With few erratic (and sometimes embarrassing, like Kirby's Air Ride) exceptions, the pink puff ball has always been largely a solo experience. That's merely an option in Kirby's Return to Dreamland, the second Kirby game being released this year, and a game that may as well be New Super Kirby Bros. Wii.
I had no idea Kirby's Return to Dreamland was even announced at E3. I'm paid to know facts like this and didn't realize Nintendo had revealed two Kirby games until catching up on RSS feeds after the show. But Nintendo showed both to me recently in San Francisco (read my impressions of Kirby Mass Attack over here), and you can imagine my surprise when another Nintendo employee picked up a controller--and a blue Kirby appeared. And then a yellow one. And another color I can't remember.
Four Kirby dudes at once! Madness. Playing as Kirby isn't your only option either, so long as you're the second, third or fourth player. Someone has to play as Kirby, but anyone who joins in the game afterwards has the option of playing as several other characters, such as Meta Knight. If you're not Kirby, however, you lose access to Kirby's unique ability to acquire powers through cannibalism. I doubt Nintendo would approve of such terminology, but you tell me what else Kirby's actually up to.
Other playable characters include King Dedede and Waddle Dee, each with their own attacks. I can't figure why you'd want to play anyone other than Kirby, though; messing with the powers has been the general appeal behind the Kirby series since forever. To be fair, this defining bit wasn't even part of the original Kirby game, Kirby's Dream Land, released on the Game Boy in 1992.
The four-player mania was a love-it-or-hate-it feature from New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Three people was the sweet spot for me, preventing the chaos from spilling into the realm of frustration, but I totally understood why most people had zero interest whatsoever. Platformers are about strict timing--it's a very personal affair. Kirby is not. There is platforming involved in playing this or any other Kirby game, but it's not front and center. Again, it's more about really messing cute dudes up with powers.
And there are hella powers up in Kirby's Return to Dreamland, powers way more powerful and screen-encompassing than anything else Kirby's had access to before. They're the typical powers found in previous Kirby games--fire, swords, etc.--but with the option of accessing super powered versions. There's even one that allowed Kirby to create his own personal wave and surf across the damn screen. Surf.
All told, while I'm thankful for what appears to be two new quality Kirby games, I can't help but be a little remorseful Kirby's Epic Yarn appears to have been a one-off when it comes to Kirby's console appearances. Kirby's lacked a strong visual identity in 3D, an issue Kirby's Epic Yarn solved by running in the opposite direction and embracing something different. It's not to say Kirby's Return to Dreamland looks bad, but "well, it looks like another Kirby game" is hardly a compliment, either.
Fortunately, "it looks like another Kirby game" also means it's probably gonna be a pretty good game.