Mario is the most versatile character in the Nintendo oeuvre, but Kirby has to be a close second. Though the pink puffball may not spend his free time go-karting or playing tennis, his catalog includes a ton of experimental games and art styles that stretch the limits of what a Kirby game can be. Kirby's Return to Dream Land Deluxe, a remastered version of the 2011 Wii game for Nintendo Switch, is in most ways a very traditional Kirby platformer. But its playful spirit, approachability, and a sizable new epilogue campaign make it much more than a retread.
The main story component of Return to Dream Land is a colorful romp as you restore the parts of an alien ship, set to a joyful and buoyant soundtrack. The adorably bulbous alien Magolor crash-lands on Planet Popstar and seeks help from Kirby and his friends. Those allies are a major component this time, because Dream Land features drop-in co-op for up to four players. You can include any number of multicolored Kirbys in your ranks, but you can also bring along other familiar faces: Meta Knight, Bandana Waddle Dee, and King Dedede. Each has their own move set--Meta Knight is more agile than the weighty Dedede, for example--but only Kirby has the signature Copy ability to swallow enemies.
Kirby's combat isn't simplistic, but it is forgiving. There's a ton of contextual moves you can do with each Copy ability, which means you can pull off impressive juggles. But the enemies aren't much of a threat, so you don't really need to master the combat. It's a different approach from some other Nintendo franchises, which use simple move sets to pull off an increasingly difficult array of challenges. This one seems more aimed at letting players meet it wherever they are.
Within this simple framework, Return to Dream Land is especially adept at mixing different types of challenges for a steady pace of delightful surprise. You'll often find glowing enemies that grant a special Ultra version of your Copy abilities, with screen-filling effects. Holding onto these for a while will usually open a hidden path or grant you a special item, making it extra worthwhile to play with their over-the-top effects. The variety is especially on display when it comes to the occasional reference to other games, like a power-up that emulates Kuribo's Shoe from Mario, or a stage that treats blast barrels like a stage from Donkey Kong Country.
The cast of characters and array of Copy abilities, along with homages to classic bosses like Whispy Woods, make this feel like a greatest hits collection. But it does include a pair of new Copy abilities that longtime fans in particular are sure to appreciate. The Sand ability is a cute new addition--giving Kirby a headdress that looks like a waving sandstorm and replacing his main attack with swiping a wave of sand at your enemies--but it's fairly similar to other existing Copy abilities. That makes the other new ability, the Mecha suit, the real standout. When gobbling up robotic enemies, Kirby gets a power suit akin to a Gundam, and his suite of abilities ranges from a long-range laser to arcing rockets. I grabbed a Mecha ability whenever I had the option, because it's just so versatile and fun to play.
This all might make Return to Dream Land sound like a cakewalk, but it would be more accurate to say that it ramps up to a comfortable difficulty. Even during its hardest stages, I would only die once or twice, which made the overall experience breezy rather than frustrating. That should make it ideal for younger players looking for a gentle on-ramp to Nintendo's expertise in platforming craftsmanship. The co-op play also means more experienced players or parents can help guide younger players along, but for solo play, Return to Dream Land Deluxe features a new Helper Magolor feature. If you turn it on, you'll get a handful of helpful assists: double stamina, immunity from falling deaths, and a toggled-on option that automatically activates Kirby's Copy forms instead of needing to trigger them manually. All of this has the net effect of making a relatively easy game even easier, but it's a nice set of training wheels for those who need them.
After you've finished the main story, an Extra mode opens up that presents more challenging versions of the same stages. It's a nice touch, but it would have been better to offer the option from the beginning, rather than force more experienced players to go through the story once just to earn the ability to do it again, but harder.
The much more significant post-story addition, new to this Deluxe version, is an epilogue story starring a disheveled Magolor as a playable character. What sets Magolor apart from the rest of the Kirby characters is his wide array of magical abilities, each of which has extensive upgrades. These newly crafted stages let you gather upgrade points to make him stronger, and there's a real sense of progression as you discover new abilities and then juice them up.
Since the stages are custom-built for Magolor, they feel like a real test of his own unique movement and skills, and special challenge stages are locked to having upgraded your abilities to certain skill levels so that you can conquer them. To my surprise, the final boss was a tough challenge that forced me to go back and earn more upgrades. The new stages also make use of visual flourishes that I didn't notice in the main game, like a rainfall effect.
Playing as Magolor feels very distinct from the rest of the Kirby characters, but satisfying in its own way. His floating ability makes him very agile, and since he has access to his spells all the time, he's very capable in combat without needing to find a Copy ability first. My one gripe was with his dash attack, which was mapped onto the standard attack button when combined with running, so it would often trigger when I didn't mean it to.
Rounding out the package is Merry Magoland, a carnival-like attraction with Magolor as its ringmaster, letting you take part in an array of minigames from across Kirby history along with two new additions. Playing them earns you stamps that fill up punch cards for masks of familiar Kirby characters, which you can then wear into the regular platformer stages. Plus, progressing through challenges in the minigames helps fill out the carnival setting with statues and other decorative elements.
This is the clearest remnant of Return to Dream Land's origins on the Wii, right down to Wii Remote functionality that has been mapped onto the Switch Joy-Cons. These games are fine, but only that. There are a couple of standouts in the bunch, like Checkerboard Chase and Booming Blasters, but just as many duds. Most of them are so short that it doesn't feel inviting to go through the menus to play just once, but they're also not engaging enough to play repeatedly. There is a Magoland Tour feature that randomly mixes four minigames together, but there's no way to pick a mix or to sort them by theme (like motion-controlled games), so it never quite comes together. Merry Magoland is so-so as a distraction, and may appeal to younger audiences, but it's certainly not the main attraction.
Fortunately, though, that main attraction is delightful. Kirby's Return to Dream Land Deluxe feels like a very complete package thanks to a remastered platformer campaign, substantial new Magolor epilogue, and smart new additions like the Mecha ability and Helper Magolor mode. It might be a little simple for some tastes, but it's grand fun to get lost in such a sweet little adventure regardless.