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Review: Kirby and the Rainbow Curse
Full Title: Kirby and The Rainbow Curse
Release Date: February 19th, 2015
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players: 1 to 4: 1 (Wii Gamepad), 2 to 4 (Wii Gamepad and Wiimote)
Genre: Action Platformer
Amiibo Supported: Kirby, Metaknight, King Dedede
Fish swim, birds fly, and I love Kirby. I first encountered this pink gum ball in the original Super Smash Bros., and since then, he and I have been inseparable. We’ve saved Dreamland countless times, ridden some air, attacked en masse, spun some yarn, and always had an awesome time.
What’s so infectiously lovable about Kirby games isn’t just their sickeningly adorable protagonist. A big part of what elevates Kirby past just a simple toy mascot is what he represents: possibilities. He’s able to adapt and change to any situation, and not just as a star warrior, but as a video game franchise as well. Kirby has starred in a ton of different games over the years, mixing up his gameplay, genres, and visuals. He’s so simply designed and loosely premised that he fits perfectly into a ton of scenarios, never feeling as if he needs to be a certain way. A lot of experimental Kirby titles are part of his canon, and they’re all just as important as his more conventional titles. Hal’s mission with Kirby is to carry on a tradition of quality, not formula, by focusing on inviting visuals, accessible difficulty, and whimsical fun.
In that great tradition, Nintendo humbly presents ‘Kirby and the Rainbow Curse’, Kirby’s starring debut on the Wii U and the spiritual successor to the early DS title, Kirby and the Canvas Curse.
While Kirby’s never been to big on story telling, a delightful opening cutscene provides just enough of a scenario to set the gameplay up. Kirby and his friend Waddle-dee (y’know, the one he’s decided not to kill) are enjoying a lovely spring day on Pop-Star. Kirby’s about to nom down on a tasty apple when a hole begins to rip open the sky, shooting out a ray which petrifies and steals the color out of everything in sight, including our heroes. Soon after, a rainbow paintbrush emerges from the hole, transforming into a small fairy named Elline, who is being pursued by two dark angry hands. She uses her rainbow magic to reanimate Kirby and Waddle-Dee, who dispatch the hands swiftly. She then enlists their help to find the source of this evil magic, stop it, and return the color to Pop-Star.
In conventional Kirby titles, Kirby controls as any other platform character would. However, this is not a conventional Kirby game. In fact, this game doesn’t even require a single button input to play. All you need is the Wii U gamepad and a stylus.
Rainbow Curse depicts Kirby as a simple sphere. You can tap him on the touch screen to make him roll forward, and, if you drag the stylus along the touch screen, you will leave a ‘rainbow rope’ behind, creating a new platform for Kirby to travel along. Use the ropes to roll your way through the level, collecting stars, uncovering treasure, avoiding obstacles and dispatching foes to make it to the end of the stage and advance onward.
Admittedly, there are some limitations to the control scheme that can make it a little hard to get a hang of at first. Kirby can get turned around sometimes, and you’ll have to do some quick maneuvering to get him back on track. If you block your own path with a rope, the only way to erase it is with another rope, which may just replace the obstacle you were trying to eliminate. Not to mention, you may end up having a hard time not obscuring the main screen with your hand as you try to draw on the Wii U Pad. Eventually, you’ll find ways around these problems through experimentation, but in the beginning they can be a little off-putting. I suggest just powering through the initial confusion. Once you understand just how to get Kirby from point A to point B, there’s an infectious rhythm to the control scheme that feels intuitive and unique.
With that kind of deviation from the Kirby norm, it may sound like I’m saying Rainbow Curse doesn’t actually feel like a Kirby game, but rather a very different title with a coat of Kirby paint. Fortunately, there’s more than aesthetic connection. I found myself enjoying the game quite the same way that I would a regular Kirby game, advancing confidently through colorful and inviting environments, enjoying the journey more than anticipating the victory, taking in that kind of feeling that I relish so much about the Kirby titles. I’ve always said: If ‘Super Meat Boy’ is a drag race through hell, Kirby is a slow train ride through a field of wild flowers, and sometimes that’s all you really want.
