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.
Multiplayer co-op is a cool addition.
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.