An essential Kirby game and a superb platformer.

Our puffball hero returns to the Game Boy with strength. And hardly any context. Once you start the game, you’re on the title screen, you’re selecting a file, and you’re into it. Hal Laboratories cut out the plot establishment and throws you into the action instead. If feels like they were anxious for you to play. I don’t blame them. Kirby’s Dream Land 2 trims the fat from Kirby’s Adventure like a smartly edited movie. It’s confident, focused, and way better than Kirby’s Adventure.

It starts with the overworld. It’s back but minigames are gone. It exists for one purpose: backtracking. During levels, secrets pop at you before you realize you passed one. You’ll be strolling, destroying enemies, floating leisurely through the air, and you’ll open a pathway and throw up your arms realizing you closed off another path to three 1up’s. You feel disappointed because you missed it but it fuels you to immediately retry the level or make a mental bookmark to come back later. But besides finding secrets, HAL adds purpose and importance to the overworld with Rainbow Drops. These glittery items are hidden throughout Dream Land’s seven worlds but they are gated by specific copy abilities. We’ll get to those later. Most require advanced planning in order to nab them. You won’t know which ability you’ll need to collect until you’ve been in the room. That’s why the ability to easily jump from level to level and world to world is a treasure.

As mentioned, copy abilities return but Hal cut a lot of them. Abilities felt superfluous in Kirby’s Adventure but Kirby’s Dream Land 2 finds harmony in the amount and need. You won’t feel as overwhelmed which helps reduce the amount of moment-to-moment anxiety when faced with multiple options. You also won’t like all the abilities and it may take away the fun of figuring out what they do but Kirby’s Dream Land 2 is still dedicated to exciting you through discovery of abilities.

How? Animal friends! Meet Rick the Hamster, Coo the Owl, and Kine the Fish. Where did they come from? It doesn’t matter. They’re awesome. They’re fun to use and they change the way abilities work. Kirby with the flame ability shoots forward like a shooting star. But while he’s riding Rick, Rick shoots a flurry of fireballs from his mouth. With Coo, Kirby rockets diagonally toward enemies, and Kine fires a long-range fireball. You can’t help but be excited to figure out how abilities react with each animal. I’m not a fan of the stone ability, but it’s fun turning Rick into a giant boulder and roll over enemies.

Thankfully, animal friends don’t make the game easier. Using a fish on land, swimming with an owl, or running a hamster against strong winds is hard. But sometimes you have to do that for the sake of collecting a Rainbow Drop or collecting that hard to reach 1up. Sometimes HAL makes things worse by forcing you to sacrifice your animal for an enticing item. I distinctly remember two sad times I went for a 1up or something else I wanted, then realizing I couldn’t continue forward because my animal couldn’t reach where I needed to go. So I had to leave it.

My complaint about Kirby’s animal friends is they change the level’s music to their own theme every time you ride them. Their themes are good but after a while, I wanted to hear the soaring theme of Cloudy Park, or the subtle remix of Green Greens, or the bouncy tropical theme of Ripple Field. I don’t think I ever heard Iceberg’s song. Dream Land 2’s music is really good. A better solution would be to hear their theme once per world (not including if you turn the game off). And maybe that’s not a great solution but every time is too much.

Despite Kirby’s Dream Land 2’s difficulty (and it is a challenging game), the goal game makes this adventure less threatening. Kirby’s Adventure focused on collecting points at the end of a level while Kirby’s Dream Land 2 places enemies (for points) and items in tiers with the highest tier being a 1up. Figuring out when to blast off the cloud for maximum height isn’t difficult and you might end with a ton of lives. I finished the game with over 30. Why does that happens? Kirby’s Dream Land 2 saves your lives. The games before did not. I don’t think there’s any more lives in levels compared to Kirby’s Adventure but including a potential one at the end of every level takes the sting off dying. But you’re less likely to feel frustration because of that buffer so it’s a matter of perspective.

For a Game Boy game though, Hal takes the little computational resources available and refocuses the previous formula in a way that makes Kirby’s Dream Land 2 more satisfying and longer lasting. Combine Kirby’s new animal friends with excellent level design, secrets hidden everywhere, and collectibles that extend replayability beyond beating Kirby’s nemesis, Kirby’s Dream Land 2 becomes the new standard for Kirby games and cements itself as one of the excellent platformers.