One of my favorite Nintendo DS games that came out early in the system's life is Kirby Canvas Curse. It was one of the first titles on the handheld that made a compelling argument for the system's touch screen. In that game, you used the stylus to draw a path for the protagonist Kirby to follow, carefully guiding him through obstacle-laden levels. For the longest time I've yearned for a sequel to that game, and with the Wii U, developer HAL Laboratory and publisher Nintendo have answered the call with Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, an abundantly adorable game.
Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is similar in gameplay to Kirby Canvas Curse in the regard that you as the player draw lines to direct Kirby in ball form through a series of levels containing a myriad of enemies to defeat, obstacles to overcome, and hazards to avoid. Tapping on Kirby allows him to initiate a faster roll that not only gives the Kirbster more speed, but it is also paramount to taking down enemies, as this time around, tapping on enemies does not do anything.
You can't just willy-nilly draw lines, however. There is a meter in the top-left corner of the screen that displays how much magical paint you have to work with to draw lines. The longer a line is drawn or the more lines that are drawn at once, the quicker the meter goes down. If it empties, Kirby has to hit solid ground for the meter to refill. There are plenty of moments in Kirby and the Rainbow Curse where sufficient paint meter management is required, because you don't want to run out of paint over a bottomless pit. This adds a welcomed amount of strategy in drawing lines for Kirby.
Lines aren't just for moving Kirby around levels, though. They can also be used to block incoming projectiles; serve as a shield against lasers and flames; and be used for all-new level mechanics. One example of such a mechanic is a level where Kirby is faced with a locked door with no means to open it himself. In the same room, but located in a part of the room that is inaccessible to Kirby, is a ball and a switch. The player can draw a line that starts at the ball and extends to the switch, which results in the ball rolling into the switch, unlocking the door for Kirby. There is a grand amount of clever uses that the developers have created for drawing lines.
Another change from Canvas Curse is that Kirby does not absorb the abilities of defeated enemies. Instead, throughout Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, Kirby comes upon three unique transformations that each appear in two levels apiece. There's the tank that moves on its own, having you tap the GamePad screen where you wish for Kirby to fire. Then there's the submarine transformation; one where you touch on the screen where you want Kirby to move to. This is all while torpedoes are firing automatically from the submarine's front. You can draw lines to guide the torpedoes into enemies, switches, and otherwise desired targets. Finally, there is my least favorite of the transformations, the little bit unwieldy rocket. Any enemy in its path will get destroyed as long as it is hit by the rocket's front. Instead of drawing lines to guide torpedoes like the submarine, you draw lines to actually guide the rocket itself. There are no brakes on this rocket, which can result in some minor to major frustrations.
Levels are much lengthier in Kirby and the Rainbow Curse than they were in Canvas Curse. This is both a blessing and a curse. For one, longer levels make for a meatier adventure. There are seven worlds in the game comprised of three main exploration and platforming-based levels, with the fourth level being a boss battle, so the longer levels allow for Kirby's journey to not end quite so quickly. However, it's a negative when you're going after the game's collectibles, both stars and treasure chests, the latter containing either cool figurines of the characters in the game or musical tracks from the game. Many times Rainbow Curse only gives you one chance in a level to get a certain collectible, and if you fail to do so during that chance, you have to start the level over again if you want that particularly tricky treasure chest or batch of stars.
Stars not only give you a grand total at the end of a level, ranking your amount with a gold, silver, or bronze medal, but they also give Kirby a powerful move to unleash for every 100 stars obtained. When 100 stars have been gathered, you can hold the stylus on Kirby to charge him up. You can then let go and see Kirby double in size, great for smashing through a room of enemies or better yet, taking out otherwise indestructible steel boxes, usually housing delightful bonuses. Different Kirby forms have different powered up moves that can be let loose in a given level. The only problem with having to hold onto Kirby with the stylus to charge him up is that sometimes the game does not register your hold. It can also confuse successive taps to accelerate Kirby's rolling for holding down the stylus. This can mean unleashing a giant Kirby that bounces wildly around when you don't want him to, or worse, right into a bottomless pit.
Obtaining gold medals in levels unlocks challenges in the fittingly named Challenge Mode. These challenges consist of a series of rooms where your goal is to get Kirby to the treasure chest before time runs out. Initial challenges are child's play, offering little difficulty and easy access to treasure chests. However, later challenges require a skilled ability to tap and touch. These challenges add even more replay value to Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, which has a relatively short story mode, so that is a beneficial thing.
Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is a blatantly adorable and cute game. Its cuteness emanates from the colorful diary pages that can be collected at the end of levels, the beautiful claymation art style of the game, and the cast of characters that you can't help but go "aw" to. The entire world of Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is made up of clay. This is punctuated even better by having the actual characters be at a lower frame-rate than the backgrounds, perfectly simulating the claymation style. Unfortunately, this game pretty much demands your attention to be centered on the Wii U GamePad screen rather than the television. Considering the GamePad screen is not HD, this can feel like a punishment if you have a giant HDTV to display the gorgeous art style on.
The music of Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is amazing. Level themes are extremely catchy and full of riffs and melodic phrases that will stick with you long after the game has been shut off.
Kirby and the Rainbow Curse isn't quite the sequel to Kirby Canvas Curse that I was desiring, but that notwithstanding, the game manages to create a wonderful identity for itself. While levels can be too long (annoying for completionists like myself), some transformations are better than others, and some frustrations can be found here and there through normal play, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse isn't all sunshine and rainbows, but it is a colorful and delightful romp that should put a smile on any player's face. Of course, that's in between irritated grimaces.