Kirby's Return to Dream Land is the first time in a long time that a Kirby game feels like the classic Game Boy games. You jump, float, swallow, transform, and fight your way through detailed side-scrolling environments. The latest Kirby sequel wisely forgoes the control gimmicks that made Kirby's Epic Yarn on the Nintendo Wii feel haphazard. It's very telling that the best platformers on the Nintendo Wii make minimal use of the motion controls that became the calling card of the system. Like New Super Mario Bros. and Metroid Other M, Kirby's Return to Dream Land uses the Wiimote sideways. Essentially, it uses typical NES controls. There's a reason why gamers were satisfied for so long with two buttons and a D-pad: it's all you need for side-scrolling games.
Kirby's Return to Dream Land plays like Hal Laboratory wanted to introduce Kirby to a new audience. It's very easy. Kirby gets a unique ability from most of the enemies on the screen, from a supercharged sword to a magical staff. The variety of weaponry almost makes up for how it's just too easy to force your way past enemies. The only time strategy comes into play is deciding whether to jump over one enemy to get to another.
Thankfully, Kirby's Return to Dream Land is not long enough to overstay its welcome. The replay value comes from the excellent multiplayer mode. Up to four players can play at the same time using a combination of Kirbys, King Dedede, Waddle Dee, and Metaknight to get through the levels. Only Kirby can swallow enemies, but each additional character has its own strengths and weaknesses. Metaknight is good for fighting and King Dedede is good for destroying large obstacles. The characters can also climb on top of each other to get through trickier platforming areas and they share a pool of extra lives.
The game tilts its hand too often to the advantage of the player. You are fed information as to what power-up you need most in each level. It will either appear as an option to swallow at the end of the previous level or appear as an easy to grab boxed power-up at the start of a level. The appropriate power-up is also the only option before a boss stage. If you have that, you can spam your attack and kill the boss in seconds. Otherwise, you'll just have to go through one or two cycles of attacks with Kirby's regular abilities.
You'll get the most mileage out of the game by inviting friends over for the multiplayer mode. It will only take a few hours to beat the whole game with help and everyone will have a job to play. You can trade off characters, create your own rules of who can do what, and add some much needed challenge through your own limitations. The controls are tight and easy enough that anyone, regardless of experience, can hop in for a few stages.
Kirby's Return to Dream Land is an enjoyable platformer, but is probably best enjoyed as a rental. There's just not enough game here to keep going back on your own and there are other multiplayer games that can better hold your friends' interest in the long run. Only the die-hard Kirby/old-school platformer fans should feel the need to invest in their own copy.
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