By Ian Boone. This is Load File, where video games meet their final boss: the reviewer. This week, Ian has his stylus primed for Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, out for Wii U.
Oh Kirby, you tickle me pink. Why Nintendo never leads its new consoles with you, I’ll never know. The Brothers Mario stoke the appetite for a new wave of first-party games, but I always expect the geniuses at HAL Laboratory and their heroic puffball to show us exactly what a first-party Nintendo title should be. With a morphable body and a can-eat attitude towards everything, Kirby’s mainstay games are always a guileless delight.
Kirby’s transformative, flexible properties are the reasons why the series branches out into experimental territory so often. Mostly we’re treated to clones of other games with Kirby’s mug pasted into the pastiche (such as Kirby Avalanche) but sometimes original efforts surface (such as 2005’s Kirby and the Canvas Curse).
Kirby and the Canvas Curse was a breath of fresh air, and a welcome addition to the early Nintendo DS library. In a time when I struggled to fathom why I bought a handheld with a touch screen, this game – with its entirely stylus-based controls – totally opened my eyes to how different a platformer could be. But can that same formula adapt to the Wii U, another system struggling to justify its touch-based capabilities?
THEY SEE ME ROLLING
The story is simple fare: Kirby enjoys a break in-between adventures in typical fashion, eating, sleeping, and chilling with his homie, Waddle Dee. And then – all of a sudden – a black hole opens, revealing a fairy named Elline under pursuit by evil forces. Kirby and Waddle Dee drive back the pursuers, but not before the life and color is drained entirely from the planet. With the help of Elline and her Rainbow Ropes, Kirby and Co. set out to punish evil and restore things to their happy normal.
Eight worlds await our heroes, separated into five levels each. Kirby moves about trapped as a ball, rather helpless to do anything but roll and collide with objects and enemies. But with the Rainbow Ropes drawn on the Wii U’s touch screen, Kirby can be guided to victory. This makes the game stand out the most from traditional platformers, as the indirect control of the character turns into a frenetic juggling act.
The Rainbow Rope is more than a leash that is used to lead Kirby, it’s an effective tool that can also be used to solve puzzles. Lava and lasers can be deflected, allowing safe passage, and drawing a precise course for Kirby to run against can reveal hidden stars, or give a little elevation to a previously unreachable treasure.
Kirby will ball-out most of this adventure, but there are times when he can transform into a submarine, a rocket, or a tank. These forms are only available in certain segments, and are there mostly to change up the action by adding projectile-based attacks. The Rainbow Rope is still utilized to bounce shots at tricky targets, and to keep Tank Kirby from driving into a pitfall.
Extra players can accompany Kirby by playing as a Waddle Dee. These lucky ducks enjoy full control over their character as if it were a normal platformer, and they can employ full autonomy with both jump and spear-thrusting attacks. While Waddle Dees don’t enjoy the full symbiosis Kirby does with the Rainbow Rope, they can stand on and take shelter under the drawn lines.
All of this is delivered in a charming graphic style meant to resemble a clay base. I hesitate to compare it to full-on claymation, as it doesn’t have the typical frame-jerk associated with it. But the shading and textures are spot on, giving visuals that could have sprung straight from a Play-Doh cup.
At a $39.99 asking price, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is hardly raising buy-in appeal for a home console experience that was once provided by its handheld predecessor. This should raise a few alarms, given the ten-year difference and change in medium. There are quite a few elements that feel like a step back for the formula.
My biggest issue has to be with Kirby’s power set. Kirby, from early on, has been able to copy powers from select enemies he’s eaten and use them (kinda like a pink, rotund Sylar from Heroes.) This carried over into Canvas Curse, allowing for some cool new takes on traditional Kirby powers while encouraging creativity to be used in how a player could tackle levels. Rainbow Curse says “nuts” to all that, and merely allows the aforementioned vehicle transformations in only a select portion of a few levels.
Rainbow Curse also embraces a much more linear level design, keeping the action flowing on a much tighter rail that one should expect for a game where they draw their own rails. Secrets are barely hidden, requiring more skill and quick action to reach than mere experimentation or exploration. This could be to accommodate any struggling Waddle Dee players who couldn’t keep up with Kirby on a more winding, expansive course. I’d gladly drop any number of the pitiful fools into a pit of spikes or lava to have a more challenging level design.
Aside from all this, the game is not one that will be appreciated on the television screen. The precision needed in plotting out the course of the Rainbow Rope will require the player controlling Kirby to focus on the Wii U’s touch screen almost all of the time. It doesn’t make Rainbow Curse unplayable, but it does diminish the quality of those nice clay-based graphics when they have to be appreciated on a 6.2 inch screen.
TRYING TO CATCH ME ROLLING KIRBY
Kirby and the Rainbow Curse isn’t a bad game, but it does feel like a watered-down version of a unique and fun niche classic. The addition of co-op multiplayer alters the experience, but doesn’t really add to it.
If history stays the course, we are due a true Kirby platformer on the Wii U within the next couple of years. Until then, anyone looking at Kirby and the Rainbow Curse should be advised to look up the original, Kirby and the Canvas Curse for the Nintendo DS.