Kirby's raining death on yee.
I don’t consider it a homecoming when I leave my apartment home to go downstairs and pick up the mail. I get no cause for celebration from returning to my humble abode after a grueling affair at the corner store. (Despite risking my life saying no to the kids asking me to buy them smokes.) Even traversing as far away as the distant land of downtown Toronto doesn’t quite warrant the fanfare Kirby seems to be getting with “Kirby’s Return to Dreamland.” I mean, Kirby didn’t really leave Dreamland in the first place. He took a jaunt to a land of strings and clothing patches, and even that trip led to Dreamland in the end anyways.
Writing this review is reaaaaaaaally making me want to play Kirby’s Epic Yarn again.
That game unintentionally challenged the notion of games being tests of wit and skill. You couldn’t die. There were no puzzles for which to test your intelligence and falling off a cliff merely penalized you with a frowny-faced Kirby. (Of which is a more guilt-ridden punishment than death itself.) No, that game’s success was in being so gosh-fucking-darned cute, and melodically-paced as to dispel all of life’s worries and put the player in a state of wholesome, drug-free bliss. If Kirby’s Epic Yarn was played in Arkham Asylum, crime in Gotham City would go down and the Riddler would be dispensing tongue twisters for all the kids. Instead of killing them with tongue twisters, I guess.
Kirby’s Return to Dreamland forgoes most of what made that former string-based lifeform of a game special and brings the puff-man back to his roots as a giant vacuum carnivore. We’re back to eating other life forms and snuffing their souls from existence in the name of absorbing their powers. But at least lessons were learned from Kirby’s …err…epic yarn of a tale. Namely that there is power in catharsis over difficulty. Sometimes, I don’t want a game where I get cornered by twenty armed guards speaking in Eastern European accents. Sometimes I just want to look at very cute things stab each other with spikes coming out of their adorable pores.
The main gameplay conceit of a typical Kirby game (one with carbon-based organisms instead of arts-and-crafts-based organisms) is that Kirby can suck up and spit out most enemy flesh. Or swallow and steal the potent superpowers from his adversaries. Part of the fun of those old-fashioned Kirby cannibalism games is discovering and experimenting with the various superpowers. All that is old is new again in Return to Dreamland, as each of the old powers have been given a handful of new tricks and toys for which to administer adorable assault.
Suddenly, every power becomes interesting. Old Kirby games had their share of “duds”. You know the ones I’m talking about. Electric Power. Spiky Power. The powers that involved you standing perfectly still and hoping Waddle Dee was Waddle Dumb enough to walk into you bioelectric field. (He usually was.) Well, here you can shake the remote to charge up and fire your electric field of doom. Or draw your spikes while dashing to transform into a rolling tire of spiky carnage, puncturing all in your path. This game is rated E for Everyone.
And then you climb the ladder from “Electric Kirby” and “Fire Kirby” to “Martial Arts Kirby” and “Indiana Kirby And the Temple of the Crystal Puff.” Constantly getting new powers, waylaying all that gets in your path, and being wooed by the cheerful background music. All the things Kirby does right, just now you can do it right with up to four people. Up to four co-habitants can hop in at any time and relieve themselves at the expense of poor Whispy Woods. (Of course you fight that, mopey giant tree again. Though you may be relieved to know he is the one major returning boss character. Sorry Kracko. Sorry…err…painter guy.)
Player 1 controls Kirby, and is the one for whom the screen and all in-level progress is centered around. So as long as player 1 is not a fool, the game will flow regardless of other players’ maturity/skill/grievance levels. The other players can control either different coloured Kirbys, (Kirbi?) Meta-Knight, King DeDeDe or a spear-toting Waddle Dee of Waddle Death. The latter three play like variations of Kirby with a spear, Kirby with a hammer and Kirby with a sword. Since they can’t absorb powers, I feel like playing as them is missing the point. (Unless the point is that you think a penguin in a king costume wielding an MF’in mallet is adorable, then by all means, rock that mallet.) So four players rocking four Kirbi seems to be to way to go. Also, worry not, this doesn’t have the horrible-human-being physics of New Super Mario Bros Wii. Characters don’t flubberishly bounce off each other and into bottomless pits, nor do they take every excuse to pick up and throw each other as if Mario and Luigi were magnetically attracted to spikes. No, here, four players can co-exist and co-operate peacefully. In fact, players can share health by way of embracing in hugs. It’s that kind of game.
And really, a Kirby game is all, all about the loving. In spite of all of my murderous wordplay, Kirby only wants to do is lend a hand. The plot of the game, or what little plot there is, involves Kirby helping a shipwrecked extra-terrestrial rebuild his ship because dagnabbit, Kirby is all about doing the right thing. Along the way, he’s going to dig up collectable items to unlock mini games and challenge rooms, including a surprise Super Scope reference, because Super Scope references are also the right thing to do.
Maybe the right thing to do is also to play Kirby’s Return to Dreamland. This is a game that figures out how to make that classic style of Kirbying fun to do. Then it gives you a chance to get three other people around to join you as a way of apologizing for making them play New Super Mario Bros Wii as a group. It has a certain charming aethestic and vibe that encourages you to kick back and turn puffy enemies into dust clouds. This is an ideal game to relax to, play in quick bursts between trips to the corner store and dramatic returns to your real life dreamland. And maybe get your younger siblings or drug-addled friends to join in with you. We’re all kind of sick of Wii Sports anyways.