One of the main reasons I don't believe in the "objective" video game review is that criticism of this sort can't avoid being informed by time-specific expectations.
Luigi's Mansion stands as the perfect example of this little dilemma. Sure, you can dig out an old copy today, play it, and have a great time, but back during its original release, reviews of Luigi's Mansion were largely framed by the expectations for a 2001 Nintendo launch game. Even though it's a fine little experiment, Luigi's Mansion committed the sin of not being a true follow-up to Super Mario 64, and faced the wrath of angry critics as a result.
But expectations don't necessarily have to be so extreme: As I pointed out in a recent episode of Retronauts Micro, one of the reviewers for 1999's Echo Night seemed baffled that a video game wouldn't offer any "cool weapons." One can only wonder what would happen if you transported this person into the future and sat them down in front of something like Gone Home.
I had a similar amount of baggage with 2011's Kirby's Return to Dream Land, though instead of having weighted expectations, I had zero expectations. As the last console generation finally petered out, I wanted nothing more than to get my hands on the Wii U, which I dutifully reserved as soon as I could. So another traditional Kirby game didn't give me many reasons to care, and at the time Return to Dream Land seemed like a lazy way for Nintendo to pad out their release schedule and stay in the black until their newest console's inevitable release.
So I filed any notion of playing Kirby's Return to Dream Land deep into my brain—though it must not have been buried too far, since something about this uncharted platformer piqued my interest when I saw it pop up on Nintendo's eShop (along with Kirby 64 and Kirby: Squeak Squad) last week. Back in 2011, I didn't think my life particularly needed a new Kirby platformer—a type of experience I assumed I was over—but, in 2015, something in me generated enough motivation to drop $19.99 on this mostly overlooked little game. And the fact that it occupied most of my weekend should tell you it was time well spent.
The worst thing you can say about Return to Dream Land is that it doesn't offer a whole lot of surprises: If you've played a Kirby game in the past, what's on display here won't shock you—though it is nice to see a traditional platformer like this dolled up in last-gen graphics. Kirby inhales things. Kirby spits things. Kirby transforms into other things. Kirby (sometimes) finds up to three hidden objects in a level. It's a breezy, not-too-difficult experience, but sometimes, that's all you want from a game. And the New Super Mario Bros.-inspired four-player co-op actually works a lot better here; since it's a generally slower game where each playable character can fly, it's much harder to screw over your co-op partners—even if that's your goal.
Honestly, there's not a whole lot to say about Kirby's Return to Dream Land, but this is a game that offers simplicity as one of its strongest features. And I'm sure that, like me, many of you out there missed it as well; if you're like any of my friends and peers, your Wii was likely tucked into a closet after getting those last few stars in Super Mario Galaxy 2. Thankfully, services like Virtual Console are doing much for games that suffered as a victim of circumstance, a category that Kirby's Return to Dream Land definitely belongs to. If you overlooked it three years ago, consider dropping $20 on this predictable but undeniably fun entry in the Kirby series.