Kirby's Return to Dream Land multiplayer hands-on

With its official title finally announced, Kirby's Return to Dream Land firmly positions itself as a throwback to classic Kirby of yore. We've loved Kirby's more experimental forays like Canvas Curse and Epic Yarn, but the time seems right to finally bring a more traditional Kirby to Wii. And if you didn't think Kirby was adorable before, it's getting even tougher to deny it now.

Like New Super Mario Bros, a major part of the update to classic Kirby revolves around the addition of multiplayer. Up to four players can play at a time, with drop-in/drop-out fully supported at any time. Player one must play as Kirby, but any additional players can choose among Kirby, Dedede, Waddle Dee or Meta Knight as playable characters. If everyone wants to play as Kirby, that's fine too – since Kirby is the only character with the ability to absorb and copy enemy powers, it makes sense that most people will primarily want to play as Kirby.

Four players make quicker work of enemies, of course, but Dream Land also works in some opportunities for teamwork and light puzzle solving. Energy gear collectibles are scattered throughout each level that Kirby and friends must collect to rebuild the Lor Starcutter, a spaceship that has woefully crashed on Dream Land. In exchange for Kirby's kindness in helping the stranded aliens, collecting gears also unlocks various extras and goodies within the Lor Starcutter itself, which also doubles as a homebase for Kirby on the world map. Some of the gears are easy to grab, while others require a little more thought, skill and coordination to snag.

Above: Kirby, please don't make Whispy Woods cry again. What kind of monster would destroy a tree with heart-shaped leaves?

Sharing the same screen with four other players is bound to be a bit hectic, but we found it to be manageable during the four levels we played in our demo. Despite the novelty of playing as Dedede, Waddle Dee or Meta Knight, we eventually switched over to play as Kirby. Each of these frenemies has his own cool weapon – Dedede's hammer, Waddle Dee's spear and Meta Knight's sword – but nothing beats the versatility of Kirby's copy ability. Plus, with so many Waddle Dee enemies in some of the levels, it got a little confusing at times keeping track of which Waddle Dee was on our side. Luckily, you can't accidentally hurt your friends, so you don't have to worry about friendly fire.

Friendly hugs, on the other hand, are totally allowed. When someone grabs an HP-healing item like a tomato, that player can share the HP with another player by approaching and giving him an adorable hug. We couldn't help but giggle when another player very sincerely yelled "I need a hug!" when he was running low on HP. As we mentioned in our earlier preview, the detailed animations really shine in Return to Dream Land, and watching Kirbies join in mid-air embrace was certainly – *puts sunglasses on* – aww-inspiring.

Above: Some of Kirby's copy abilities have super versions

For those of us lacking in friends IRL (*cries softly behind sunglasses*), fear not – Dream Land can be played like a regular single-player Kirby game too. To further distract you from your loneliness, there's also a challenge room, accessible via the Lor Starcutter, where solo players can hone their skills with Kirby's various abilities and earn medals for meeting each challenge's goals.

With Kirby's Return to Dream Land releasing on Wii so close to the release of Kirby Mass Attack on DS, it looks like Nintendo and long-time Kirby developers HAL are hoping to show that Kirby excels in both old and new. Look for our full review when Kirby's Return to Dream Land releases October 24.

Aug 24, 2011

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