Pun intended. Pun ALWAYS intended.
I remember defending Kirby's Return to Dreamland from the naysayers on Kotaku some months back. I had never played it but I figured that the game would be at least as good as Kirby 64, which had its faults but was still charming and retained a lot of the core design elements from typical Kirby platformers.
Return to Dreamland did not. Kirby plays like Kirby in the game... but the world he plays in is all wrong. The Kotaku review for the game reminded me of reviews I had read for other games that tried to use oldschool gameplay and nostalgia to sell copies. Final Fantasy: 4 Heroes of Light is one example.
Reviews for that game said it was great for fans of oldschool JRPGs from the Super NES era. The problem is... IT'S NOTHING LIKE AN SNES-ERA JRPG. The designs of SNES JRPGs improved on what was established during the NES era, especially the ones developed by Square. FF:4HoL ignores these improvements, goes back to the NES JRPG designs, and still fumbles. Why limit the number of items a character can carry when changing gear to prepare for a boss battle is so crucial? Only 15 items, including armor and spells? REALLY? You have to CONSTANTLY go back to a storage shop to change gear. And that's just one problem I have with the game but that's another discussion.
Going back to Kirby's Return to Dreamland, reading the Kotaku review again, I find these lines:
"Return to Dreamland is a playground for Kirby's oldest fans who will probably be delighted that this new game feels so much like some old favorites."
"Too much of this new game feels stock and standard."
But it's not quite like old favorites. It's not quite standard. The review does say that the level design is uninteresting but I think there's more to it than that. The game leaves out an important element you typically find in Kirby games: the need to go back to a level to find something you couldn't get before because you either overlooked it or didn't have the right powerup. This game, instead, provides a RAILROADED experience.
In a typical Kirby platformer, you go through a level, switching powerups like normal as you progress, but then you'll find a section of a level that's cut off because you simply don't have the sword to cut that rope or the hammer to pound that stake. Now, it's very possible you could've picked up some powerup earlier in the stage that would've let you cut that rope but you missed it and there's no enemy with the appropriate powerup in the immediate area you're in. But that's okay. You can come back and get it later. But it could also be the case that in the entire level, there is not a single enemy that can give you the hammer, or even the rock, ability. So you have to rack your brain to see if you can remember which level had such a powerup or keep your eyes open for the availability of that powerup in a later level.
There is NOTHING LIKE THAT in Kirby's Return to Dreamland. Every single secret in the game that requires a powerup has the enemy with that powerup nearby. Too scared to get close to that enemy to obtain that powerup? Don't worry, THERE'S USUALLY A POWERUP TROPHY NEARBY THAT YOU CAN TOUCH TO IMMEDIATELY RECEIVE THAT ABILITY. It's as if the game wants you to not only go through the level but obtain ALL the secrets on the way, all in one go so you never have to go through the level again. As a matter of fact, the game appears to PUNISH you for going through a level again if you missed something the first time. Once you're in, you're in to the end. You can't just leave a level once you've found the secret. No, you have to go through the entire level, no matter how long it is. And the levels in this game are LONG.
I cannot comprehend why they would change such an important element of Kirby platformers. I guess it was done for the multiplayer play. But then again, Kirby & the Amazing Mirror had multiplayer play and that game was... well, AMAZING.
Return to Dreamland isn't entirely awful. I thought the big powerup abilities were fun to use and they made for an exciting final boss battle. But overall, the game was a wasted opportunity. I wasn't even able to play as Meta Knight or King Dedede because that's reserved for multiplayer. Really? I can't play as these characters, not even as a New Game+ bonus? I would've played through the game a second time if I had the option of playing as just Meta Knight.
Also, the story is actually kind of weak. Yes, even for a Kirby game, it's weak. Meta Knight's motives are usually explained in Kirby games. In Return to Dreamland, why the heck does he join Kirby on his quest? They could've shown him being suspicious about this space traveler who asks Kirby for help. Maybe he joins Kirby to keep an eye on this guy.
I've been a huge fan of Kirby since Super Star. That's a heck of a Kirby game to start with. No Kirby game has managed to top it, unless you count the DS version of Super Star as a separate game. I hope Nintendo gets its act together for the next traditional Kirby platformer.
Note: I'm posting this on TAY to test the sharing option. I wanted to post it on my personal blog and then share it on TAY but I guess it doesn't work that way? Maybe because TAY is private or something? I wonder if sharing it on my personal blog will make the article public. Our personal blogs are public, aren't they? Not entirely sure of all of this, yet.