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Kirby’s Return to Dream Land

Kirby’s Return to Dream Land

Kirby has had an interesting franchise throughout his nearly 20 years in the industry.  It is one of the few franchises that I can think of to have two radically different main series simultaneously.  When you pick up a Kirby game, you either have a Platformer, or something completely different.  You’ve got your Kirby’s Dream Lands, but then you have your Block Ball, Pinball Land, Canvas Curse, and others.  As should be no surprise to those of you familiar with my taste in games, I’ve always preferred the straight Platformers, and this game most certainly delivers in that department.

I’ve had the pleasure of writing the Internet’s very first full walkthrough for this game – at least, as far as I’m aware; a fantastic experience that I may never be able to relive, so I decided to make the most of it.  For nearly 2 weeks, I lived and breathed this game, and it was well worth every breath.  I’ve had my mind blown on many levels as a gamer, and dramatically increased my typing speed by hammering out a walkthrough as my significant other played through using the notes from my first run.  I’ll be putting the entirety of that glory aside to write this review, though, as I retell the story of how Kirby reminded me that Hal Laboratory is still able to recapture the magic of their 8-bit days without resorting to NES simulation.

GAMEPLAY

The game plays a lot like a cross between Kirby Super Star and Kirby’s Adventure; the game was released as Kirby’s Adventure Wii in PAL territories, after all.  Enemies don’t have the long life bars that they did in Kirby Super Star, but the abilities are dynamic, having quite a lot of moves for each.  As always, the levels are designed as though the game were a straight Platformer, but you can still be cheap and fly over everything if you’d like.  Personally, I find flying to be cumbersome, so I only really use it when necessary.  The Goal Game from Kirby’s Adventure is back, this time giving stars, which add up to an extra life.  The level hubs are also quite a bit like they were in Kirby’s Adventure, but also a main hub filled with lots of goodies.

Amongst the old, there’s a great deal of new, as well.  You can now perform a super inhale by shaking the Wiimote, which ends when you want it to, and can inhale large numbers of immense objects, putting even Yoshi to shame.  You now have items that you can pick up and use to solve puzzles, like cannons, trumpets that protect you from overhead, keys, a spiked Kuriboo’s Shoe, and more.

Yes, Kirby eats more than THIS at a time.

Yes, the game also has a 4-player co-op, if you’re into that sort of thing, though I’m not, so I haven’t really even tried it out for reasons that will be made evident by the image below.

Getouttathewayit’sgonnablow: A typical co-op experience.

ABILITIES

Kirby’s backbone has always been the game’s abilities, and this game’s 20 abilities are a clever mix of old and new.  Some abilities, like Beam, are almost exactly the same as they were in Kirby Super Star, but with a new move or two.  Others, like Fire, have been retooled a bit to make a new moveset.  Spark has been effectively fused with Plasma, and energy can be charged either the old way or by shaking the Wiimote, which works a lot better than it sounds.  Of course, there are also some abilities that are entirely new: Leaf, Spear, Water, and Whip, each of which is very competent and a lot of fun to use.  Even though you’ll always have abilities that work better for you than others, nearly every ability has been crafted in a way that makes them incredibly fun and useful within the context of the game.  Except Tornado.  I hate Tornado.

Even with the cows and tractors, this is STILL easier to control than that stupid Tornado ability.

Perhaps one of the coolest things about the abilities in this game is not merely the moveset, but the way in which they are used.  They’ve been rebalanced quite well, so that you don’t just pick up Sword and dump it only when you need to, like before.  Every ability has its uses and its times when you’d rather have another, so most of them get relatively equal playtime.  Except Tornado.  As might be expected, nearly all of them have at least one of the 5 parameters that interact with other objects.  Abilities can cut ropes, break heavy things and pound stakes, light fuses and melt ice, cool heated objects, and light your way through the dark, much as they have since Kirby and the Amazing Mirror.  In addition to this, which you might accurately expect to be used to find collectable objects, you’ll also be able to unlock Challenge Rooms in the main hub: the intergalactic vessel known as the Lor Starcutter.  Each Challenge Room requires a specific ability, and requires you to use said ability in creative ways to make it through alive. I’ll delve deeper into this later.  As a small side note, the Lor Starcutter also has unlockable rooms with 5 abilities each, but this time, they’ve added a dummy to the top, so that you can test out every move, even the ones that require being near an enemy to execute; an excellent new feature.

