be stacked on top of each other or carried across the stages. Playing with so many players dulls some of the finer details of the level design, as it quickly turns into a chaotic game of trying to eliminate enemies quickly and get to the finish first – a section where you time your moves planning to avoid boulders can quickly become easy…running through the boulders and hoping someone will come to the other side. Boss patterns can also be essentially ignored, as each character brings the enemy into oblivion. Stages generally feel specific to single players, but still work with a larger party if you choose to play that way.
However, like similar multiplayer platform games, it’s a lot of fun to just goof around the levels with a bunch of friends. Multiplayer is probably best suited as a sort of “guard mode” where you can accompany and play with a less experienced player, giving Return to Dream Land another way to welcome newcomers.
Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe Screens (Nintendo Direct – Sept 2022)
A welcome return
So this is the original Return to Dream Land, but what the heck is new about this deluxe version? The most obvious improvement is the graphical overhaul – aside from 2022’s Kirby and the Forgotten Land, this is by far the best Kirby has seen, with character models, environments, cutscenes and everything else that’s compared to the 2011 Wii original looks remarkably improved. It’s also filled to the brim with charm and small details, like Cowboy Kirby walking with a small brace when using the whip ability.
New abilities fit so well I just assumed they were always there.
Then there are a few additions to the adventure itself. Three new abilities have been added for Kirby to wreak havoc: Sand, Mecha, and Festival. Sand allows Kirby to form vortices into objects like sandcastles and fists, which he can use to smack enemies around. The Mecha ability allows Kirby to quickly fly across the screen, fire lasers, drop deadly mines, and launch rockets at enemies above – it’s probably the most powerful copy ability in Return to Dream Land Deluxe and my personal favorite. They also inherited Star Allies’ Festival ability, which turns on-screen enemies into dot stars and health-restoring foods. They fit so well that if I didn’t know better I would have just assumed they were always included in the original version.
Since Return to Dream Land is an entry-level platformer, Deluxe also adds a simple mode called Helper Magolor. This off-planet character throws helpful items (including health-doubling potions) at Kirby and saves him when he falls into bottomless chasms. While most people probably won’t need to enable this mode, it’s a great option for new or young players to get their feet wet.
Speaking of Magolor, he stars in Deluxe’s biggest new addition – Magolor Epilogue: The Interdimensional Traveler. In this approximately two-hour mini-adventure, you control an interplanetary character who is initially stripped of all his powers, á la Metroid. But by collecting magic points in brand new stages, you can acquire increasingly powerful abilities, like bombs that you can happily rain down on your enemies.
Kirby’s signature ability to copy powers is missed in this mode.
This mode starts off a bit slow, with Magolor being intentionally sluggish and relatively weak, but by the end of the journey it can become a real powerhouse. The stages themselves are of roughly the same quality as the main game, with challenge stages being unlockable if you’ve already acquired the appropriate skills. Kirby’s signature ability to copy powers is missed in this mode, but it’s fun to get a taste of how a Kirby-style platformer that unfolds with more progression would play.
Colin’s favorite 2D platformer
With Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe almost here, I decided to look back at my favorite 2D platformers – in no particular order!
True to its name, the Magolor Epilogue can only be played after the main story has finished. Narratively, this makes sense, but let’s face it: Nothing in the story of a Kirby game is particularly groundbreaking, and not letting returning players jump right in feels a little unnecessary. With that in mind, Deluxe includes the original’s Extra mode, a much harder version of the main story that gives Kirby less health, adds more enemies to contend with, gives bosses more challenging shapes, and more. However, it also cannot be accessed until the main mode is over, which seems silly for a deluxe version that plays almost identically to the original.
Let’s face it: Nothing in the history of a Kirby game is particularly groundbreaking.
There’s also the Arena mode, which is also unlocked after the main story as a sort of boss onslaught to further test your skills. While these certainly fill up overall playtime, I would have preferred to access them right away. New to the pack is Merry Magoland, a theme park full of “subgames” where you compete against other players. In the original Wii release, Magolor’s ship (the Lor Starcutter) housed several of these mini-games, but now they’re in this colorful space too, and there are two new mini-games to play around with in addition to the original eight.
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The mini-games themselves are well done but relatively shallow and remind me of playing the Pokemon Stadium mini-games with my friends as a kid. They range from the star-throwing Ninja Dojo, where you try to hit moving targets either by pressing buttons or using motion-controlled throws with your Joy-Con, to the classic Samurai Kirby, a dueling mini-game where everyone Player tries to cut as quickly as possible after prompting. They can all be played through in about half an hour and don’t add much value to the pack, but earning cosmetic masks through Magoland and playing with them in the main game can be a fun change of pace.