Here's the thing about poor Kirby and the current state of the Nintendo Wii… unless it's a banner Zelda or Mario title that's prepped to launch, it seems that games are simply being ignored by gamers and large sites. For fans of the Kirby franchise, recognize that we're saluting you here. You may not have been catching a wave of hype for Return to Dream Land, which sucks, but we get it.
Kirby is back, but his return has been really quiet.
Kirby's Return to Dream Land (or, RTDL as I'm going to call it from here on out) is a strong offering from the Big N. However, this isn't a timeless adventure that will suck you in and hold you in place for weeks to come. You'll play it, alone or with friends, enjoy it for what it is and then move on.
The story, in standard Nintendo fashion, is light. A ship crash-lands in Dream Land and Kirby teams up with Meta Knight, King Dedede and Waddle Dee in order to gather five of the ship's major parts and get it airborne once more.
As Kirby, you'll be able to grab huge, limited power-ups in order to beat enemies and gain access to unique dimensions.
A lot of people considered Kirby's Epic Yarn an insult to the brand. We liked it, but the gaming community at large had problems with its abundant ease of play and lack of Kirby-ness. It was a 2D side-scroller that starred familiar faces, but it did so without Kirby's suite of power assumption abilities. It looked amazing, but it was only a Kirby game in name.
RTDL, however, is a Kirby game in both name and delivery. You can assume the abilities of your gifted enemies and breathe fire, wield an electric wand, fight with a sword, turn into a giant rock and assume control over electricity. And it feels just as good as it has in the past. This isn't a homage to the Kirby games that were, it's a straight-up Kirby game.
However, on a single player level, it's light. The whole thing won't take too terribly long to push through as there are only a few levels to conquer. There are mini-games and challenge rooms to open up through the collection of gears, but they will only be a good place to spend time if you're either big on the franchise or its mechanics. The levels themselves are hardly challenging. In fact, in the arena of challenge, you'll have a harder time collecting loose ship gears than you will fighting world bosses.
Multiplayer, though, is actually quite fun. The bummer here is that the only way you'll be able to play as anyone other than Kirby is by adding more than one player. However, once you do get a group together and select from the four folks available, the game goes from strong to fantastic. It's strictly a cooperative affair as you'll help one another move from the front of one level to the end. Enemies and bosses will present an even smaller challenge than before, but the experience of getting to them is surprisingly fun.
That said, diehard gamers will likely see the multiplayer arm of this adventure as little more than a time-waster. Gaming with family, friends and non-aficionados will prove exciting, charming and fun. Those that are good at games will blaze through this one a little too fast.
What's undeniably great about the cooperative play is that players can hop in and out whenever they want. For a game like this, it works wonderfully. Kudos to Nintendo for including it.
Calling Kirby's Return to Dream Land "bad" would be a terrible mistake. This is a good game that delivers a lot of strong play and appeal to those that want it. But, given the landscape of the games coming out this holiday season on the Wii and every other platform, it's not exactly a title that has the guts to stand tall amongst the crowd.
We will be able to say this to fans: if you love Kirby and you own a Wii, get this game. You'll enjoy it, there's no doubt about that fact. However, if your need to play as the angry-eyed pink hero isn't all that strong, consider holding your money off for bigger, better titles bound for 2011.
Zelda: Skyward Sword is less than a month away, folks.
Full Disclosure: CraveOnline was sent a review copy of Kirby's Return to Dream Land a few days before its official launch. We played through the story mode once and collected around 100 Gears. We revisited the game on several levels with friends through the jump in/jump out co-op, but did not defeat the full campaign in this fashion.