Of course, there’s no way I could possibly talk about abilities without mentioning the game’s biggest selling point: the super abilities.  These 5 thermonuclear devices are acquired at specific points in the game from sparkly enemies, and are used to destroy obstacles and reveal what I – as well as many other professional nerds – like to call the star gates.  So, while it is unspeakably fun to cut down legions of baddies with a sword the size of the entire screen, or roll them up in a gigantic snowball, there is always a crazy, over-the-top stunt to perform at the end in order to reveal an often frantic auto-scrolling stage with a nasty sub-boss at the end.  That said, you still know there’s a great time ahead of you when you see that sparkly bad guy.

From left to right: Meta Knight, Kirby, Waddle Dee, and King Dedede

CHALLENGE

Well, it’s Kirby, so if you’re looking for the likes of Contra or I Wanna Be the Guy, you’re out of luck.  A casual player could easily clear the game’s main mode with little difficulty, even though the game doesn’t save the number of lives you’ve accumulated; the 7 you’re given to start should be more than sufficient.  The areas within the star gates have a wall following you that will crush you if given the chance, but won’t kill you by touch, and can be knocked back a bit if you spit something at it; they’re frantic, but not all that hard.  The boss fights can be challenging, and can force you to think about how to approach them at times, but there’s often a cheap way of winning, usually in the form of “this ability will stomp this particular boss.”  If you can find the right ability for the situation, you won’t have too much trouble throughout the vast majority of the game.  That is, until you try one of its alternate modes.

Don’t make the same mistake that I did: Extra Mode is more than just a half-sized life bar run through the same game.  The bosses also have some absolutely nasty new attacks, and some of them become quite dangerous.  Some of their formerly innocuous moves have also been altered to make them some of the most horrifying things the bosses have to throw at you as well.  Now, I did manage to blow through Extra Mode in a single day – playing non-stop – without ever seeing the Game Over screen, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s not challenging.

Also returning are the Arena and the True Arena from Kirby Super Star Ultra.  The Arena is exactly what you’d expect: a 13-round boss rush with some rounds being battles with multiple sub-bosses, one right after another.  You have 6 Maxim Tomatoes, which turn into regular tomatoes after use, so healing items are ample.  My arrogance killed me the first time, but I absolutely annihilated the Arena on my second try, using only 2 healing items throughout the whole thing.  The True Arena, however, is a different story entirely.  Now, you’re up against the bosses from Extra Mode, and each sub-boss round has you fight the last two simultaneously.  You now have only 3 Maxim Tomatoes, and there are 15 rounds, including a boss that’s exclusive to the True Arena, and incredibly challenging just by himself.  This mode took me 3 tries to get through, though my skill at Platformers should be taken into account here, and it was pretty intense, as well as thoroughly satisfying.

MINIGAMES

As usual, Kirby comes with a few minigames, and as usual – thankfully – they don’t matter as far as completion; the most reward you’ll get from playing them is a free guy.  You know why?  Because Kirby games know that the main game is good enough that they don’t have to add distractions to eat up your time.  That said, even as someone who generally hates minigames, I enjoyed them quite a bit; all 3 flavors of them.

