The last time a proper iteration in Nintendo's pink studded Kirby franchise came out, I was 11. I have fond nostalgia-fueled memories of "Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards," which stood as my first, and still one of my favorite, games in the series.
And then, over the past 11 long years, Dreamland went quiet. Sure, we got several Kirby titles and last year we even got "Kirby's Epic Yarn," which was artistically a masterpiece, but none of them were proper traditional main-entry platforming Kirby games.
And then, out of nowhere, "Kirby's Return to Dreamland" is announced. From the ashes of three different cancelled Kirby titles comes the true sequel to Kirby 64, bringing a solid and excitingly fun entry to the Kirby series, even if it falls short in a few areas.
Unlike "K:EY" last year, "K:RTD" has our pink superhero back in all his glory. Floating? Check. Sucking? Check. Power ups? Check. Oh, and add super power ups. Double check.
Super power ups are one of the new additions: allowing Kirby to take control of several different supped up (and nearly unstoppable) versions of the regular power ups. The Super Sword, for example, gives Kirby a sword that slashes across the whole screen, destroying everything in its path.
The problem is that while they are graphically awesome and fun to use, they are somewhat game breaking: Kirby can just plow though the enemies like a knife through butter. A few later levels do make you time your uber-attacks, but it's pretty much just spamming through a world. It would be like if Mario could use his invincibility star in half of the levels: it removes having to work to get through a level. They only show up in certain level sections, and there certainly was excitement finding and trying them all out, but I'm torn on the lasting benefit of having them there.
Not to be left out, regular power ups are also quite robust this time around - each power up now has its own array of moves and combos you can use - really making this an update to the ass-kicking Kirby you know and love. I was surprised at how many different move options each ability had, and it was a nice addition to the regular one move power-up system.
This time around, four players can also join in, adding multiplayer flair a la "New Super Mario Brothers Wii." It can be difficult to create a game that is stimulating and challenging for one, and also at the same time four, players, and at times having more than one player breaks some of the puzzles. The camera sticks with whoever player 1 is, so other characters can grab keys or items and simply warp back to player 1 as they walk off screen. I only played through about half the game with a second player, but it felt like a single player game with multiplayer added on. No complaints from my end, but it isn't exactly the multiplayer success that "NSMBW" was.
Ironically, the game's biggest flaw was Epic Yarn's greatest triumphant: Level design and style. Epic Yarn boasted vibrant yarn worlds, and managed to be just so dosh-garn cute. "RTD's" levels just don't feel that inspired or inventive. Platforming has advanced at least a little bit in 11 years, and the black and white dimension levels were really the only example of something design wise we haven't seen before.
Before all is said and done, the game actually manages to throw a few twists at you. The final boss is tough as nails, even with two players, and the game actually ramps up the challenge in the last few worlds. Post-game there is a hard mode to complete, challenge levels, mini games, and a boss challenge Arena, all of which I was glad to see, especially since they add some additional difficulty to those looking for it. The main story was still on the short side, I clocked in just shy of 7 hours, and while I'm sure that number will rise as I play through hard mode, playing the same exact game again except just harder won't be enough for everybody. There are also energy spheres to collect hidden through all the levels, but without looking too hard I found almost all of them on my first run through.
Level design and shortness of the main story aside, the overall Kirby spirit, missing of late, had me smiling and just plain outright happy when I was knocking foes over the head with a sword that could barely fit on screen. Ninja Kirby easily became one of my favorite powers, and while I will admit I'm still sad to see the power up combining from Crystal Shards go the wayside, the super power ups did at least fill in that role a bit. I'm simply ecstatic to see Kirby return, and the game managed to bring Kirby back in a bold and big way. It was everything that "Epic Yarn" wasn't in most ways, but wasn't perfect. For Kirby fans though, this is the best game we've gotten in a long time, and hopefully won't be the only proper Kirby game we see for the next 11 years.