Pop-Eds: Kirby's Return to Dream Land Deluxe Looks Fantastic—But It's Missing Key Online Features
Hi everyone. My name is Sean, and it’s a pleasure to be a new writer here at Kirby Informer. I’ve spent most of my career as a theater journalist, but I also cover video games, and I suppose it was inevitable that I would one day find myself on the beat of my favorite character, Kirby. I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you all in our Pop-Eds column and contributing to the site in other ways, too!
So, let’s talk about Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe. While I loved the original when I first played it in 2011 (and yes, seeing a game I enjoyed in college now eligible for a remake is making me feel old), I wasn’t sure how eager I would be to play through it all again. If I wanted to go back to Return to Dream Land, I still have the original. But as I started the demo and watched the opening cutscene again, utterly charmed and disarmed with a huge smile on my face, I realized this was a story I couldn’t wait to revisit. The updated graphics, with their thick outlines and painterly aesthetic, suit the game well. And Kirby’s brief doubletake to the cake he dropped while watching the Lor Starcutter careen through the sky is comic gold. It doesn’t sound funny on paper, but it’s animated with such perfect comedic timing I laugh out loud just thinking about it.
Magolor is my favorite of Kirby’s side characters, and after playing through the few levels available in the demo, I am so ready to help him put his ship back together again. And all the additional content, from the impressively robust minigame collection to the new epilogue Magolor gets all to himself, are showing me that Nintendo and HAL Laboratory have really gone all-in on making this, not just a remaster with a new coat of paint, but a game that builds on an already solid foundation to create something truly special.
There is, however, one glaring thing missing.
For a game so focused on multiplayer options, why are the online features so limited? From what they’ve announced so far, you can hear “global fun facts” about others’ play history and compete against high scores in the Samurai Kirby minigame. And… that’s it.
When Return to Dream Land was first released, its four-player co-op was one of its signature hooks. Back then, players still hadn’t had that many opportunities to play as King Dedede, Meta Knight, or Bandana Waddle Dee, and having them accompany Kirby on his journey was a unique multiplayer experience. For the remake, Return to Dream Land has doubled down even further on ways to play with a group, bringing qualify-of-life enhancements to the story mode and adding an entire theme park of multiplayer attractions.
It’s a game that seems perfectly tailored for online gatherings and confining it all to local play severely limits its potential.
Sure, if I want to try these modes with others, it’s not a big hurdle to play with nearby friends and family in person. Some of the best multiplayer experiences are those we share with others in the same physical space. But most of the time when I’m playing games with others, it’s online. Most of my friends are busy thirtysomethings, and they live all over the country. While we can’t always get together under the same roof, often we can at least take an hour or two on the weekend to play something together. Return to Dream Land could’ve been great to slot in alongside rounds of Mario Kart or Mario Party, Street Fighter or Smash Bros. And when not playing with people I know, it would’ve been fun to have more options to team up or compete against other players around the world.
Making this lack of online play even stranger is the fact that Kirby’s offshoot titles beyond the mainline series have been including online multiplayer for years now. Super Kirby Clash Deluxe, Kirby Fighters 2, Kirby’s Dream Buffet—these are games with clearly smaller budgets that can all be enjoyed with others online. The first Kirby game with online matchmaking was actually 2018’s Kirby Battle Royale, a 3DS minigame collection that was hardly a major Kirby release.
Not giving Return to Dream Land Deluxe the same functionality of these smaller games is an odd choice. On top of that, many of Kirby’s older titles have also retroactively been given online support through the Nintendo Switch Online’s classic libraries. This leads to some bizarre situations. You can, for example, now play the Checkerboard Chase minigame from Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards in its original version with others online, but you can’t play the updated version of the same minigame online when it reappears as one of the offerings in Return to Dream Land Deluxe 23 years later. Why?
Now, I realize that implementing online features would require more work, more development time, and potentially less of the other new content Return to Dream Land Deluxe has added. Apparently, when weighing their options, HAL chose to focus on other things, and it’s obviously not a major loss.
Perhaps if the game is a success, we’ll see online play added in the future. (Nintendo is no stranger to idiosyncratic online decisions. 2018’s Super Mario Party, shockingly, didn’t get full online multiplayer until 2021.) Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe is looking like a fantastic game, and this one quibble aside, it’s clear HAL has gone the extra mile on it. I can’t wait to dive in for the solo experience, and maybe I’ll recruit a few friends for some local Kirby co-op along the way.
Still, if you were hoping to be able to play it with the same multiplayer potential as most other recent Kirby games, it looks like you’re out of luck. As Magolor says in the demo, “That feature is not available…apologies, my dude.”
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