The first minigame, Ninja Dojo, is unlocked fairly early, and can be played both on the Lor Starcutter, and from the main menu.  You hold the Wiimote vertically and swing it forward to throw a shuriken.  The idea is to hit the target, but you only get one shot per round, and missing means that the game ends immediately.  The shuriken always flies dead center through the air, but the target itself moves.  Even if you hit the very edge and get only 2 points, it still counts as a hit, but anything over 79 will be considered a bull’s-eye, split the target in half, and net you a cumulative 30 extra points for each one you get in a row, kinda like a strike in bowling.  As the rounds progress, and the difficulty levels get higher, you’ll have to deal with different movement patterns, dummy boards with no bull’s-eye, and even Gordos that block your shuriken.  The patterns are chosen completely at random, so the game relies entirely upon reflexes; not on memorization.

Scope Shot, also playable in both places, is a wonderful homage to Battle Clash and its sequel: Metal Combat: Falcon’s Revenge.  You arm yourself with a Super Scope and blast away at gigantic robots with many different destructible parts.  You have to carefully choose between quick shots and charge shots, which are five times more powerful.  You have to deflect missiles, and come up with a few clever solutions to destroy the bosses.  After blowing up enough parts, you can either blast the weak spot to destroy the thing or try to completely destroy every part for a special bonus.  It’s a great throwback to two sadly forgotten Super Scope gems from the SNES days.

The third minigame of sorts would be the Challenge Rooms.  As previously stated, upon entering said rooms, you’re given a specific ability, which cannot be lost.  You need to know its entire moveset and how best to use it in order to make it to the finish.  You collect medallions and defeat enemies for additional points.  Finish the stage within the time limit and your score determines which medal you’re given for the course: bronze, silver, gold, and the impossible platinum, of which I have none.  Now, you will have to complete each of these rooms for 100% completion, but even getting bronze will do.  There are a lot of secret areas to find with more medals and enemies to kill to boost your score.  You also rely on bonuses for performing well, such as having a lot of time left on the clock, not getting hit, and killing every enemy.  I enjoyed getting gold on each of the courses, and it greatly improved my proficiency with the abilities in question, though I’d like to know what kind of glitch exploitation is required for getting a platinum medal on anything.

GRAPHICS

Hold onto your hats; my cynicism about modern graphics has been shattered.  As I began the game, I remember first remarking something like, “Oh boy.  Another grass level.  I’ve never seen this before,” dripping with sarcasm, of course.  By the end of the grass area, I was taken a bit off guard by the rainbow winds flowing through the background.  A desert area passed by without really doing much for me, but the underwater area really struck me.  It was reminiscent of Poseidonia from Rygar: The Legendary Adventure – or Rygar: The Battle of Argus, if you prefer the Wii version – with its colorful decorations of coral and the like all over the background.  The ice level had this gorgeous stark wintry night aesthetic in its later stages, and the sky level had some jaw-dropping sunsets.  Even the fire level was nothing short of stunning.  I’m not generally a huge fan of fire levels due to their samey appearance, but the masterful use of black and purple woven into the background of the active volcano was unlike anything I’d ever seen in a game before.  There is a great deal of attention paid to the backgrounds, as well, such as the aforementioned rainbow winds, as well as some other interesting things you’ll see if you look closely enough.  Some of what you see is a bit cheesy at times, such as the aurora being a little too colorful (I know, it sounds weird to hear me say that), but the game is overwhelmingly beautiful overall.

Okay, I’m sorry. Yes, new games can be pretty too.

Even the enemies are visually interesting.  They still have that strange, “what is that thing supposed to be?” quality common to the Kirby franchise, but that alien quality is what makes them so special.  The boss design is fairly interesting, too, rehashing only Bonkers and Whispy Woods throughout the game’s entirety.  Many of them will vaguely remind you of other bosses from elsewhere in the series, while still being wholly unique creations.  What I also thought was great was that in Extra Mode, the bosses are all a different color than they are in the normal mode.  I know that’s largely due to my bizarre infatuation with palette swaps, but it was definitely a big plus for me.

No, really, what IS it? It’s like a cowboy hat with a cape or something.

