Alright, I'll admit it. Underneath my grim and rough exterior, beyond my love for sci-fi shooters and action titles, from time to time I like to play a good-natured, brightly colored platformer featuring a lovable Nintendo character. Kirby's Return to Dream Land, featuring everyone's favorite pink ball of friendless, is the latest Wii game that offers such an exciting adventure. Is it filled with intrigue, life lessons and lots of collectible stars and power-ups? Well, mostly.
Kirby's Return to Dream Land starts out as Kirby, hanging out with his friends, witnesses a strange magical rift open up in the sky overhead. Suddenly a flying ship comes crashing down into Kirby's neighborhood, and, upon further investigation, Kirby and company meet Magalor, an alien in dire need of Kirby's help repairing his starcutter, the Lor, in order to return to his home dimension.
Thus begins Kirby's quest across the world of Pop Star to recover the five pieces of the Lor while dashing, jumping, floating and swimming his way through the game's various worlds. Return to Dream Land has the usual standard assortment of platformer environments, like an ice world, a forest world, and a water/beach world, but they're all very richly detailed and have a good mix of combat and jumping puzzles. Your enemies are legion with tons of lizards, birds, eye-ball creatures, swordsmen and robots standing in your way.
Thankfully, Kirby's trademark "Copy" ability makes a big comeback in Return to Dream Land, and it's probably one of the better parts of the game. Inhaling and swallowing an enemy instead of spitting it back out as a starry projectile of death sometimes grants Kirby a special set of abilities. Eating up a dragon lets Kirby breathe fire, or on the flip side, inhale a snowman and Kirby will be able to breathe ice. There are a bunch of humorous references in the copy abilities also; you'll turn into a Kirby-version of Link from The Legend of Zelda, complete with spin attack if you inhale a swordsman, and a punching-type enemy turns Kirby into a martial artist whose moves I'm pretty sure are inspired a little by Street Fighter. It's fun figuring out what each of the copy abilities can do and how best to use them in combat (some are much more useful than others), and in a few stages they're essential for getting over some of the environmental puzzles. The "water" copy ability lets Kirby destroy lava blocks that might be hiding an extra life or an Energy Sphere from view, as an example.
Occasionally you'll also come across special enemies that give you super-sized versions of the copy abilities, which more or less let you rampage across the level, destroying everything and everyone in your path. I was definitely not expecting anything of this magnitude, and I was laughing hard the first time Kirby pulled out a giant cleaver and promptly carved his way through a half-dozen enemies and the hillside behind them. These sequences don't happen enough to break up some of the monotony in other parts of the game, but they're definitely a highlight.
There are also several optional "void" levels hidden in the game, which usually appear after using a super-copy ability to wreck some important-looking part of the environment. These void levels pit you in a race against time as you scramble through a monochrome world while a giant purple wall of nothingness erases the level behind you. The end of each void level has a fight against a Sphere Doomer, a giant red or grey bird thing that flickers around the screen throwing energy blasts around. These stages are an interesting break from the bright, color-filled levels in the rest of the game, but getting through them and beating the Doomer guarding the exit can feel like a chore.