When it comes to platformers, Nintendo is in a league of its own. No other developer grasps the genre like the house of Mario. Given its pedigree and track record, this shouldn’t come as a shock. The Super Mario games feature some of the most clever and innovative designs in all gaming, never mind just the platforming genre.
If the Super Mario franchise pushes the boundaries to new heights, the Kirby franchise takes a more laid-back approach. Rather than see what’s possible, the Kirby games have always been about platforming at its purest. This is true regardless of if we’re talking about the original Kirby’s Dream Land games, or 2022’s 3D platforming debut, Kirby and the Forgotten Land.
These games aren’t going to push players to their limit. Still, they encourage exploration and reward venturing off the beaten path. You could blitz through the Kirby games quickly with little to no challenge. If you want to see and do everything the game offers, though, there’s a lot more meat on that bone. This is where Kirby’s game design has always shined: delivering an experience that caters to what the player is looking for.
Regarding Kirby’s Return to Dreamland Deluxe, the formula has been perfected. This is a pure platformer that delivers an experience customized to the player. Combined with delightful aesthetics and new features worth your time, this is one worthy remake of the 2011 Wii platformer. It resembles 2021’s Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury. Again, Nintendo brought a platformer that people overlooked upon release, added additional content, and showcased a game that has aged gracefully. It’s understandable if you missed Return to Dreamland a decade ago. Today, though? There’s no excuse.
2D Kirby Platforming at Its Finest
For whatever reason, the original release of Kirby’s Return to Dreamland was slept on by many, myself included. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, consider the state of the Nintendo Wii in 2011. We were a year out from the Wii U’s launch. Most had moved on from the initial craze of the motion controls and Wii Sports. Nintendo was struggling to capture an audience. While the return to traditional Kirby platforming over a game like Kirby’s Epic Yarn was applauded, many dismissed Return to Dreamland at first.
A common critique is the game’s difficulty or lack thereof. I’d argue that this is a common characteristic of the Kirby series. We’re not playing these games to be pushed to our limits. We’re playing them to relax, unwind, and have fun. That’s what Kirby’s Return to Dreamland offers, complete with impressive attention to visual detail. Kirby reacts to the world around him, whether he’s gently falling with his umbrella power-up, equipping a snorkel underwater, or taking in the world of Dream Land. It’s reminiscent of the Crash Bandicoot series, where Crash himself is lively and animated.
The decision to focus on charm and accessibility means that everyone gets something different from their platforming experience. For example, I’m just looking to complete all of the Worlds and have a good time, which I can do in Return to Dreamland Deluxe. My wife, however, is looking to 100% everything. This means she’s having a completely different experience, discovering hidden treasures that await players. While there’s still no general challenge in terms of difficulty, there’s a lot of strategy at play here. You’ll need to wisely choose your power-ups to unlock certain areas of a level. It adds depth and complexity to the gameplay that isn’t immediately apparent.
Return to Dreamland Is Well Received on Nintendo Switch
What is challenging, however, is the game’s combat. While not overly complicated, there’s still enough to keep players on their toes. Between dozens of power-up abilities and enjoyable boss battles, Return to Dreamland isn’t afraid to push back occasionally. As a result, it helps keep things lively and does well alongside clever yet simplistic platforming.
My favorite aspect of the game’s design here is how the game hints at what power-ups are needed to solve puzzles or collect items. So if you’re wondering why a random enemy type appears out of nowhere, there’s a good reason. It’s as if everything has a purpose in Return to Dreamland, and that’s where the game can truly shine.
Additionally, Return to Dreamland isn’t a straight-up port. Nintendo has added new content in terms of epilogue levels with Magolor as the playable character. These new stages resemble the Bowser’s Fury content in Super Mario World or DLC in Shovel Knight. The core gameplay remains the same but plays in a new way that provides a breath of fresh air. Furthermore, it’s not like these games needed that breath of fresh air, but they’re better for it and leave us wanting more.
Thankfully, Return to Dreamland Deluxe does give us more with Merry Magoland. While some may be upset with the lack of substance, this is a completionist’s dream come true. Players are tasked with performing Mario Party-style mini-games to unlock various items and collectibles. It doesn’t pack the same punch as the Magolor levels, but it keeps players entertained, especially those looking to 100% the game.
Before release, there’s a good chance that people would have shrugged their shoulders at a re-release for Kirby’s Return to Dreamland. The game exists and is fine for existing, but honestly, there are other Nintendo games we’d love to see. Yet, after playing through the game, there’s something I’m in desperate need of: more Kirby. Between last year’s Kirby and the Forgotten Land and this year’s new content in Return to Dreamland Deluxe, there’s never been a better time to be a fan of Nintendo’s pink puffball.
While you may begin your Return to Dreamland Deluxe adventure with caution, you’ll be humming along to familiar tunes in no time. While the game may run on the short side, it’s an absolute blast from start to finish. Some may question whether or not there’s enough content here to warrant the $59.99 price tag, which is fair. Your mileage may vary depending on whether you’ll get your money’s worth. No matter what, though, you’ll have a good time.