‘Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe’ Review: A Candy-Coated Balm for the Soul
In an infinite sea of remakes and remasters, the latest re-release for the Nintendo Switch, Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe, doesn’t even qualify. It’s essentially a port, albeit with some added content, akin to the console’s best-selling Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe and Super Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Like those titles, Return to Dream Land acts as a second chance for a somewhat overlooked game to hit the gaming zeitgeist thanks to the colossal success of Nintendo’s hybrid handheld. Unlike those games, Kirby didn’t really need it.
While the majority of Nintendo’s diverse retro IP still languish in purgatory begging for revival, the Kirby series has seen a boon this generation with 13 titles currently available between new releases and the Nintendo Switch Online library — putting the franchise on par with only Mario and Pokémon in terms of output. Like the pink puff himself, Kirby fans are eating well, and it’d be easy to call this reissue a plate of leftovers. The thing is, sometimes leftovers are better that second time around.
Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe brings players back to the bizarrely named world of Popstar, where Kirby and his pals King Dedede, Meta Knight, and Bandana Waddle Dee are living their best lives. That is, until an unknown spacecraft crash lands in their Eden. The ship’s owner is an alien named Magolor and needs help repairing his ship to return home; Kirby and the gang oblige. The perfunctory story sets up a very straight forward platforming adventure that often feels like it’s ripped straight from the halcyon days of the SNES era — and that’s its beauty.
Unlike last year’s award-winning reinvention of the series, Kirby and the Forgotten Land, which opened up a 3D world for Kirby to explore, Return to Dream Land is firmly planted in the classic 2D realm. Gamers play as Kirby (or one of his pals / palette-swapped doppelgangers in multiplayer) and traverse through clear cut levels with minimal branching paths, collecting stars, food, and optional energy spheres, as well as consuming the flesh of your enemies.
Wait, what? The core mechanic of the Kirby games hinges on Kirby’s ability to inhale and consume baddies and take on their powers. Eat a knight? Now you’ve got a sword. Eat a rock, you’re a rock. It’s a simple device, easy for kids to pickup and providing more diversity of play than the more minimal powerups of the Mario series. It also makes Kirby painfully adorable as each powerup gives him a tailor-made outfit to denote the copy abilities. On top of this, certain copies provide Super Abilities — which essentially turn Kirby into an unstoppable god with the power to (literally) level the playing field against Dream Land baddies with dramatic cinematic attacks.
Combat feels responsive and tight, if lacking in complexity. Movement feels slick, especially with a Pro Controller, and all of the animations are buttery smooth. Uprezzed from the 2011 original on the Wii, this deluxe version is a visual delight. Bursting with color and cartoonish wonder, it’s the type of game people point to in the debate over artistic style over graphical horsepower. Sure, it’s not the most taxing on the hardware, but on an OLED Switch model (or a 65-inch OLED TV), the game is a bright, exuberantly warm hug for your brain.
A common criticism of the Kirby series as a whole is that they’re flat out too easy. Targeted at children, the mainline titles lack any meaningful difficulty to the point where most adult player could likely complete Return to Dream Land with only a handful of deaths throughout the entire campaign. But honestly, that’s part of the appeal. Accessible to children and adults alike (and at the same time in cooperative play), Return to Dream Land doesn’t require massive commitment to understand and master. It’s comfort food — the kind of game you can play in handheld mode while half-watching a Netflix binge. That’s not a bug, it’s a feature.
Despite being a port, this version of the game does warrant the “Deluxe” in its title, adding tons of new content to the original. After finishing the main story campaign, players can now take on the role of Magolor for a special extended epilogue that changes up the gameplay mechanics and adds extra hours to the completion time. More importantly, the game also has an entirely separate secondary mode called Merry Magoland that opens up a world of multiplayer minigames previously locked away within the main campaign. It’s like a micro Mario Party wherein players can compete in puzzle games, bumper cars, and unleash their inner Akira Kurosawa in split second samurai duels. For completionists, there’s 100 missions here to beat, adding even more time to spend in this world beyond the story and epilogue.
Despite its easy difficulty level and relatively basic gameplay, Kirby Return to Dream Land Deluxe feels like the kind of game some adults just might need right now. In a world dominated by the grimness of Elden Ring and Resident Evil — not to mention IRL responsibilities and state of our reality — the candy-coated escapism of Dream Land feels like a soothing balm for the soul. So kick back and drift off to Dream Land.
Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe is available now on the Nintendo Switch.