Another year, another Kirby game. One could argue that the pink puffball has been on a positive roll for the better part of his life. His latest adventure is no exception, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is a fresh take on the already explored touchscreen-centric gameplay, by the decade old Canvas Curse for the original Nintendo DS.
Rainbow Curse is more or less a spiritual successor. Just like its predecessor, instead of controlling Kirby himself, you lead him through a series of levels by drawing lines to avoid the many hazards and conquer the challenges that are put in his path. He's on a mission to retrieve the colors of Dreamland stolen by master crafter, Claycia. But did such gimmick merit a revisit, and if so, did HAL Laboratory bring anything new to the table?
The quick answer to both questions is yes, not only does Rainbow Curse boast a gimmick visual style and gameplay, the changes in the formula keep it fresh enough to differentiate it from its 2005 predecessor.
If you ever played around with clay or playdough as a child (and who didn't) then you know the squishy joy of looking and touching a moldable world. This look and feel are expertly captured in Rainbow Curse. The game looks like a moving clay diorama. It has one the most skillfully designed and executed art styles I have seen in a game. Ever. Every level is full of stunning beauty and painstaking detail. Clay figures squish when you touch them, Kirby flattens when he hits a hard wall and if you look closely enough (I'd recommend on your TV) you can even make out fingerprints lightly pressed into the background or passing baddies. For a game so pretty it's a shame that most players will not be able to look up from their Wii U Gamepad screen.
Simple and Effective Touch Controls
Kirby usually sucks. But on occasion he loses these powers and must take to the skies in ball form. This is one of those times. While Kirby is well known for his ability to steal enemy powers, this staple is completely gone from Rainbow Curse. The game follows the same control set up as it's predecessor for the Nintendo DS - Kirby's Canvas Curse. Player don't control Kirby as much as they guide him along with the helping brush of his sidekick Elline. Aside from leading Kirby from obstacle to obstacle players can also poke him with the stylus to perform a spin dash. It all seems a bit gimmicky at first, but as the story progresses the gameplay starts to feel very fluid and natural. You're bound to get frustrated when you draw the wrong line or run out of ink, but the more mistakes you make the more you strive to paint the right stroke next time. It's a classic example of easy to learn, hard to master, and the fine folks at HAL made the whole experience smooth as butter.
Creative, clever and fresh. Rainbow Curse boasts over 20 stages spread across seven different themed worlds, from the green hills and plains, to the dusty dunes, the sky and even space! What makes this carefully handpicked selection of levels is not the themes, but how each level is a sequential string of new mechanics. Anything that you learned from a given level will be tested in a later portion of said stage, and more often than not in a later level in the game.
Even better is the conveyance of the levels. Through small obstacles, objectives and incentives the designers of Rainbow Curse teach the player the basic (and advanced) mechanics of the game. What the game usually does is first throw something new to the player in a controlled environment only to later use the same element but added in a couple of hazards to spice things up, if the player conquers these challenges the reward not only comes from a coveted treasure chest but the feeling of accomplishment of solving a problem.
Now you may be wondering about what we said a few lines above… rarely does one associates Kirby with the word challenge or difficult, Rainbow Curse is an exception to the rule. Part of the extra difficulty may come from the unorthodox touch screen centric controllers, but in reality the challenge itself comes from the many twists and curveballs the game throws at you in its small but concise adventure.
The game you play in the first world is a whole different beast by the time you're reaching the final boss battle. While at the beginning you may be drawing squiggly lines all over the plains, the later portion of the game requires precise swipes of the stylus and skillful use of the limited rainbow rope.
Everybody loves to collect things, right? Right. Rainbow Curse does a fantastic job of making this task both simple and rewarding, as collectables can only be gained by finding treasure chests in normal levels or defeating world bosses. The fact that there are only so many treasure chests per level will have you chomping at the bit when one comes into view, and even more excited when you get to poke it open at the levels conclusion. There are really only two things to collect - figures and music, but there are a ton of each. Over 100 tracks can be unlocked throughout the games seven world quest, and most of them are favorites from past Kirby titles.
The figures are all based on Rainbow Curse enemies, items and heroes. The best part about the figures it that you can inspect them up close and marvel at the attention to detail each one was given. Collectibles won't hinder you from finishing the game, but they will keep you coming back once you've sat through the ending credits.
