Nintendo's popular pink protagonist has been on some wild rides of late. Journeying into lush yarn-filled worlds and splitting into a tiny horde of cute little ankle biters have offered some neat new ways to hang with Kirby and his pals. But after spending the past few games shaking up the status quo with off-the-wall concepts, HAL Laboratory returns to the series' roots with Kirby's Return to Dreamland. While innovation has pushed the series forward in interesting ways, the return to basics is no bad thing. New screen-annihilating super abilities and bubbly multiplayer co-op liven up this ever-charming romp through Kirby's old stomping grounds. This is classic Kirby with a few minor twists.
The adventure picks up with Kirby and his cohorts being interrupted mid-snack by an alien ship falling out the sky and crashing into Dreamland. Pieces of the craft break apart and scatter across the realm, leaving the friendly alien traveler in need of a helping hand to gather his missing components so he can return home. Kirby is more than eager to take on the task, but he's not alone this time. Mischief makers King Dedede, Meta Knight, and Waddle Dee are available for recruitment too. Each has his own weaponry and play style. Grabbing couch mates to join in with local co-op adds a little depth to the jubilant experience. Extra players can drop in or out of the game at almost any time, and co-op specific elements like sharing health power-ups and piggybacking together to unleash team attacks make playing with friends a lot of fun.
Regardless of how you choose to take them on, each of Dreamland's themed worlds holds a handful of beautifully designed stages filled with colorful environments that are loaded with playful personality. There's a good level of variety from one area to the next, and despite the fact that you travel familiar terrain, the obstacles change up at a steady pace to keep things from getting stale. Secret areas and branching paths also frequently appear, giving ample incentive to revisit stages to grab all the loot. Aside from the main ship parts you must track down, there are tons of gears tucked away in the nooks and crannies of each area. Grabbing these hard-to-acquire items unlocks special stages, minigames, and bonus content to explore on the downed spacecraft. Item-specific challenges test your abilities with the game's various powers in timed runs through obstacle courses. Other unlockable minigames, like Scope Shot, Ninja Dojo, and The Arena, also offer some light diversions for solo or competitive play. There's a lot of ground to cover and a good amount of replay packed into this adventure.
Gallivanting about the foodie-themed landscape as you gobble up goodies, whomp enemies, and hunt for collectibles delivers the same flavor of easy-to-pick-up platforming that made the original Dreamland such a standout game. Kirby's trademark ability-copying power remains intact this time around, and holding the Wii Remote sideways, you run, jump, float, and dispatch foes as you go. The usual cast of ability-yielding edible foes returns alongside newcomers that give the loveable pink puff some cool items like an Indiana Jones whip and a Mega Man-style leaf shield. Kirby has a few new tricks up his sleeve too. There's a new super inhale power that lets him gobble down hulking foes or large numbers of blocks by shaking the Wii Remote.
Once Kirby has gorged on enough baddies to turn into a rotund bulging mass, he can spew the whole shebang out as large shiny projectiles that are capable of plowing through multiple obstacles. His new super abilities are even more amusing and are picked up by inhaling special glowing foes. Once consumed, you can use these absurdly devastating powers to destroy every enemy in sight and thrash the environment to bits. It's amusing to see a tiny Kirby swinging around a sword that takes up the entire screen, even if these super abilities have a limited use and are only found in specific stages.
For those who've grown accustomed to the numerous creative surprises woven into Kirby's past few outings, Return to Dreamland's old-school-oriented approach may not be as dazzling as Kirby's Epic Yarn or Kirby Mass Attack. It makes up for this with tight gameplay that is as absorbing as it is adorable. The addition of seamless multiplayer does bring something fresh to the table, and Kirby's handful of new abilities add an extra touch of comedy and silliness to the mix. You won't find much trailblazing action here, and the challenge is a light one for most of the way until you unlock the tougher game mode by completing the story. Still, there's enough charm on tap to satisfy diehard Kirby fans and younger players.