With its Deluxe additions, Kirby’s Return to Dream Land might be Kirby’s 2D best.
Kirby’s Return to Dream Land comes to Switch in a much different time than when it debuted on Wii. Originally launching in 2011, the Wii release was Kirby’s first non-yarn mainline foray into home consoles in a decade. Return to Dream Land Deluxe, on the other hand, comes on the heels of Kirby’s biggest hit of all time with 2022’s Kirby and the Forgotten Land. To level set, this is not the bold 3D reinvention of the Kirby formula that Forgotten Land was. Return to Dream Land Deluxe is simply the peak form of Kirby’s side-scrolling 2D adventures, retaining the quality and charm of the original Wii adventure while adding improved co-op, enjoyable party games, and an interesting epilogue.
The main game sees Kirby and friends come across a lost traveler named Magolor who has crash landed in Dream Land. The driving force is to help Magolor repair his ship so he can return home, along the way coming across both new and familiar Kirby foes. As per Kirby tradition, the story is breezy until a wild finale. It’s not quite at the level of Forgotten Land or Planet Robobot’s endings, but it’s satisfying and Magolor makes for one of the more memorable companions in Kirby games. The newly added epilogue (only available after you beat the main game) stars Magolor, adding a little bit more to the story while also providing a slightly new way to play new levels. Magolor initially starts off relatively powerless and as you progress, you can unlock more abilities. He winds up roughly controlling like Kirby, but it’s still a novel enough hook to make the epilogue well worth playing. Everything is playable in full co-op with elegant drop-in/drop-out.
I was struck by how much of the original game was tweaked as it was brought to Switch. Two new abilities, the world-dominating Mecha and the Leaf-like Sand, are the clearest examples, but there are a variety of subtle tweaks. Some copy abilities feature upgraded moves that first debuted in later games. Level layouts are largely the same but the placement of enemies and items is slightly tweaked. Best of all, unlike in the Wii original, four players can all play as Kirby in co-op. This was a bummer in the original because Kirby is the only one who can wield copy abilities and on Wii, the three other co-op players could only be Meta Knight, King Dedede, or Bandana Waddle Dee. You can still play as Kirby’s friends, but it’s much more fulfilling to have a full team of Kirbys. The excellent challenge stages, unlocked by collecting optional gears throughout levels, are still present, including two new main ones for Mecha and Sand.
Another sizable new addition to the Switch release is Merry Magoland, an alternate dimension theme park where one to four players can party up and compete in 10 different sub-games. The list of games pulls from the whole series along with some new ones, and while they might not be as deep as some sub-games in past games, the collection is fun and varied, especially with four players. It also consistently rewards you just for playing, letting you slowly unlock masks of other characters throughout the series that can be worn throughout all modes. The stand-out sub-games in my time were Booming Blasters, a brand new game that is a quick and intense top-down combative game, and the Kirby 64 sub-game Checkerboard Chase, which is frenetic and strategic. The depth here isn’t immense, but the whole mode is an excellent side dish to a delectable main course.
The visual upgrade is excellent, taking a standard-definition Wii game and making it sing on the Switch. Honestly if I didn’t know this was originally a Wii game, I’d just assume it was a brand new Kirby game. The difficulty is in line with most in the series, as it is initially very easy with the highest challenge coming from post-game modes. I did play through the majority of this with my 4-year-old and he consistently had an absolute blast playing through the game, kicking between the main game, the sub-games, and the challenge levels. Not everything was easy for him, but the new addition of the helper mode, where you get double health and Magolor saves you from falling into pits, made it so he was able to romp through the game.
I played Kirby’s Return to Dream Land on Wii at launch and over the years, it’s never been a high-ranking game on my personal list of Kirby games. After playing through it on Switch, that’s changed, though partially because of the smart updates and changes made in the new version. Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe is the best 2D Kirby I’ve ever played, combining a lot of the side-scrolling entries' best elements into a heck of a total package that works as both a single-player adventure and a delightful co-op journey.