SCENARIO

It’s almost inappropriate to talk about this in a Kirby game, but there is a bit to say.  The story’s not going to win any awards, even though it’s a little deeper than, say, Squeak Squad, which revolved around getting a slice of cake back.  Surprisingly, there are a few plot twists toward the end, but nothing earth shattering.  The style remains consistent with the rest of the franchise: cute, but not so syrupy-sweet that you’re unable to wade through it without getting sick to your stomach.  It’s not all warm and fuzzy like Epic Yarn, rather more of your typical interplanetary adventure like Kirby 64 or even Kirby’s Adventure.  It has moments in which, even though you’re a cute little pink puff with an eating disorder, you can still feel cool playing through, especially if you’re a second player playing as Meta Knight.  The only other thing to note stylistically is a strange obsession with Dragon Ball Z’s Kamehameha.  Seriously, it shows up more than just a few times throughout the game.

I’m Angsty!

SOUND

This is yet another department in which I did a complete about-face about halfway through the game.  The first thing you hear in the game is yet another set of bland orchestral arrangements of songs from elsewhere in the series.  Why do video game composers think that’s all we want to hear!?  Have we as gamers really portrayed ourselves as such a mindless, drooling pack of nostalgia-blinded zombies to the gaming industry?  Give us something new; something we haven’t heard countless times already!  I even remember remarking early on that I hoped that the music would get better at some point.  Taking classic chiptune compositions with strong melodies and softening them up by violining them to death isn’t an example of good video game music.  I don’t inherently hate orchestral music in a game, but it’s often not done as well as real classical music, and it’s often inappropriate.  Kirby music has traditionally been very high energy, even bouncy at times; trying to “class it up” with an orchestra doesn’t make any sense at all.

Unless you play for Dragon Force, STAY AWAY from my games!

My worries of muddling through another boring, uninspired soundtrack quickly dissipated as I made my way further into the game.  The second and third had had a few good tunes, but there’s one track in particular in the fourth level that really did me in.  Let me set the mood for you: you begin the stage on a cold, but clear winter night.  The stars are twinkling in the background amongst the overly colorful aurora, as it ripples through the navy-trimmed black sky.  The music begins as a soft whistling wind with an endearing melody, and I’m immediately reduced to that starry-eyed kid adventuring though Rainbow Resort from Kirby’s Adventure all over again.  From that point on, I found myself softly whistling it to myself at random points throughout the day.  Now, there’s a lot of overly soft rehashes throughout the soundtrack, but what’s good is really good.  You can tell that certain tracks have such raw emotion poured into them, just like back in the good old days.  Out of a massive, 127-song soundtrack, there are 24 songs that range from great to excellent.  That 127 includes unused tracks and 5-second fanfares, and each of those 24 were actually in the game.

I fell in love with this place almost instantly.

OVERALL: 9/10

Kirby’s Return to Dream Land is a wonderful adventure that is certain to delight Kirby fans of all ages.  It has just the right amount of stimulation to keep the veterans entertained, and its bite is soft enough that novices can experience most of the game without too much difficulty.  Due to the great diversity of the franchise, even within the Platformers, it is difficult to say whether it’s the best Kirby game ever.  That shouldn’t matter, though; something doesn’t have to be the best to still be very enjoyable.  Kirby is one of the few franchises that I’ve found consistently enjoyable through the years; it tries new things, but also brings together great elements from elsewhere in the franchise, as have many Kirby games.  My only real fear about this game is that it will go the way of Super Paper Mario: a great game that garners a decent amount of praise upon release, but becomes largely forgotten due to its proximity to a bigger release obscuring it in the history of gaming.  For Super Paper Mario, it was Super Mario Galaxy.  As for Kirby’s Return to Dream Land, I fear it will be swallowed The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m excited for Skyward Sword, too, but let’s hope that the world doesn’t forget about good old Kirby.

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