Kirby's Return to Dreamland review: Sleepwalking

Kirby's Return to Dreamland is too easy.

I know I'm going to have to back that up, given that you couldn't die in the previous Kirby game, and I loved that one -- and given that Kirby has never exactly been synonymous with brutal difficulty, and that's kind of the point.

But Kirby's Return to Dreamland, unlike Epic Yarn, centers on giving Kirby the most impressive, most exciting, and most powerful powers he's ever had, and then fails to put them to any kind of interesting use. Really, the only ability you have to master in order to succeed in this game is pushing the attack button.
%Gallery-125891% In fact, despite its extreme friendliness, Epic Yarn had a modicum of tension in the fact that you could lose all the items you collected and thus lose access to extra levels. It encouraged you to fight bosses without taking a single hit. Return to Dreamland isn't as smartly designed: You can lose all your health and die, but it just won't happen very often, and it doesn't matter if it does, because you'll always have a massive counter of lives.

It's disappointing, because Kirby has such an exciting array of abilities this time. He can, as is usually the case, vacuum up enemies and take their abilities (even his swallow move can be powered up by waggling). Just about every one from every Kirby game to date shows up, from the standards like Cutter, Sword, and Beam to the exotics like Mike, Leaf, and Ninja.

Every ability gives Kirby multiple moves mapped to direction-plus-attack, dash-plus-attack, etc. For example, Ninja Kirby can throw a shuriken, perform a super-fast dash sword attack, kick downward, throw smoke bombs and turn invisible, throw cherry blossoms around him for an area-effect attack, and even do an Izuna Drop-like move on adjacent enemies.

In certain predetermined sections of many levels, a sparkly enemy will appear in order to grant Kirby a new Super Ability, an outsized version of one of his normal abilities. After absorbing them in the traditional fashion, Kirby can (temporarily) wield a giant sword, morph into a runaway snowball-boulder, or fire a beam attack which takes up a substantial part of the screen. These attacks are then used in specially designed areas (for example, you'll bust through huge bowling pins with the Ice ability) to destroy the stage in search of hidden rooms, which house challenge stages, copy ability repositories and other bonuses (like Power Spheres, which unlock mini-games through the main level hub).

You'll also encounter these Spheres while just traversing each level -- gathering them occasionally requires some speed or finesse, but it's mostly exploration-based. Navigating the levels in general is also a breeze, as even Kirby's method of movement is overpowered. As in many previous games, you can hit the jump button literally forever and Kirby will remain afloat. Being able to inflate Kirby indefinitely deflates the apparent platforming challenges in a big way.

I'm honestly frustrated, because this should be the best traditional Kirby game ever, and in some ways it is. It looks wonderful, it has co-op (of the "everyone but Player One is optional" variety, wherein the camera follows Player One and others just respawn next to Kirby if he dies), it has the widest variety of offensive moves I've ever seen in a Kirby game, and it even has a couple of cute minigames. But the complete lack of difficulty makes what should be an enthralling game sometimes boring.

This difficulty issue is addressed by a new game plus mode, but of course that comes at the cost of completing the original game. And unless you like using Kirby's powers for their own sake, that first trip isn't going to be a thrill ride.


This review is based on a final retail copy of Kirby's Return to Dreamland provided by Nintendo.

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