Kirby's Return to Dream Land is a 2.5D side-scrolling platform game and the first traditional Kirby platform game since Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards (2000). Kirby can inhale enemies to launch them, or swallow them to copy their powers such as breathing fire or swinging a sword with multiple attack types per power. Only one enemy ability can be carried at all times. The game supports drop-in cooperative multiplayer gameplay allowing up to four players to play on screen simultaneously, though the screen follows only Kirby. Playable characters other than Kirby himself are Waddle Dee, King Dedede, and Meta Knight.
The plot follows Kirby and friends collecting parts to help the alien Magalor repair the alien spaceship called Lor Starcutter that has crashed on Pop Star. At the end of each stage there is a bonus game where a button press needs to be timed to earn additional items by jumping as high as possible.