Kirby's back for another round in Dreamland.
Kirby games have for the longest time been one of my most beloved series of games. Utilizing colorful graphics, upbeat and memorable soundtracks, top notch gameplay (some platforming, others experimental), and tons of mini games throughout the series, Kirby always seems to combine the perfect mix of elements to make for an incredibly entertaining experience. And, despite seeing similar iterations in the past, Kirby always seems to encompass the epitome of “fun” in gaming. We’ve seen Kirby enter the realm of pinball, gyroscopic tilting, rainbow line drawing, racing, yarn composition, and being split into 10 different Kirby’s, but despite most of these experiments being massive successes, there’s always room for at least one more traditional Kirby platformer (especially if it helps to boost the number of great 2D gaming titles).
Kirby’s Return to Dreamland is the first traditional Kirby game we’ve seen on a console since the days of the Nintendo 64. With success recently on handhelds, does the transition to the Wii follow the same success as last year’s Kirby’s Epic Yarn. And, if so, how does it stack up with the Kirby’s of the past?
Nintendo has a knack for creating incredible games that rely on perfection of gameplay above AAA stories. Mario, Donkey Kong, and Kirby games have all followed this trend and have stood out as great platformers, all in their own right. Kirby games, however, tend to have some of the most outlandish and trite stories of all and it only adds to the charm of one of gaming’s cutest protagonists. In this case, rather than setting out on a mission to regain his precious food (which is a recurring storyline), Kirby must team up with rivals King Dedede, Meta Knight, and Waddle Dee to help a crash-landed alien rebuild his ship (by finding its ship parts).
Kirby’s latest adventure is extremely familiar in terms of design if you’ve played previous games in the Dreamland series of Kirby games (Dreamland 2 & 3, as well as Adventure all follow a similar setup). Each of these games (aside from the first Dreamland) feature fairly easy levels to complete if you’re just trying to beat the game without 100% completion, but difficult puzzles and portions if you’re aiming for perfection. The mass appeal of the games come from the fact that the series’ gameplay is so well implemented and that Kirby’s signature copy ability makes the experience varied depending upon the powers you choose; meanwhile, the core appeal of the games come from the challenges placed on gamers to find secrets throughout the levels using these same abilities.
Kirby’s Return to Dreamland is no different in its construction as most will breeze through the first 20 or so levels. Finding energy spheres throughout the levels of the game are what spice up the experience, hiding them in inconspicuous places or stowing them behind areas that require certain powers to reach. And, like other previous Kirby titles, these collectibles are more than just tokens, but also provide the gamer with tangible rewards. In this case, there are a number of doors in the alien’s ship to unlock, including up to 7 challenge levels, 4 copy rooms (that have 5 different abilities each for you to readily use), and two fully fledged mini-games.
For the core crowd, Return to Dreamland starts to ramp up its difficulty in the last rounds of levels in the game. From levels that have you moving non-stop to deadly obstacles that kill you instantly, there is certainly challenge in the game’s latter levels (especially when trying to collect the energy spheres). And, to make things more difficult, a tougher mode can be unlocked after completion. Finally, the seven different challenge levels are rewarded with Bronze, Silver, or Gold based upon the amount of enemies you destroy, coins you collect, and the amount of time you take to finish the level.
This time around, Kirby has several of his common abilities from previous games (though some of his coolest moves such as UFO or SMASH only appear in a few games). Again, each of the powers have several different moves that can be used by performing common attacks, jump attacks, and dash attacks, and some moves also have moves that require more complex button combinations. In order to make all of the powers equally useful, even the simplistic powers from older games features a number of different moves. For instance, Stone and Needle have dash attacks to make them more useful. Also, Spark has now been combined with Plasma to make for possibly the most powerful move in the game (since you can shake the Wii remote to build Kirby’s static electricity, which not only can be fired off as a powerful energy ball, but also serves as a built in force field).
Added to the picture are a few new powers including Water, Spear, Leaf, and Whip. Water allows Kirby to skate across water or fire without being held up and he can fire waves of water, ride a tidal wave, create a rainbow to attack nearby enemies, or hover using a water spout. Spear acts similarly to Sword but also has the ability to be thrown when dashing and act as a helicopter propeller if charged up. Leaf encases Kirby in a whirlwind of leaves if held down, and can also fire off individual leaves or thorns upwards. Finally, Whip allows you to either slash enemies or grab items from afar.
The other addition to movesets are 5 Super Abilities that are obtained on different levels according to the situation. Each of these Super Abilities can be used to cause mass destruction to enemies and portions of the level along the way. Any time you can obtain a Super Ability, you’ll also find later in the level that if you destroy the right part of the level, you’ll unlock a portal that warps you to a separate mini-level. These levels begin with an escape portion where you must run away from the approaching darkness (typically these are much more challenging than the current level you’re on) and end with a boss battle. The reward for finishing these missions is two energy spheres.
Aside from being a strong standalone Kirby title, Return to Dreamland follows the popular trend towards multiplayer gameplay by allowing up to four players to join in on the action. Conveniently, players can join or quit at any time during the gameplay, very similar to an arcade style of entering/exiting. Though the 1-player can only choose Kirby, the other three players have the choice of either an off-colored Kirby or one of the other three protagonists from the adventure; though playing as Kirby has the obvious advantage of having move diversity, playing as each of the three other characters gives special gameplay controls accordingly and set moves (Dedede has a hammer, Meta Knight has a sword, and Waddle Dee has a spear).
The two mini-games are also nice evolutions from previous games to utilize the Wii’s motion controls in successful ways. The first of the two, Dojo, is a timing game similar to ones from the past, but this one features the throwing of ninja stars at targets by flicking the Wii Remote. To make the experience different with each round, the target flies by in many different fashions and other decoys will come across the screen as well to distract you. The goal is to throw your ninja star at the precise time to strike the target and shoot for bull’s-eye. Scoring is based on the proximity of your ninja star to the center of the target and you can receive bonuses for consecutive bull’s-eyes. There are three different levels of difficulty, each with an increasing number of rounds.
The second of the two mini-games features an old fashioned light-gun-style battle with a giant robot. The goal is to shoot different parts of the robot to dwindle down its working parts and eventually yield it inoperable. The round’s scoring is based on your accuracy and how quickly you destroy the robot. However, if you don’t do so in a certain amount of time, the round ends. You also have to destroy incoming projectiles in order to prevent hits from lowering your score. There are also three rounds here, with each round featuring a different, more difficult robot to destroy. Like Dojo, this game can also be played with up to 4 players.
In terms of presentation, Kirby’s Return to Dreamland follows the trend of recent 2D renaissance games on the Wii, featuring great looking “HD-like” graphics despite the limitations of the Wii. Like Wario Land: Shake it!, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and Kirby’s Epic Yarn, this game provides some great looking visuals for a 2D game and again sets the standard for 2D console gaming. Expect incredibly colorful worlds and high octane special effects for an entirely Kirby-esque décor.
Musically, I found the soundtrack to feature a nice blend of remade songs from previous Kirby titles. Many of the tunes that we first heard on more primitive hardware had great composition but sound quality lacked a bit due to the media the game was played on. In this case, we don’t have a fully orchestrated soundtrack but the level of quality of these remade songs is top notch and worthy of a Kirby console game.