Thursday, 2 February 2012

"Kirby's Return To Dreamland" Review

by Alex Hill


What can I say? I just like Kirby games. I just like Kirby. I like how they're mostly simplistic and fuzzy-wuzzy, and then in the last act there's some unsettlingly morbid final boss that cries blood or something. I like any platformer that has the guts to include a side-scrolling shooter section in the 3rd-act, for no other reason than because the developer likes those and wanted to include one. It's like the opposite of those cursed vehicle segments in First Person Shooters.

And honestly, I like any game that has the guts to be cute. Could any other video game series get away with having a pink main character on the box?

I also like Kirby because when other franchise stagnate or refuse to budge outside of their comfort zones, this is the one that's willing to try something really bizarre. People would riot in the streets if they had to play an entire Zelda game where Link is made of yarn, or if he had to be moved around with the stylus due to the removal of his limbs, or having to co-ordinate 10 little Links to swarm bigger obstacles. These are all things that have happened, and the change of pace is pretty refreshing in the sea of brown cover-based shooters with iron-sights.

This one isn't such a sharp turn. It's a pretty straightforward "traditional" take on the series, sharing more in common with the early NES and Gameboy titles than those experimental installments I mentioned. But it's competently-made, offers some new powerups and mini-games to justify the price, and honestly? It's just fun. It's some of the only genuine entertainment I got out of the year. It is exactly what it set out to be.

I just wish those first few worlds weren't so easy. I'd heard troubling concerns from Joystiq's JC Fletcher that this may actually hurt the product more than it helps. A difficulty option at the start would have been nice. Maybe they could have removed Kirby's ability to fly forever, and simply allow him a few short "puffs" of flight(akin to his role in Smash Bros.). It is perhaps too convenient to be able to avoid all of the danger in his way.

I wish I could have determined if it were more of a challenge keeping track of multiple players, but I never got the chance to play it with friends. I imagine it was meant for more than one player, not unlike Donkey Kong Country Returns and New Super Mario Bros. Wii(and if we're reaching, the story mode of Smash Bros. Brawl). While it shares the same basic structure as those games, it is nowhere near as brutal. I suppose it makes sense that this series would be the gentlest of that flock, the entry to ease newer players into the concept. And it does start to take off the gloves in later stages, but again, the immediate option would have been nice. Or at least, to not have to play through Easy Mode before I can have access to a game with fangs.

I would also like to point out that while the game is clever about its level design, it's not much to look at. I don't mean there isn't a vibrant, colourful art-design, and I'm not saying it's ugly. I speak of the actual, physical layout of the stages. You occupy a very narrow rectangle with changes in elevation. That's the foreground. The background is usually some pretty backdrop image, but it always feels distant from you. Every Kirby game before this has left me with the feeling that, even though the option is rarely granted, it looks as if Kirby could step off the path and explore the world around him. This game has the unfortunate effect of looking like the denizens of Dreamland were filmed in front of a green screen.

But it has a soundtrack that pops with life, a familiar style of play that's still precise after all of these years, and enough extra challenges to bolster the replay value. And did I mention it's fun? Maybe it's no Skyrim, but 2011 was starved of experiences with this level of craftmanship. Hal Labs has hit their mark(and after an 11-year development cycle[!!!], it ought to). I'm satisfied.

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