Although I still consider him to be a friend, Kirby and I have had a troubled relationship over the last couple of decades. It’s what you’d call a love/hate kind of thing, I guess, because there have been times where I’ve been enamoured with the pink blob, and occasions where he’s either bored or frustrated me to the point of annoyance.
Our relationship goes back more than twenty years, to when the black and white Gameboy was a prized possession. I’ll never forget how much I looked forward to going over to a family friend’s place and taking turns playing Kirby’s Dream Land with their son. Nor will I ever call Kirby’s Epic Yarn anything short of wonderful, because it truly was a fantastic game. Things haven’t been the same since then, though.
After bringing us a boring, bland and forgettable 3DS platformer, Kirby’s own HAL Laboratory has returned with a follow-up to one of the character’s more unique titles. I’m talking about Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, which continues the touch-based control scheme that made Kirby: Canvas Curse a cult classic, for lack of a better term. However, unlike its predecessor, this most recent effort is a console title as opposed to a handheld release, foregoing the 3DS for the Wii U and its bulky GamePad.
Rainbow Curse, if you will, begins with theft. Some sort of asshole comes down from a hole in the sky and chooses to steal all of the colour from Kirby’s world, which, of course, pisses him off. And, in order to bring order back to his visceral homeland (which just so happens to be made entirely out of clay this time around), our hero storms off to confront the evildoer. Needless to say, it’s basic fare that you’d expect from a Nintendo game such as this. It’s only there to serve a purpose, and that it does in unspectacular fashion.
Beatable in approximately four-to-five hours, this budget-priced, forty-dollar release is an interesting beast. On one hand, it’s unique and somewhat creative, eschewing standard controls for a stylus and touchscreen combination. However, on the other hand, it’s a short, mediocre and often frustrating experience. I admittedly hated it after playing through its first two worlds, but started to enjoy it a bit more as I progressed. Still, it’s nothing I would ever pick up and play again, even if I had nothing else to do.
The gameplay is rather basic, as you’ve likely gathered. You simply draw rainbow-coloured rope lines for Kirby to roll along. The trick is to do so while managing a depleting energy bar and avoiding traps, such as barriers, lava and enemies, the latter of which can be defeated by tapping the blob. Doing so makes him spin/roll forward, killing any unprotected foe in his path.
Your goal is to get from the beginning to the end of each of the game’s twenty-eight stages, without losing all of your lives in the process. Completionists and masochists will opt to take things one step further, though, by collecting as many stars, puzzle pieces and chests as humanly possible. This will require more than one trip through most stages, because getting everything can be quite tricky, not to mention hazardous. Many collectibles are hidden behind strong blocks, which can only be broken when Kirby has collected 100 stars. At that point, he can turn into Super Kirby and do a powerful dash move that’s very helpful but tough to aim.
Tough is a word that accurately describes how Kirby and the Rainbow Curse‘s control mechanics can be. Yes, playing the game is as simple as drawing a line under the character to make him move, but even that can be a pain in the ass to do. For a title that doesn’t give you impeccable handling of its rotund protagonist, this sequel sure requires precision. Whether you’re able to pull that off and adhere to its frustrating rules will depend on both skill and luck, but mostly luck because fairness is definitely lacking here.
A great example of what I’m talking about is the second boss battle, which repeats with minor differences later on in the campaign. A circular being, its outer shell must be cracked in three distinct areas before the final one becomes available for destruction. What’s most frustrating about the thing, though, is how cheap ‘he’ can be. Not only does he shoot lasers out of gaps in his armor, but he also mixes growth with an all-encompassing electrical barrier. If you get caught between it and a wall then you can kiss most of your health goodbye, if not all of it. It’s like an AI fighting game character spamming the player against an invisible wall until death does them part.
Said boss isn’t the only occasion where this incredibly frustrating issue rears its head, but it’s the most prominent. There were many times where I cursed at the game, though, a lot of which resulted from its failure to register some of my swipes. Of course, those numerous instances led to cheap and maddening deaths.
Needless to say, this isn’t a kid’s game, despite its cute and colourful art style. It’s challenging and annoying, but also quirky and endearing, which is an odd thing to say. Its best parts also involved transformations into tanks, rockets and submarines, which broke up the tedium that started to set in with the core mechanics. Despite being tough to control, the vehicles presented more entertaining gameplay than the rest of the experience, outside of one neat stage that splits Kirby into two separate versions of himself and forces them to work together in order to progress.
The good news, for those who aren’t incredible at these types of games, is that stages can be skipped if need be. The option becomes available after a few consecutive deaths, and works without any sort of repercussion outside of a loss of that stage’s collectibles. I only skipped the end of one level, though it wasn’t the only time I considered doing so. Why did I take the easy way out? The finale tasked me with mapping a course through a ship; one that would avoid obstacles and pass through several different switches before exiting. If it weren’t for the brief, sixty second time limit and the game’s imprecise controls, that would’ve been possible; however, both prevented me from being able to escape. I ended up giving up out of frustration, though I wasn’t happy about it.
In a perfect world, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse would be a much tighter experience which doesn’t make those who play it want to smash their controllers against a wall. It has the ingredients for a very good Nintendo game, those being colour, cuteness, cooperative multiplayer, collectibles, challenges and individuality, but those things mean squat if the core mechanics aren’t sound. Hell, there’s even amiibo support for three unique characters, though I was admittedly unable to test it.
Things do shine in the presentation department, though, as this is easily one of the most unique-looking video games in existence. Every aspect of it, from the backgrounds to the characters and their attacks, happens to be made out of clay. The aesthetic is genius, and makes looking at the title a treat. That said, since this is a touch-based release, you’ll spend 99% of your play time staring at the GamePad’s screen and its less than amazing resolution. Playing while looking at a TV is likely possible, but you’d have to be pretty experienced in order to do so.
The music is as you’d expect: Cheery, colourful and family friendly. It works, and offers some collectible remixes that longtime fans will appreciate, but I can’t say that I’ll remember anything specific about it in a month’s time. The same is true of the sound effects, which do their job effectively, but aren’t memorable.
What it all comes down to is the fact that Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is not the accessible, kid-friendly Nintendo game that it looks like. Though it’s certainly not Dark Souls difficult, or even close to that level of craziness, it is a rather challenging (niche) title that will test your mettle. That, as well as how well you can tolerate frustration. It’s unfortunate, because if more time was spent on tightening the controls, we could’ve been talking about a much better experience. As it is, though, I can only recommend this game to the Canvas Curse fanatics out there, as well as those who are willing to trade frustration for beautiful visuals and a change of pace in the gameplay department.
This review is based on the Wii U exclusive, which we were provided with.
Kirby and the Rainbow Curse has its moments, but is ultimately marred by frustrating controls and questionable game design.