The game takes place over 10 levels, each with three stages and a boss fight. Each level introduces new elements regularly to mix things up. There’s laser systems to deflect, zip lines to cross, marbles to push, and aquatic levels that invert the gravity. There are also specific levels that will mix up the control scheme by transforming Kirby into a different vehicle, Epic Yarn style. There’s a tank, a submarine, and a rocket, and each adds a bit of diversity to break things up. Throw in some really original and challenging bosses and a slew of optional challenge maps to complete for prizes, and you could be busy exploring all the content for quite some time. It’s all dependent on how much you want to get out of the experience. Jetting through the games main levels won’t last you too long, but going back to snag all the optional collectables is going to be quite an undertaking.
Speaking of collectibles!
In keeping with another Hal Studio’s tradition, there’s a ton of great bonus prizes to be found around the main levels and challenge maps, including secret journal pages, music, and a wide variety of adorable figurines to collect. This kind of content may not attract the eye of every kind of player, but for completionists and collectors like myself, they’re a real treat. You can further explore the story of the game by collecting the pages of Elline’s secret journal, an adorable animated coloring book written by the fairy herself. It has a lot of fun illustrations and anecdotes, and while it may seem a bit too juvenile for some, players with a high tolerance for cuteness, like myself, will have a lot of fun looking through them.
I want to start off by saying that Rainbow Curse’s visual style is impeccable. The entire game is rendered in a faux stop motion animated clay style, achieved through extensively detailed textures and lower frame rate animation. It’s so well done that I actually couldn’t tell the difference sometimes, having to convince myself that it wasn’t actually clay. The effect is also benefited by an extremely saturated and diverse color palette, making the game a delight to look at that you’ll have to see in action to fully appreciate. . .
But there’s a small problem. . .
All those beautiful textures, all that lovely color, you’ll rarely get as good a look at it as you’d want to due to the game’s touchscreen controls. To make sure you’re drawing your ropes right where they need to be, you’ll need to spend most of your time focusing on the gamepad, which will leave you unable to look back up at your TV for very long. You’ll begin to lament the loss of quality, upset that you’re forced to view such a beautiful game through such a limited portal.
I’ve seen other reviews of this game harp on this for much longer than I’m trying to, citing as their main complaint. It’s a shame, I know, but it’s hard to get mad at a game for looking too good. I’m trying to avoid it making too much of an impact on my opinion, as it a very unique limitation of the gameplay, and one that I can’t find a very efficient workaround for, short of making a nicer gamepad with better resolution. . . or giving the game an iOS release.
Whether or not you consider this next statement a critique, I do have an actual comment to make about the visuals. As much as I adore and celebrate the clay art style, It doesn’t have much of an effect on the gameplay. In Epic Yarn, huge parts of the game’s mechanics, level design, and enemies were based on the idea of playing around with yarn, felt, and other fabrics. It made the style seem integral and connected to the gameplay experience. In this game, I don’t feel that same cohesion. You’re made out of clay, and so is everything around you, but that isn’t reflected in the gameplay. You draw lines, an artistically two dimensional gameplay mechanic that made much more sense in the painting themed world of Canvas Curse. I think it would behoove Nintendo to explore this clay art style more in different titles. It looks so good that it deserves to be front and center, deciding the gameplay elements that go alongside it.
I don’t usually include a specific audio segment in my review formatting, but I believe this game deserves it. Rainbow Curse has one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a very long time, consisting of remixes of Kirby favorites, and some new and exciting tracks. This ended up being the only reason I kept the TV on at all after a while. Any fan of Kirby games will be delighted to hear some of the renditions of classic tunes, all focused on whimsical acoustic instruments rather than MIDI or synthesized tone colors. I’d gladly purchase a soundtrack if one were made available, but it should also be noted that the soundtrack is also available in the form of collectibles scattered throughout the game, and can be played on demand from the collection menu once found.
Kirby’s Rainbow Curse may take a little while to win you over. It has its problems, undoubtedly, and they stick out like a sore thumb the minute you turn the game on, but I urge you to stick through those first impressions. You’ll very quickly find that the game underneath is quite a good one. If you give it a chance, you’ll find that the good more than outweighs the problematic. Any fan of Kirby’s accessibility and whimsical charms will find something to enjoy about this solidly built and uniquely designed experience.