“Kirby is the best game of all time,” I repeat all weekend, hypnotized by Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe Nintendo Switch remake, convinced it was a shimmering portal into a better life. The remake—released on February 24—is a brighter, but mostly exact, copy of the 2011 Wii game Kirby’s Return to Dreamland, and while its kid-friendly levels and bosses won’t make it the most challenging game you’ve ever played (and likely not the literal “best”), it is a Pepto Bismol-colored delicacy, a rare master of the balance between entertaining gameplay and hysterical cuteness.
The story doesn’t appeal to me much as someone who has now long since graduated third grade, but it’s enough to form an uncomplicated sense of purpose: adorable Hoover vac Kirby (and up to three of his friends with co-op) traverse his Planet Popstar to recover scattered pieces of antagonist Magolor’s interdimensional spacecraft. I wander through four of the game’s eight themed levels, all with up to six stages and their own fairly undemanding boss battles, in pursuit of this goal, inhaling all kinds of tubby enemies and absorbing their magic powers.
Those magic “Copy Abilities” are one of the main changes in this version of Dream Land, which debuts two new Abilities in the Kirby franchise: Sand, which gives Kirby a rippling crown of sand and waves of it to kick at enemies (even in the form of a sandcastle attack), and Mecha, which makes Kirby look like he’s in Transformers with jetpacks and bread loaf-thick square fists. The Festival ability, a single-use dance…attack? that turns enemies into collectible stars from 2018 Switch game Kirby Star Allies, makes an appearance, too.
Dream Land Deluxe also adds a co-op epilogue where you play as Magolor, a mega-easy setting where Magolor acts, essentially, as the bumpers to Kirby’s bowling alley, tossing him health items and making sure he doesn’t fall and die, and an amusement park with 10 mini-games called Merry Magoland. Some of the games, like Ninja Dojo, where you and, again, up to three friends, throw shurikens at moving targets and try to get a bullseye, return from the original, and can also be unlocked from Magolor’s spacecraft, Lor Starcutter, like in the original. Other games, including Egg Catcher, are from older titles like the 1993 NES game Kirby’s Adventure.
I found Egg Catcher to be emblematic of everything I liked so much about Dream Land Deluxe. It’s joyful. It takes the same basic Kirby’s Adventure premise—help your character (with co-op, you can choose to play as Kirby, King Dedede, Meta Knight, or Bandana Waddle Dee) gobble as many whole eggs as possible while avoiding bombs being launched at the same time. Seeing Kirby open his mouth so dedicatedly wide for an egg surge made me laugh so hard I actually cried—it was so stupid, so straightforward, and charming.
That’s what I appreciate about Dream Land Deluxe. While I think Bloodborne is the actual, unironic best game of all time, and generally want the games I play to be difficult, and ideally, filled with gore, I also have a predilection for terrifyingly twee vintage toys like Kewpie babies and Monchhichi. The duality of man, as they say.
With its refreshed, luminous graphics and consistently chubby character style, Dream Land Deluxe fills my sweet spot for uncanny, excessive cuteness. Collecting stars and power-ups give Kirby extra lives (I earned over 20 in my playtime) and make you feel well-padded, so that occasional bumps into enemies like Bouncy Sis (half a Kirby on a jumping spring, with a big red bow on its head) while the always chomping Barbar eel (which will hold Kirby captive in its mouth until you wriggle the left stick) makes you feel like rocks on the walk through cherry blossom trees. Minor interruptions on a meditative path through something sentimental.
The game’s platformer levels offer a bit of challenge in the form of collectible Energy Spheres, glowing silver gears that can be used to unlock those mini-games in Lor Starcutter, as well as Copy Ability Rooms where you can practice using an Ability and equip it ahead of starting your next level, and timed Copy Ability Challenge stages.
Energy Spheres are hidden like missing keys throughout otherwise clear-cut level designs, kept behind impenetrable steel blocks or found along unfriendly-looking pathways. They typically require a bit of puzzle-solving to get—sometimes they’re held captive by Jack-o’-lantern-looking mini-bosses, Sphere Doomers, which you can find by entering optional tears in the universe. Power-ups that grant Kirby an instant extra life are, similarly to Energy Spheres, also embedded in bonus areas or tucked away in a level’s hard-to-reach spots.
Both the Sphere Doomers and true bosses, including franchise mainstay Whispy Woods and unfortunately still turban-wearing Mr. Dooter from the original Dream Land, are painless to beat, demanding consecutive hits for only a minute or two before they start to huff and fall over. Regular level enemies, which are speedier and more mobile than bosses, are better at inflicting accidental damage, but the health or ability-boosting foods strewn throughout a level, things like donuts, tomatoes, and spicy curry, soothe damage quickly. They also let you share a tangible smooch with your co-op pals, which I appreciated while playing Dream Land with my boyfriend.
Thematic tweaks to level layout, like the bubbling currents in Onion Ocean that sweep Kirby away quickly, forcing you to quickly choose a pathway, help prevent this effortless, instant-gratification game from becoming boring. Super Abilities, like Ultra Sword, which lets you machete swaths of enemies so hard they appear to splat and crack your Switch screen, also add pacing and visual variation, and they made me giggle like a baby with a large rattle.
Like a rattle, Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe has goofy sprezzatura. It’s like choosing a Hello Kitty-shaped backpack when a normal one would work fine, maybe better. It’s an aesthetic decision. It’s a choice to be giddily brainless, and in other words, it is very much a game for children. But I don’t give a fuck. I like being delighted, too—it’s much better than doing taxes.