Kirby’s Return to Dreamland Deluxe Review

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An essential part of playing any Kirby game is wondering, after a few minutes or a few hours, why you are playing a Kirby game. Why bother, when the experience was so evidently cooked up to cater for an inexperienced audience—an audience that perhaps slunk away, dented, from the challenge of Super Mario? The evidence is all there in the figure at its heart: a blob of smooth and smiling pink, like a dollop of gum pulled from the sole of a shoe, impossible to dent, free of doubt, and offering its players a sweet bubble. But quietly, almost without you realising, a good Kirby game will begin to work its magic on you, simplifying or slowing down the ideas that run rampant in tougher Nintendo outings, and teasing out their cleverness. You think it looks sparse and stretched, but you wind up with plenty to chew over.

Kirby’s Return to Dreamland Deluxe is, as its name suggests, an updated version of Kirby’s Return to Dreamland, which came out on the Wii in 2011. Part of the update is a new look. The characters are now held in hard black outlines, and the cutscenes have a scratchy surface behind the colours, as though they were unfolding on a canvas. (This isn’t the first time that the series has looked to the gloop of pigment for a lick of fresh texture, as will attest fans of Kirby: Power Paintbrush—or, indeed, Kirby: Canvas Curse, as it was called in America.) Along with the retouched visuals, the meatiest addition is an extra mode, “Magolor Epilogue: The Interdimensional Traveler,” a two-hour morsel which has you playing as one of the supporting cast from the main quest.


Whether this will be enough to warrant a purchase, especially for those who bought the original, will depend on how you see the second coming of Kirby. Since Kirby and the Forgotten Land came out last year, shooting its star into three dimensions, Nintendo has sensed a hunger, in the public, for more. Hence Kirby’s Dream Buffet, which came out a mere five months later, testing our appetites by having us slide its hero along rivers of cream and slotting pastures of cake into his maw. Seven months on from that, we have the new game, which is, of course, an old game. The hope of its publisher, presumably, is that people are keen to reappraise the series—to reconsider its bygone entries as something of a forgotten land, and to dig in. If you think this is merely a shrewd way to make money, and that those who are fooled into ponying up are getting their just desserts, fair enough. The fact remains, though, that Kirby’s Return to Dreamland Deluxe does come bearing treasures.

The first of which is the sight of our leading globule with his head fashionably on fire—a plumage of pure combustion, as if Carmen Miranda had sashayed a little carelessly past a candle. This is followed closely by the spectacle of Kirby as a giant snowball, thundering along slopes of ice, his grin fuzzed by the crunchy cold of its new home. It’s impossible not to match it with one of your own; whether the thermometer plummets or leaps, the climate of these games is always one of happiness. Even in The Forgotten Land, which was seemingly set on Earth (rather than our hero’s home on Planet Popstar; don’t ask) at the end of days, in cracked and vacant streets, the mood was stress-free. Return to Dreamland is Kirby in the classic style: side-scrolling levels, clean and uncluttered platforming, and a slew of abilities that are bodied forth as you gasp down your enemies and assimilate their traits.


If you want to know just how classic that style is, I recommend starting up Kirby’s Dream Land, where it all began. It’s available on the Nintendo Switch Online subscription, as part of the Game Boy catalogue, and most of the fittings are in place. He spurns gravity with a gulping bob. He swallows his foes, though can’t yet mimic them, preferring to spit them back out. And look, there’s that same frowning tree that rustles its boughs and lets loose a rain of apples. What gives? It’s as if the exploits of this little oddball had never ceased. The brown graphics may have ripened into shining crispness, but the core is unchanged. No wonder he looked a little forlorn at the end of that game, holding up a sign that read “bye-bye.” He never left Dreamland; it is us who have returned.

If it’s worth the trip, it has something to do with the way it feels to control. Kirby has never been as responsive as Mario, but he’s never had to be; you are supposed to relish the dozy safety of him, free of pitfalls. Why worry about the crash when you’re the airbag? After a few hours, you notice the comfort, the baggy poise in each gesture. Watch as Kirby sprints, pumping his legs like pistons; look closer as he does it on the ice, and moves instead like a skater, with lazy, loping strides. The game isn’t remotely difficult, but in paring back the challenge the developer, HAL Laboratory, makes you appreciate the simple act of movement, one of fundamental pleasures of the medium. It offers up Kirby as though he were a clump of Play-Doh—a wad of possibility, to be warped and prodded and programmed anew.


“I think that whatever we add or subtract, Kirby is Kirby, so I don’t insist on any one particular thing.” So said Yurie Hattori, a developer who came into the series with this entry, in 2011. It certainly explains the explosion of styles that have bulged around the character over the years. Next to the likes of Kirby’s Pinball Land and Kirby Tilt ’n’ Tumble, which had you tipping your Game Boy to guide him through levels, Return to Dreamland may seem tame. Or at least unadorned. There are eight worlds—thus the changes of temperature, as the platforming elements of lava, cloud, and desert are all hit—and you’re always moving left to right.

Any depth is of the mechanical kind, as you absorb a watery foe, say, and unplug a private flood on which Kirby can surf over glowing-hot coals, with a resounding sizzle. My personal favourite has to be the plasticky mech that you can plug him into; he fires laser beams and burns through the air like a pliable Tony Stark. For anyone weaned on the more madcap designs of The Forgotten Land, in which Kirby’s exhaustive powers saw him pootling along as a car, or ingesting a vending machine and coughing up projectile cans, these transformations may lack the necessary laughs. More important, though, are the boss fights—a long-time calling card of HAL, but played straight, and without much imagination, here. Nonetheless, even when the trappings are more traditional, as they are in Return to Dreamland Deluxe, Kirby is Kirby. You get to the end with the distinct feeling that the tilts and tumbles haven’t stopped, that you haven’t quite pinned down its charm, and that you will be back, before too long, with an urge for more. Bye-bye.

Developer: HAL LAboratory

Publisher: Nintendo

Available on: Nintendo Switch

Release Date: February 24, 2023

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About the Author

Kirby’s Return to Dreamland Deluxe

  • Release Date: February 24, 2023
  • Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
  • Genre(s): Platformer


Nonetheless, even when the trappings are more traditional, as they are in Return to Dreamland Deluxe, Kirby is Kirby.
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