Thursday, November 29, 2012

Wii review: Kirby’s Return to Dream Land

From an artistic standpoint, Kirby’s Return to Dream Land is largely a throwback to the Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards. The worlds are all rendered in 3D with 2D backdrops, and the brief cutscenes adopt a storybook frame and filter. The gameplay, on the other hand, is largely a throwback to the SNES era, with emphasis on utilizing copy abilities one at a time. While plenty of familiar copy abilities including Cutter, Beam, and Spark make their return, there are a few new ones like Leaf, Whip, and Water – all of which feel right at home alongside their long-established counterparts.

The story of Return to Dream Land is relatively simple in scope – Magolor, an individual from another part of the galaxy, crashes his starship, the Lor Starcutter, onto Kirby’s home world of Pop Star. As most of the ship’s major pieces have been scattered across the planet, he asks Kirby and friends to track them down while he tends to his ship. Collecting main pieces like the mast and oars are required to progress the game and unlock new levels. Each region that Kirby visits – from Cookie Country to Nutty Noon – is new to Return to Dream Land, but features design elements used in previous Kirby games. There are the traditional island stages, snowy stages, and underwater stages.

The game’s best moments of creativity shine through in levels that incorporate puzzles that require Kirby to use his new super copy abilities, as well as the intense gauntlet that precede each boss fight with one of the new Sphere Doomer enemies. Upon defeating each Sphere Doomer, Kirby is rewarded with two Energy Spheres, though others can be found in the various stages he visits. Collecting enough Energy Spheres unlocks minigames and copy abilities for Kirby to grab at any given time from inside the Lor Starcutter. As with most Kirby titles that preceded it, the minigames in Return to Dream Land provide brief distraction from the main game, but are largely unrelated to it.

Though Kirby is the only playable character capable of using the copy abilities, friends can drop in or out of the game at any given time, allowing up to four players on the screen at any given time. The other playable characters include King Dedede, Meta Knight, and Waddle Dee, each of whom is granted decent range and attack via their respective hammer, sword, and spear. While the early stages are largely a cake walk, the game progressively amps up the challenge factor. Later bosses can take as much of a beating as they are capable of dishing out, and collecting each and every Energy Sphere requires quick thinking on the fly and well as precise timing.

Upon completing the main game, a bonus mode is unlocked that challenges players to revisit levels now stacked with greater trials. In this, Return to Dream Land does well to present a decent amount of replay value and substance for completionists. The main game is not terribly difficult, but later levels will quickly deplete your extra lives should you rush in without caution. There isn’t a whole lot new with regards to the gameplay, but at the same time the core Kirby games hold strong to a formula that has worked well since the series’ earliest releases. Return to Dream Land is sure to delight, whether you are a hardcore Kirby fan intent on exploring every nook and cranny of Pop Star’s latest levels, or you are simply looking to enjoy an afternoon playing cooperatively with your friends.

My rating: 9 (out of 10)

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