Kirby is a renaissance man. His exposure to the Nintendo Switch hardware has been limited, with only two entries, Kirby Star Allies and Kirby Fighters 2, prior to 2022. That all changed with the release of Kirby and the Forgotten Land, a full-fledged 3D adventure that completely revolutionised the ability-hopping gameplay loop. Followed by a casual party game in Kirby's Dream Buffet that summer, things were looking good.
To strike while the iron's still hot, HAL Laboratories spent the past year remastering Kirby's Return to Dream Land, which originally released on the Wii back in 2011. Visually re-imagined and brimming with new content, it's the perfect pick-me-up for Kirby fans looking for another dose a year on from The Forgotten Land.
Kirby's Return to Dream Land Deluxe is 2D platforming at its pinnacle, with tight controls, varied levels, and plenty of incentive to play with friends. Kirby is firmly back, and I'll continue to revel in each new release.
Left to right
Unlike the vast, open areas of Kirby and the Forgotten Land, Return to Dream Land is much more traditional. Just like the Wii game it remasters, this is a fairly rudimentary side-scroller, with clearly structured levels that hinge on you collecting magic cogs and safely making it to the end zone.
It's very simple to grasp, making this game more immediately accessible to newcomers. Kirby controls as tightly and innovatively as ever: hopping around levels, flying while puffing up breath, and absorbing his enemies' abilities for a much-welcomed dose of gameplay variety. Most of the abilities you'll remember from The Forgotten Land are back, with the Link-esque swordsman to the flame-licked fire ability. My favourite was the Mecha ability, which makes Kirby an unstoppable, firepower-laden weapon, with laser cannons and a slick machine gun to boot.
That's what makes Kirby's Return to Dream Land best: it plays to its strengths and refines those elements brilliantly. Levels are rich, filled with extra areas and hidden nooks and crannies that necessitate repeat playthroughs. It's never especially hard until the very end, but that's perfect for a game that skews younger and is perfectly accessible to novice gamers.
But of course, this isn't just a like-for-like re-release of the 2011 original. Alongside the base story mode from that Wii release, there are plenty of new modes to try out. Nintendo has made a point to promote the Magalor Epilogue, a fairly extensive add-on that expands upon the aftermath of our beloved extraterrestrial wizard, who Kirby helps in the main game. There's also Merry Magoland, a small hub area that plays host to Mario Party-style minigames and a slew of collectible items. Both of these extend the six-to-seven-hour Story Mode, ensuring there's always something fun to do in Dream Land.
As a remaster of a decade-old game, you won't be too surprised to learn that the story in Kirby's Return to Dream Land Deluxe is pretty much the same as before. As mentioned, the Magalor Epilogue adds some extra narrative depth to that specific character, but if you've played the Wii original, you'll know what to expect. Kirby games aren't famed for their storytelling in the first place, so you won't be surprised to learn that once again it's pretty rudimentary here. With no voice acting and a story clearly designed for younger audiences, it's an easy one to let breeze over you while focusing on all the new bells and whistles.
Speaking of which, Kirby's Return to Dream Land Deluxe completely overhauls the visual style. The Wii version has the traditional 3D design, but this Switch remaster, ahem, switches it up with cel-shaded graphics. It gives the game a greater stylistic sheen, more unique than most modern Kirby games. It looks stunning across the board and performs perfectly in both docked and handheld modes. I never experienced any problems in my time with the game, which is a testament to the high standards and astounding levels of polish HAL Laboratories strove towards.
A puff of smoke
Not everything about Kirby's Return to Dream Land Deluxe is perfect, though. Practically the only complaint I had about The Forgotten Land was how unbalanced the co-op felt: while player one got all the fun of Kirby's Mouthful Mode, player two was stuck as a lowly Waddle-Dee. It's not quite as bad here - now you can have two Kirbys, alongside a slew of other familiar faces - but it's still firmly geared towards the first player.
Your co-op partners will be automatically teleported if they veer too far away, and in cutscenes, your partner will disappear while the pink Kirby takes precedence. While this could make sense under the guise of holding the hands of novice gamers, it becomes slightly grating when your co-op partners are muzzled by the required proximity to the host.
But those are minor quibbles for a game that, across the board, is sheer platforming fun. The Kirby series is incredibly consistent in its mainline entries, and Kirby's Return to Dream Land Deluxe continues that trend. The level designs are as fresh as they were in 2011, the whole thing looks gorgeous, and there's plenty of content to make your way through.
Buy Kirby's Return to Dream Land now.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch. A code was provided by the publisher.