Nintendo Switch; Hal Laboratories/ Nintendo
This colourful multiplayer platformer was largely ignored when it first came out in 2011 – is it worth a second look?
Kirby was designed to be easily drawn. Part balloon, part sentient piece of bubblegum, creator Masahiro Sakurai envisioned a character so simple that kids would scribble it on their notebooks for decades to come. And it worked: Nintendo’s ball-shaped mascot is ubiquitous in modern meme culture. Yet despite Kirby’s status as an internet icon, for most of his existence, he never quite had the gaming classic to match.
Thankfully for Kirby, that all changed last year, with his fantastic first foray into the third dimension: Kirby and the Forgotten Land. It was a hit, shifting over 5 million copies and delighting players of all ages (including this 31-year-old). Now Nintendo has raided its vaults to reanimate an old Kirby caper: Return To Dream Land’s colourful platforming was largely ignored when it originally arrived in 2011, sent out to die on the (then) ailing Wii. Why not give it a second chance on the mega-successful Nintendo Switch?
The problem? The passage of time has not been kind. After the playful inventiveness of Forgotten Land, this feels overfamiliar and drab. A no-nonsense, bare-bones platformer, this colourful odyssey sees up to four squishy heroes advancing across eight worlds together, swallowing different power-ups and tracking down the missing parts of an alien visitor’s ship. You must get from A to B, solving some satisfying challenges to hoover up hidden collectibles across levels themed around luscious forests, underwater caverns and frozen plains. So far, so 1998.
Return To Dream Land isn’t ever bad, it’s just consistently unremarkable. The boss fights – usually a Kirby highlight – are disappointingly by-the-numbers, and the same enemy designs pop up time and time again, offering only slight variance on the same three creature archetypes. To its credit, though, this adventure also sees Kirby’s inhalable power ups at their madcap best (shout out to the absorbable ability that sees our pink blob turn into a flexing muscle statue). These stylish abilities fill the screen with an explosion of colour, transforming Kirby into anything from a gigantic sword-wielding behemoth to an adorably angry-looking wizard.
It’s enjoyably silly, all the better when you’re playing with a crowd. Recruit a friend or two, and this colourful caper’s fun factor rises exponentially. Nintendo has attempted to reframe this game as a multiplayer meeting-point, adding in a plaza filled with enjoyable, if forgettable, competitive mini-game curios. And a newly-added epilogue recaptures a little bit of Forgotten Land’s single player magic. Starring Kirby’s alien visitor, Magalor, this unlockable mode sees the lost traveller journeying across a mysterious dimension, relearning his forgotten magical abilities. Its intriguingly ominous tone makes it more interesting than anything that comes before it.
Before he had a face, Kirby’s unassuming spherical design was intended to be a graphical placeholder – but then its creators fell in love with his squishy simplicity. Return to Dream Land feels like a playable placeholder, ticking the right boxes without ever being truly exciting. In multiplayer it’s much more fun, but after the charmingly inventive Super Mario odyssey-inspired escapades of Forgotten Land, revisiting the safe, side-scrolling Kirby era holds little appeal.
Kirby’s Return to Dream Land is out 24 February; £49.99