When I mentioned the new Kirby title to my friends who frequent his Dreamland adventures there was a collective shrug of "I'll buy it when the price drops." Which was followed by me explaining that the game was already $20 less than most console title launch games. This is a major plus. Coming in at $40, Rainbow Curse gives you plenty of bang for your buck, and it's nice to see that Nintendo knows it's not a title that most folks would drop a hard $60 on. Good on you, Big N.
A Love Song to Legends (Old and New)
First thing we noticed as soon as we booted up Kirby and the Rainbow Curse (apart from the art style) was how different the music is. It isn't anything out of the traditional sound style the series is known for, but the approach the lead composer, Shogo Sakai, has given to the music of Rainbow Curse is quite unique in his own way.
For those of you who don't know who Shogo Sakai is, he was the lead composer for the cult classic and Japan only Game Boy Advance title Mother 3. Crunchy guitars riffs, groovy melodies and more references to pop culture than your ears can handle (and in cases such as the song above, a tribute of sorts to a legendary Argentine composer), Sakai's style is quite unique. Joined by newcomer Megumi Ohara they provide Kirby's latest adventure a fitting soundtrack for every occasion.
For the course of the seven worlds as much as 70 different tracks will soar through your head, and more often than not you'll be humming these tunes for hours. Classic rock and Tango, mischievous bandoneons will play joined by ferocious piano chords and vivacious trumpet lines, the array of instruments and genres is simply astounding.
Nintendo has been going out of their way lately to make sure their platformers make room for the friends and family in your life who want to jump in a moments notice. This concept hasn't changed with Rainbow Curse. Multiple players can drop in and out to help Kirby along his way as a spear-wielding Waddle Dee (AKA Bandana Dee). These little clay buddies can stab enemies, pick up Kirby and every performs his trademark float to get around.
The issue here is that many of the levels are not designed for the usual on-the-ground Kirby gameplay.
GBD notes: While playing with my wife she tended to get frustrated that she couldn't keep up with Kirby or reach the places I was guiding him. Too many times her Waddle Dee would have to play catch up, which the game does automatically when one of your helpers gets too far behind. It's certainly nice to have someone along for the ride and for the most part it's an enjoyable experience, but it's obvious Rainbow Curse just wasn't designed with multiplayer in mind.
We already praised how the level design is excellent, but not everything is rosy about the length for each of the 22 chapters. In a move to avoid repeating the same mechanic twice in subsequent stages, the people at HAL decided to pack as much content possible under a single stage. Such approach may be applauded by some, but the truth is that some levels overstay their welcome, specially when traversing the plains/dunes/tropical paradises can take in many cases more than 15 minutes each. But that's just a small part of having a visitor for longer than it should...
Recycled Boss Fights
Rainbow Curse biggest flaw when it comes to the content offered is recycling the boss battles. The three bosses fought in the first half of the game make a return for the second part, each one with a new coat of painting but not enough new tricks up their sleeves.
The second time you battle Whispy Woods is pretty much like the first time you fought him, only he's got a tougher bark, and the same can be said about the other two bosses, we may even agree that the 2nd act fights are easier than the first time since you don't have to think of new strategies to battle them.
As mentioned above, the visuals in Rainbow Curse are stunning. All the character models, level backdrops and moving parts look charming and well crafted. Too bad you won't be able to see them in all their glory on your TV. The Gamepad is no slouch when it comes to displaying graphics, but it can't contend with the high definition beauty of the average boob tube. It's certainly enjoyable for others to watch as you draw Kirby all over this new world, but player one, commander in Kirby, will see none of this glory.
Nintendo's fan favorite figures have been on store shelves for around half a year now and folks are still clamoring to get their hands on them. Rainbow Curse features amiibo support for three figures - Kirby, Meta Knight and King Dedede. When placed on the Gamepad's NFC spot these figures give players a power-up in game such as a faster dash or more life. The big problem here comes down to three issues. 1) You can only use each amiibo once a day. 2) If you die with the power-up it goes away. 3) Two of those three amiibo (MK and 3D) are decidedly hard to find in stores. So while it's nice to have amiibo support, you'll be hard pressed to use the ones that do work even if you manage to find them.
Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is a weird game, in many ways it feels like a budget title, but it's also one that is overflowing with charm and a unique take on a classic character. While this type of draw-the-path Kirby title has been done in the past, there hasn't been any Kirby game released in years with the kind of attention to detail and happy-go-lucky environment that Rainbow Curse embodies. It's enjoyable, challenging at times, and is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.
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