Developer: HAL Laboratory
Platform: Nintendo Wii U
Release Date: February 20, 2015
Loading up Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, my immediate impression was of a preschool art closet exploding all over my screen. There’s clay, and colors, and adorable music and silly characters absolutely everywhere, all tied together with a very simple, upbeat little story. But don’t be deceived by the cute, fluffy exterior–this game hosts some of the more challenging and interesting gameplay the Wii U has to offer.
Playing with Clay
The storyline of Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is simple, and almost totally avoidable if you don’t feel like hunting for extras. Kirby and Waddle Dee are minding their own business when an evil clay-shaper named Claycia steals all the color from their worlds, and uses it to create seven new worlds, one for each color of the rainbow. Aided by a helpful color fairy named Elline, Kirby and Waddle Dee must catch up with Claycia to return the color to their world.
Each of the seven color worlds’ features three levels, plus a boss. Each level is composed of several rooms, with the primary goal being to reach the door on the other side of the room, collecting as many treasures along the way as you can. To accomplish this, Kirby rolls along the ground at a slow, steady pace until aided by a rainbow rope, which you draw using the touch screen and stylus. Kirby will receive a slight speed boost on a rainbow rope, in the direction the rope was drawn, and he can follow the ropes in loops or whatever pattern they seem to take. You do have a limited amount of rainbow ink to draw ropes with that replenishes when you’re not using it, so for the trickiest puzzles, you have to use it carefully.
Kirby gets a speed boost/attack when you tap him, and can be manipulated to launch into the air quickly by drawing loops and using his momentum, or made to change direction by hitting a straight line. If you collect enough stars, you can charge up his attack and destroy enemies and obstacles in your way. Most of the levels revolve around using these mechanics, along with clever obstacles and enemies such as blocks that spit you in certain directions, spikes, lasers, lava, cannons, switches, and other items to challenge the player.
The game looks lovely, every bit of it in adorable claymation. The music is great too, often changing between rooms in levels and fitting the atmosphere wonderfully. You can collect the songs from treasure chests as you play, too, and listen to them from the menu whenever you need your Kirby song fix. The staple tracks from familiar Kirby games are included, as well as plenty of new ones.
With all of that set up, I went in expecting some pretty interesting mechanics, and Kirby and the Rainbow Curse delivers. The levels themselves are fairly easy to complete–the tricky part is collecting all the treasure, and the game prompts the player through clever use of enemies, puzzles, and other cues to pick up as much as they can. Rainbow Curse has great pacing: it gently and wordlessly teaches players new mechanics as they go along, and then very quickly ups the ante once you’ve mastered a technique. Later levels are fast-paced and challenging, forcing the player to use every trick in his or her arsenal to collect all the power ups and hidden treasures.
The best areas, though, aren’t the ones that rely on rolling along rainbow roads. Several levels feature sections where Kirby transforms into a tank, a submarine, or a rocket with additional mechanics and shooting capability, forcing the player to use the rainbow lines in different ways to direct missiles or push Kirby in a certain directions. Rainbow Curse never left me bored, not for an instant–every level had a new challenge to overcome, a new puzzle to solve, or a new enemy to defeat. I constantly had to think on my feet, and it was awesome.
That being said, the gameplay isn’t perfect. Kirby doesn’t always move flawlessly along the roads you draw and there were many places where if I was not perfectly precise, he ended up executing some bizarre maneuver I couldn’t have imagined when I was drawing the line. Kirby frequently gets hung up on very short ledges, and, especially underwater, sometimes wasn’t smart enough to go in the direction I wanted him to. Tapping Kirby makes him dash, but holding the tap charges his power up, and more times than one I accidentally made him do one of those two things when trying to execute the other maneuver. These flaws don’t make the game significantly harder, but they were frustrating when trying to solve some of the trickier puzzles.
There were two strange aspects to Kirby and the Rainbow Curse’s gameplay that I wasn’t sure how I felt about. The first is the option to skip levels. If I died enough times in a certain area, the game prompted me on the loading screen to skip to the next stage. This even occurred on boss fights. If someone is bad enough at the game, it seems they could just die their way to the end. The puzzles and fights are all doable, if challenging at times, and since the bulk of the game is finding secrets and not just level completion, it seems like a relatively purposeless feature. It doesn’t detract from the game, it’s just weird.
The second is how the game is played in of itself. Kirby and the Rainbow Curse single player uses the touch screen of the Game Pad…and nothing else. No buttons, nothing. And I found it impossible to look at the TV as I was playing, because I couldn’t draw accurate lines. At first this made me think this should have been a 3DS title, but with the expansiveness of the levels I think the game would suffer from the smaller 3DS screen, even on an XL. Again, this doesn’t really detract from the game in any way, it’s just an interesting design choice.
Really, the biggest issue this game has is that there’s not enough of it. 28 Story Mode levels in total, since the Challenges (which I’ll get to in a moment) don’t really count. There were so many great mechanics and fun puzzles, I could’ve done with more levels exploring the same ideas or combining them in more ways. The game feels really short–it only took me about six-seven hours to complete Story Mode, though I skipped most of the extras.