A lovely quest that shows why Kirby is one of Nintendo’s most likable, accessible, and versatile characters
Hindsight has an astounding influence over some games. Take Kirby Canvas Curse, for example; the game, coming out very early on the life-cycle of the Nintendo DS, was one of the first titles to embrace stylus-based controls as its primary, and only, source of input. Considering the flooring amount of games that would follow that same strategy on their way to handheld glory, the importance of Canvas Curse gains impressive weight. It may not have held a direct influence on all of those works, but it sure represented the ground-zero coordinates that proved adventures centered around touch motions could work with great results.
Kirby and the Rainbow Curse follows that exact path, only – this time – instead of starring as a portable game, the pink puffball’s latest quest lands on a home console. It all begins when Kirby and Waddle Dee are fooling around in Dream Land when a mysterious portal opens up in the sky. Out of it a dark entity pops out, stealing all color and – consequently – all life away. For a second then, it seems Dream Land is utterly condemned to be frozen in time for eternity, but a heroic paintbrush suddenly emerges and gives life back to both Kirby and Waddle Dee, which must now follow her into the ominous portal to restore their home to its former vivid beauty.
From the outset one thing becomes obvious: Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is so adorable some players might report the witnessing of rainbows and candy popping out of their TV sets and making their way into their living rooms. The short opening sequence could have come out of an unbelievably masterfully produced stop-motion animation flick where everything is made of very colorful clay, and that art style pours right into the game itself where levels and enemies are seemingly made from that same material. The graphics are stunning. Moreover, the level of detail is so ridiculously high that settings become slightly deformed as Kirby walks over them and all elements feature visual effects that replicate the fingerprints that are naturally left on clay models after they are built.
In order to succeed in their mission, players will traverse seven thematically varied worlds built with the stolen colors from Dream Land. To do so, as it happened on Canvas Curse, lines must be drawn on the Gamepad to guide Kirby – who can neither walk nor perform any of his traditional moves due to the fact he decides to turn into a lovely ball – from one point to another and help him clear the many obstacles that will appear. The whole process is implemented smoothly and intuitively as the game perfectly captures the movements on the Gamepad’s screen.
The sole unfortunate consequence of that gameplay choice is that, given the attention, precision, and fast reactions it requires; players will always be looking at the Gamepad, hence completely ignoring their TVs. Given the resolution of the former is greatly inferior to the latter, part of the game’s visual prowess is lost. One will constantly be tempted to look towards the big screen to see the graphics in their full enchanting bloom, but rarely will they be able to do it.
Thankfully, Kirby’s arsenal is not limited to rolling along the lines placed by his paintbrush partner. By quickly tapping the character, gamers will trigger a standard attack that will dispose of most enemies. Meanwhile, for every one-hundred stars that are collected on each level, Kirby can perform a Star Dash, which turns him into a drill that destroys armored foes and unbreakable walls and usually allows the character to reach secret locations or helpful items. Since they are cumulative through the stage, players can opt to save Star Dashes and use them when the situation calls for it.
Sadly, activating Star Dashes, which is done by holding the stylus over Kirby, can be a bit tricky, especially when it must be done quickly. The game requires a lot of accuracy in their triggering and holding the pen even a few pixels away from the character will cause the Gamepad to interpret the input as the drawing of a line, which can be a tad frustrating.
Kirby’s set of skills culminates with three transformations that, aside from adding variety to the game, make clever use of the touch controls. When he becomes a tank, stages turn into mad enemy gauntlets where the screen must be tapped so that the destructive vehicle unleashes missiles. Transforming into a submarine, which shoots torpedoes exclusively towards the right, forces players to create lines in order to lead them to their respective targets, therefore creating some nice little action-based puzzles. Finally, the unstoppable Kirby rocket must have its direction quickly altered through drawing and makes up for very thrilling levels where a countdown must be beat while obstacles are avoided.
Those possibilities, alongside the stage design opportunities created by the game’s core concept, keep things interesting and varied through all seven worlds, which feature three stages and a boss each. Rainbow Curse is not packed to the brim with levels, and it is perfectly arguable that despite the game’s reduced price there should have been more. However, all of them are truly enjoyable, especially those after the beginning of the third world, when the title’s generally light difficulty, a tradition of the Kirby franchise, climbs up to a pleasant height.
Additionally, one of the nicest qualities presented by the levels is that in spite the fact they are grouped in worlds their theme is constantly shifting, allowing the game to explore a wide range of scenarios. The water-based third world, for example, starts by the shore; moves on to a haunted pirate ship; and ends in the deep-sea, where its respective boss patiently waits for the hero’s arrival.
Speaking of the big bad guys, they happen to be one of Rainbow Curse’s most flagrant disappointments. Centered around a gameplay style that could have supported the crafting of very unique battles, the game sinfully reutilizes the same three bosses on the first six worlds. Sure, that trio of fights is inventive, but facing each one of them twice with slight alterations that are not significant enough comes off as a negative display.
To those looking to squeeze more hours out of Rainbow Curse, it offers plenty. All stages of the regular adventure feature three kinds of collectibles: one diary page with beautiful hand-drawn art; five treasure chests, which can contain great clay figurines or songs that are a part of the amazing soundtrack of either the game itself or of the franchise’s past installments; and a medal that is awarded for collecting a certain amount of stars that are scattered through the levels.
The implementation of the first two, however, leaves a lot to be desired and can be the source of some considerable frustration. The problem is that both the diary pages and treasure chests have been deliberately designed in a way that often gives players only one chance to get them; if they are missed, they can only be acquired by replaying the level, which feels like forced and unnecessary padding.
Diary pages spin on a wheel marking the end of each stage; if players miscalculate their move, they have to start things over from the beginning just to get another shot at the item. Meanwhile, treasure is usually located inside fun challenge rooms that give gamers fifteen seconds to do a task; if they fail, the chance to redo them right away is denied: the entrance to those rooms simply vanishes. Instead of building harder challenge rooms and hiding diary pages carefully, developers opted to extract difficulty out of making players start from scratch with every failure, something that is a recipe for disaster.
The final collectible, the gold medals, unlocks doors that are part of a full-fledged Challenge Mode. There, forty-eight rooms housing varied tasks await gamers that are willing to have their skills tested to the fullest. Most of them are sequences of four fifteen-second challenges where Kirby must make his way to a treasure chest before time runs out. However, there are also special doors that contain longer strings of rooms and even bosses, which must be beat without taking damage.
Overall, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is – especially to those who are inclined to tackle both central modes – worth its price tag. It is a game of high production values that, despite a few slip-ups that can cause frustration or disappointment, is extremely creative and makes great use of the Wii U’s control capabilities. Since players barely look at the TV, hence missing out on the game’s fantastic graphics in their full beautiful state, it is possible to argue it should have been a handheld effort. Yet, when confronted with its fun adventure and cooperative multiplayer where player-controlled Waddle Dees step in to lead Kirby through the levels, it is easy to overlook the design flaws it carries. Rainbow Curse is a lovely quest that shows why Kirby is one of Nintendo’s most likable, accessible, and versatile characters.