Next-Gen Gamers is a feature where I explore the world of gaming through the eyes of my kids – literally the next generation of gamers, raised in a house that promotes playing together and sharing our time! It’ll look at games that appeal to kids more than adults, as well as those that are great for both, either through cooperative play or controller sharing.
I introduced my son at a pretty young age to Kirby as a character, through the old-school NES Kirby’s Adventure which I’d purchased out of personal nostalgia for the Wii Virtual Console. It was a bit tough for his age at the time, but he liked playing with me, so when I found Kirby’s Return to Dreamland for the Wii. it was a no-brainer pickup. Again, some personal nostalgia here, but I was also very happy for something that’d make a beloved character from my gaming childhood more accessible to the kid, and the simultaneous multiplayer was a huge draw because he loves more than anything to be able to play with us in coop action.
Early on, the young one was dead set on taking on the first player role, and trying to control action. I’d tag along, switching between the other available characters as I felt appropriate, but mostly playing as Meta Knight because, well, he’s freakin’ META KNIGHT and that owns. As we went on, though, he got the grasp that second-player death cost a life, but first-player death ended the play — so, soon enough, we swapped roles, and he too took a liking to Meta Knight over the other offerings of King Dedede and Waddle-Dee — enough so that it wasn’t terribly long before he became the proud owner of a Meta Knight plush, which is also pretty sweet, you guys. Pretty. Sweet.
The game was pretty simple through most of the story, but there’s enough draw in bonus games and other goodies that the boy and I found ourselves doing something I almost never do – going back through levels to find all the hidden objects (in this case, gears). The final few chapters and boss fights were certainly challenging for us too, which he really seemed to enjoy. After we completed the game, however, is when the real challenge to ourselves began. Kirby’s Return to Dreamland features a higher difficulty, unlocked by completing the game, that sets you against mostly the same levels, but with notable changes. Enemies are often different, and universally stronger. Player maximum health is roughly halved. Hidden gears are relocated to new, harder-to-reach locations.
We pitted ourselves against this new challenge with gusto, blazing through at least half of the game despite the new rules. Quite a few of the beefed-up bosses put us through the ringer more than once, but working together, we eventually beat them, one by one, to reach the final chapter. Here, we struggled openly. He’d drop out often as things became too tough for him, and – though I had troubles getting past some points on my own – we finally reached the ultimate challenge: the final boss fight of the game, with all the trappings of the higher difficulty to keep us down.
I think we replayed the final fight — which actually consists of three or four boss fights in a row — for something like three days, making several attempts each day. Each time, we’d push a little further, get a little bit closer, but ultimately succumb to the fact that our lower maximum health was just not enough for us to get through it. We kept at it in some grim mix of determination and sheer inability to accept failure, and on the third day, we broke through – we won the final fight (by some shred of health), and completed, together, the hard mode of the game.
It was a moment of triumph and jubilation, and I’m pretty sure we jumped around the house together, dancing and yelling and celebrating our victory. We’ve picked the game up several times since, plugging through some of the lower levels and collecting items we’d missed on the first go-round, generally doing anything that didn’t involve the higher-difficulty version of the final boss fights. I’ve even caught the kid picking up the old Kirby’s Adventure a few times since then, and getting better at it because he’s more willing to just keep trying and trying until he gets through. All in all, even though we were pretty frustrated together at the end, Kirby’s Return to Dreamland turned out to be a pivotal piece in securing his love of the character and of good, old-fashioned side-scrolling adventure.