Anyone who thinks of immutable Nintendo franchises probably thinks of Pokémon, Splatoon or Fire Emblem. Fair is fair: Kirby can do a few things too. The pink cloud has had a huge number of interesting spin-offs, but the games in the main series are all variations on the formula that Dreamland established back in 1992. With the exception of Forgotten Land last year, the games differ from one another only in level design and the occasional power-up or new gimmick. For example, the Wii title Return to Dreamland was just another Kirby game, but with 3D graphics and 4 player co-op. A layman might think it was a remake of Kirby Super Star. Now Return to Dreamland itself actually gets a remake, but despite some nice additions, Return to Dreamland Deluxe is also more of the same.
Familiar Kirby formula
So, in case you never played the original title on the Wii, you already have an idea of what kind of game it is. Here you play Kirby or – if you play co-op – Kirby clones, Waddle-dee’s, Dedede or Meta Knight. The game consists of eight worlds, each with about five side scrolling levels and a boss at the end. Throughout the levels, Kirby sucks in enemies and swallows them to steal their powers. A nice addition to Return to Dreamland is that there are a number of super-transformations to be found, which allow you to defeat all enemies on screen with one sword stroke, or roll through the rest of the level as a giant snowball.
The levels themselves are as simple as you expect from a Kirby game, but obtaining some collectibles still offers some challenge or planning. Sometimes this requires you to go through a tricky obstacle course without power-ups, or you need a particular power at a specific moment. Those collectibles, in turn, unlock a fairly tough set of challenge levels. These levels force you to master a certain power if you want to reach the high scores. This way, some older players are also taken into account. The extra challenge is welcome, but you will have to go through a lot of simplistic content first, which is clearly meant for the smaller among us.
Besides that simple (and in co-op pleasantly chaotic) story mode, Return to Dreamland has a number of other modes. These include a mountain of mini-games for up to four players. You’ll find modern variations on the games from Super Star, such as the samurai stand-off or the cowboy shooter. There are also all-new mini-games in which you must be the first to pick up a specific card, for example, or hunt each other with bazookas. It will never surpass Mario Party, but Return to Dreamland has so many of these kinds of games to offer that it can serve just fine as a party game.
The Deluxe variant of Return to Dreamland leaves all this largely untouched. It only adds little things like a new pair of enemy types and associated transformations. It does, however, bring all of this to the Switch in a whole new look. Everything is polished right down to the cutscenes. That’s a bit hefty for a new release of a game that came out not even that long ago and didn’t have the most complex graphics anyway. Still, I must confess that if you lay both titles side-by-side, it is a vast improvement.
Playing as Megalor
Return to Dreamland additionally adds a new mode. After defeating the final boss, you can not only play the more difficult “Extra” mode, in which Kirby with less HP faces more opposition. There is also the special Megalor mode, in which you play as a weakened Megalor. This mode offers a bit more action than Kirby’s own adventure. Megalor can shoot projectiles in all directions, has an offensive dash and there’s even a combo counter á la Devil May Cry. The better you do in his missions, the more crystals you earn with which to enhance Megalor’s powers. You also unlock a new power after each boss, which at the end of it all, Megalor plays completely different than how he started.
Megalor mode offers a bit more depth than you’re used to from Kirby, but the experience as a whole quickly proves a bit hollow. Indeed, a bit less time and love has been put into the design of Megalor’s levels than Kirby’s. Exceptions aside, these levels consist of repetitive arenas in which you defeat some standard enemies, concluded by a slightly larger variant of those same standard enemies. Bosses and puzzle levels are a bit more interesting, but even with that, this epilogue remains an unnecessary extra on an otherwise fine remake of a solid Kirby game. It certainly could not stand on its own. That’s a shame, because Megalor controls quite pleasantly and the game structure certainly had potential.
So Kirby’s Return to Dreamland Deluxe is largely the same game as when it came out on the Wii. The graphics are definitely an improvement, but changes to and additions to the gameplay do little to spice up the simple but effective 2011 game. It’s still a fine adventure for young and old alike – especially if you can play it together. Unfortunately, that’s where it ends. Return to Dreamland was not a very special Kirby game even then and still isn’t.