Game Review: Kirby's Return to Dream Land

For: Wii

From: HAL Laboratory/Nintendo

ESRB rating: Everyone 10-plus (mild cartoon violence)

Price: $50

Kirby might not even know it, but the way he walks in "Kirby's Return to Dream Land" - with a proud strut and a carefree expression that completely belies it - is amusing without even meaning to be. That goes as well whenever Kirby enters a body of water: He sports a stylish innertube at the surface, and instantly swaps it for goggles whenever he plunges into the depths.

There are a thousand other similarly effortless details to spot in "Land" - some of them silly like those mentioned above, others crucial to the game's design, but all adding up to a prototypically spotless Nintendo game that exemplifies the difference between a good sidescrolling platformer and one devised by the company that created the mold.

This isn't to suggest "Land" has broken said mold. As the title itself implies, this is a return to Kirby's roots much in the same way "New Super Mario Bros." brought Mario and Luigi back to their basics. "Return's" primary objective - move from left to right and reach the exit - is as pure as video game objectives get, and Kirby's techniques - strutting, jumping, floating, swimming and the always-wonderful ability to open his mouth, ingest enemies like a vacuum and briefly acquire their powers - are just as they were during his first visit to Dream Land.

Of course, Dream Land itself isn't the same as Kirby left it. The levels and worlds are all new, and they're naturally more elaborate in their construction than in past "Kirby" games. Simply cruising from entrance to exit isn't terribly challenging, but completely mastering a level - finding every secret area and using certain powers to acquire every last collectible piece of the spaceship you're helping Kirby's friend rebuild - is pretty tricky.

You can, of course, return to levels multiple times to find the pieces you missed, and because these levels are so cleverly but intuitively designed and the game so polished in every respect, replaying old levels new ways is a ton of fun. New and old enemies afford Kirby more powers than ever to mimic - including some spectacularly destructive super powers that engulf the entire screen - and every facet of his many control schemes is on par with his every last visual quirk in terms of attention paid to detail. In every crucial respect, "Land" is immaculate.

Though the game doesn't bend over backward to specially accommodate it, "Land" features four-player local drop-in co-op in a slightly similar vein to "New Super Bros. Wii." This time, though, only player 1's peril is of any consequence. The other three players - playing as Waddle Dee, Dedede, Meta Knight or a Kirby clone - can incur all kinds of disaster in a supporting role, which allows someone with skill to lead the game while young kids or other novices play along and assist without impeding the game's progress. That makes it a less chaotic party game than "NSMBW," but a far more ideal experience for families who play together.

As has become tradition, "Land" complements the primary game with a surprisingly filling selection of bonus content, including challenge rooms, practice rooms and minigames. "Land's" core gameplay uses only the Wii remote, turning it sideway to mimic a traditional controller, but some of the minigames allow you to use the remote's motion capabilities. None of them are wildly original in light of the billion or so minigames that have graced the Wii over the last five years, but they're fun, well-made, and suffice very nicely as free sides for an extraordinary main course.

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