Kirby’s Return to Dream Land is back 12 years after its Wii debut. And this time it’s “Deluxe!” What does that mean? Well, in this case it involves leaning further into the original game’s family-friendly fare. Aside from design changes to ensure appearances are consistent, this feels like stopgap that satisfies Nintendo’s desire to give people a multiplayer game in early 2023, as well as a new, more traditional Kirby adventure after Kirby and the Forgotten Land.
Kirby’s got a new friend, and he’s decided to drop in. Literally, as Magolor’s Lor Starcutter crashed onto Popstar, losing Energy Spheres and equipment alike. He needs to get home, so it falls to Kirby (and if you have friends locally, Bandana Waddle Dee, King Dedede, and Meta Knight) to find the missing parts to help Magolor on his way.
What follows is an incredibly traditional Kirby installment. Kirby and his friends go through eight areas, referred to as levels, with different themes like Cookie Country, Nutty Noon, and Egg Engines. When playing as Kirby himself, the puffball can inhale and steal Copy Abilities from certain enemies, granting him 26 total options. Some of these can even become Super Abilities, allowing Kirby to wipe out large swaths of enemies and decimate terrain to reach certain special areas and acquire extra Energy Spheres. Leaf, Spear, Water, and Whip debuted as Copy Abilities the first time around, and this time Festival, Mecha, and Sand join them. Each one is serviceable and useful in its own situations, though I sometimes found Sand so similar to Leaf that it didn’t feel all that distinct or necessary. If someone is on-hand locally, they can join you in the adventure as Bandana Waddle Dee, King Dedede, or Meta Knight. However, given the relative ease of the game, it isn’t too challenging going on this journey alone.
Even if you don’t have someone immediately on-hand, you don’t need to be alone. Magolor Helper is a new, optional feature that adds the character as something of a guardian angel. When enabled, Magolor will show up if the situation gets dire. This could mean healing Kirby if he takes too many hits while traversing a stage or facing a boss. He can also float in to lift him out of a pit if he falls into one. It’s not quite the Funky Kong equivalent from Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, but rather bears more in common with the Assist Blocks from recent Super Mario games. It also feels like a marked nod toward accessibility and Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe being a game for beginners or newcomers.
So too is the new Merry Magoland mode. This essentially adds a party minigame element to Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe, housing ten subgames in a single space. Each of these minigames, which include returning classics like Egg Catcher and Samurai Kirby, allows up to four people to take part in between three and four difficulty levels. A Magoland Tour option lets you go through a number in succession, with the winner being the one with the most points. Masks can be earned, to customize characters in this multiplayer mode and main campaign. The best minigame, Samurai Kirby, also appears in a Samurai Kirby 100 mode that lets you compete online once per day to see how your reaction time fares against 100 other players.
It’s fine, but it points out an inherent weakness in Kirby series subgames. These aren’t extensive, lengthy minigames meant to be played for substantial periods of time. the new Checkerboard Chase and Magolor’s Tome Trackers attempt to remedy that, and things like Smash Ride and Booming Blasters attempt to impart a more competitive edge. But many of these are designed to be over and done in a matter of moments, which doesn’t lend itself well to a party atmosphere. In particular, Crackity Hack and Samurai Kirby both feel out of place due to their reliance on quickly demonstrating reflexes in the briefest possible way.
The thing about Kirby’s Return to Dream Land is that it ended up followed by some truly exceptional installments. Kirby: Triple Deluxe and Kirby: Planet Robobot are fantastic platformers, and Star Allies offered a different, fresh take on an installment heavy on multiplayer features. There’s still some great level design here, to be clear! But even with the Magolor Epilogue and implementation of the Festival, Mecha, and Sand abilities, it doesn’t result in any substantial changes. The newly added Magolor Epilogue can offer some additional insight into the character and a bit more thought, since you need to plot out upgrades. It can come across as a bit more of a challenge than the original game, due to your limitations, which is appreciated.
Kirby’s Return to Dream Land, at the time, felt like a poignant throwback after installments like Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards and Kirby and the Amazing Mirror. Now in 2023, Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe’s revival results in an entry that feels like a more introductory experience to be enjoyed with a small group of newcomers to the series. It fits in with the idea of the early days of the Switch’s lifespan, what with the promises of rooftop parties with the system placed in Tabletop Mode for multiple people to enjoy. It’s not the best Kirby installment to play in 2023, but it still feels like there’s a place for it in our gaming lives.
Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe will come to the Nintendo Switch on February 24, 2023. A demo is also available.