Much like the pink protagonist’s aptitude for shapeshifting, HAL Laboratory’s Kirby games have adapted a variety of forms. Beyond the platforming mechanics of Kirby’s Dream Land, Kirby’s Adventure, and Kirby: Super Star, the character has employed his transformative abilities to tweak traditional genres, whether bouncing off bumpers in Kirby’s Pinball Land, offering an ingenious take on miniature golf with Kirby’s Dream Course, or careening across race tracks in the criminally underrated Kirby Air Ride.
But the gelatinous globule’s most experimental outings was Kirby: Canvas Curse, a DS-based title that seized direct control over the character. In its place, players used their styluses to draw rainbow ropes on the touchscreen, which would guide Kirby across stages filled with both foe and collectable. While the title substantiated Nintendo’s decision for a dual screen portable, Canvas Curse wasn’t faultless. Sporadically, indirect control could prove to vexing, with a misplaced line ensnaring the effervescent little blob. The subsequent release of Kirby Mass Attack tried to remedy this control culpabilities by returning Kirby to his platforming roots, but flinging a pack of protagonists over a cliff proved to be more frustrating than fun.
As such, the release of Kirby and the Rainbow Curse feels like HAL Laboratory finally accomplishing their aspirations, with fruition stemming from the game’s control scheme. Using the Gamepad’s touchscreen, players still sketch polychromatic lines around the playfield, which Kirby can ride like a winding escalators. Deftly, the character’s AI has been augmented, so when a route doesn’t quite connect with a piece of the environment, he’ll automatically hop up and right himself. Tapping on Kirby issues a dash, which has the ability to defeat basic enemies and break through blocks. Collecting a hundred stars puts a distinctive blue aura around the lead, with an extended stylus hold transforming Kirby into a whirlwind of destruction. When this maneuver is trigger, Kirby grows to gargantuan proportions, rebound off both foe and block, and occasionally launching himself temporarily off-screen, with only a Super Smash Bros.-like indictor to affirm his safety.
Skillfully, level design is every bit as adept as Rainbow Curse’s control scheme. Once players pass a short tutorial intended to impart the tenets of play, stages open up, offering environments that reward exploration with alcoves filled with stars, collectable treasure chests, 1 Ups, and other perks. And while the games’ collection of twenty-eight levels (with seven dedicated to boss battles) might seem truncated, HAL rarely pads the experience. Mechanics where players have to do things like regulate the flow of lava and water, or guide both halves of a split Kirby to the level exit are used once and seldom duplicated.
Naturally, Rainbow Curse’s play style doesn’t lend itself to Kirby’s typical transformative capabilities, so set pieces where the endearing lead transforms into a tank, sub, or rocket are given their own separate zones. Here, the developer flaunts their creative competence, thinking up variations for the game’s input methods, from doing things like drawing rainbow rope to bend the trajectory of torpedoes to launching cannon balls as your adorable pink tank automatically inches along. Whereas other developers might have found a comfortable groove and elongated the technique across several stages, Rainbow Curse confidently charges forward, confronting adversary as well as stagnancy.
Unfortunately, an ambition toward variety is undermined by the reuse of several bosses. Sure, meeting a baddy for the second time introduces new attack patterns or a change in context, but the thrill of discovery is weakened when you’re forced into a rematch. Given the amount of lore HAL has created across two dozen Kirby titles, players might be expected a bit more diversity in the boss battles.
But that’s not to say that Rainbow Curse doesn’t warrant its forty dollar MSRP. Buried in each level are five treasure chests which can be acquired using either a bit of stylish stylusing or creative thinking. Obtaining each glimmering trunk offers more than just hollow incentive to revisit levels, with dividends like near-photorealistic figurines and animated diary pages that offer extra exposition. For local participants, there’s also an asymmetrical co-operative mode where one player controls Kirby, while others direct spear-wielding Waddle Dees using Wiimotes. Unsurprisingly, this deviation radically changes the way Rainbow Curse is tackled, especially in exclusive mid-boss fights render Kirby powerless, compelling the character to assist his teammates. Rounding out the package are a collection of forty challenge rooms, where players have fifteen seconds to figure out how to grab the loot in each mini-puzzle.
Where Kirby’s Epic Yarn reinvigorated the franchise’s visual aesthetic with a fabric-based motif, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse uses Claymation to create distinction. Sure, games like Clayfighter, Skullmonkeys, and Platypus have employed the method in an effort to remove the sterility of computer graphics, but each of those titles wasn’t really able to capitalize on the concept. Capably, pulls the feat off, rendering animation that rivals the quality of stop-motion films, while nimbly shirking the protracted load times of the aforementioned titles. Of course, the one caveat is that in order to truly appreciate Rainbow Curse’s visual artistry, you have to watch the game being played on a television. Given the touchscreen-based input method, that means only co-op partners and onlookers will be privy to the picturesque. Sonically, Rainbow Curse mines Kirby’s catalog of refrains, offering bubbly remixes of melodic favorites.
Like Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is another economically-priced second-party gem that belongs in any Wii U owner’s library. By eschewing the goal of a drawn-out playtime, Rainbow Curse offers a digestible dose of captivating gameplay which warrants the continued support of the Gamepad. Perhaps if Microsoft treated the Kinect in the same manner, game rooms wouldn’t be littered with orphaned piles of unrealized potential.
Kirby and the Rainbow Curse was played on the Wii U with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: Wii U
Developer: HAL Laboratory Inc.
Release date: February 20th, 2015
Price: $39.99 retail and via eShop