Review: Kirby's Return to Dreamland

Suddenly, with little warning, a new Kirby game. And not just a new Kirby game: the first great Kirby game since the underappreciated Kirby: Canvas Curse.

Watching it at E3, there were doubts in my mind how Kirby would take to multiplayer. “Four player Co-Op?” I asked. “This is madness.” Sure, it worked in New Super Mario Bros., but that was different. That was Mario, he who makes all novel ideas he touches old and comfortable. This was Kirby, a pink puff ball whose most recent game, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, wasn’t even intended to be a Kirby game and inspired the whole of the internet to call it Kirby’s Epic Yawn. Because we are so clever.

And yet, here we are with Kirby’s Return to Dreamland, a game with no marketing punch but that succeeds so utterly.

The core of the game will be familiar to Kirby vets. Suck up enemies, absorb their powers, beat enemies with cool powers. But instead of doing it alone, four friends join you split-screen, as Meta Knight (the nerd), King DeDeDe (the jock), and Waddle Dee (the spastic one who achieves perpetual motion when he flies). This isn’t the frantic, near-competitive coop of New Super Mario Bros but instead a friendly relationship. Sonic 2 style is how I’ve described it, but this doesn’t capture how well it works. Kirby is the slowest character and the camera’s always on him. Everyone else works to help Kirby, the putz, through worlds, walking ahead of him and whacking everything in sight.

It’s the kind of joyful teamwork that makes co-op so much fun, and it’s entirely unnecessary to use. There’s not a single place in the game that is impossible without friends. A single person can 100% this game. Your friends are just along for the ride because they like you and because they appreciate your company.

The game itself follows the coop: it is fun, unprentiously so. The difficulty curve is beautiful, never ramping up too high but moving upward at a slow, metered pace, and unlike most platformers the game is honest with you. To find hidden items you know what you need to do; you just have to do it. You don’t have to backtrack for fifteen seconds, because that’s weird and pointless. Everything is in front of you, and you’re going to eat it all up and get its powers.

The absolute best part of the game, though, are the ultimate powers. Kirby, never being a difficult game, has always suffered a little bit from a lack of weight. If nothing’s difficult, then you rarely feel triumphant and overpowered. Well, Kirby’s Return to Dreamland fixes this problem by giving you a massive sword and telling Kirby to walk down paths full of enemies and structures and completely obliterate them. No moment is more satisfying; each of the ultimate powers feel weighty and ludicrous, and they’re the moment that really makes the game so joyful.

God, I can’t remember the last time I’ve had so much fun with a video game. Kirby’s Return to Dreamland isn’t trying to make you think very hard—there’s no plot to speak of, just levels to complete—but it delivers what it has with such joy, such zest for life that it brought a huge smile to my face. It’s everything good and happy in the world in a small, concise package.

It is, in short, everything we’ve wanted from a Kirby game since those brilliant early titles: no pretense, no weird gimmicks, just the ability to eat enemies, gain their powers, and romp through delightfully retro levels. The multiplayer is positively brilliant, but not necessary to enjoy the game. At its heart, all you need is an appreciation for good platforms and Maximum Tomatoes.