Taste the rainbow

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is the long-awaited follow-up to the offbeat Canvas Curse, which helped sell players on the concept of the Nintendo DS. Like its predecessor, Rainbow Curse begins when a massive portal opens in the skies above Dream Land. Without warning, the otherworldly gateway sucks all the color out of Kirby’s home and uses it to bring life to seven new worlds, themed after the spectrum of a rainbow. Of course, it’s up to Kirby—with a little help from his new friend, Elline, a paintbrush fairy from the other side of the dimensional opening—to conquer these seven worlds, restore the color, and save Dream Land.

Players take on the role of Elline and use the Wii U GamePad’s stylus to act as the paintbrush fairy, drawing paths for Kirby to follow in order to lead him to each respective stage’s goal. You’d think eliminating the buttons would oversimplify the gameplay, but I believe the experience might actually be more difficult in the beginning for seasoned players—it takes some time getting used to the idea that you’re not controlling the game’s main character. Instead, you’re just kind of guiding him along.

Even simple maneuvers, like turning Kirby around, can’t be done with a press on the D-pad. You have to draw a whole new path, and therein lies part of the brilliant challenge of Rainbow Curse: Right from the get-go, it challenges your thinking when it comes to how you’d normally approach a platformer or more traditional Kirby title.

Once you start getting used to the idea of being this sort of “hand of fate” and become accustomed to the controls, the game ramps up the difficulty, introducing new ways to use what you’ve learned. At one point, for example, Kirby will split into two, and you’ll have to guide both parts of him to the end goal. Rainbow Curse also sees Kirby taking on the guise of a submarine, tank, or rocket, and Nintendo’s able to squeeze a surprising amount of depth from a singular game mechanic. I was so engrossed by each new way to use the stylus—blocking lava waterfalls, guiding Kirby through a self-destructing spaceship, and so on—that the absence of his signature copying and floating abilities never even fazed me.

Part of what helps keep each stage fresh might be the fact that the game’s only 28 stages long (seven of which are dedicated solely to boss battles), which is on the short side for Nintendo platformers nowadays, if you’re just looking at the numbers. But it still feels lengthy enough because of what feels like a natural rise in difficulty all the way to the final boss. Add in a half dozen collectibles to each level and 40 extra challenge rooms, and the replayability of each world definitely helps counter the lack of total levels overall.

Another surprising strength lies in Rainbow Curse’s art style. In today’s hyper-realistic gaming world, using clay animation is brave—even for a Nintendo franchise that typically tends toward the cartoony. But the choice works well, since the clay designs give everything in Rainbow Curse a novel texture that really helps this new dimension feel uncanny and very alive. Coupled with Kirby’s typically bright color palette, everything seems to jump off the screen.

The only real downside to Rainbow Curse? As pretty as it looks in HD, I found myself hard pressed to look up from the Wii U GamePad sans the opening and ending cutscenes. In order to more accurately and successfully draw paths for Kirby to complete his adventure, I couldn’t look at the TV and draw at the same time. This forced me to play the entire game on the GamePad—not the worst experience in the world, but I think the dual-screen gimmick would’ve been better served if I’d been able to look at the TV once in a while. The only reason to play on the big screen at all is if you’re in co-op, where a second player controls a Waddle Dee with a Wiimote.

It should also be mentioned that Kirby and the Rainbow Curse features amiibo support, and while this is entirely optional, I found this element tacked on and uninspired. So, if you don’t own a Kirby, King Dedede, or Meta Knight amiibo, I can promise you that you aren’t missing much. All amiibo support does is grant players a single stat boost for one stage, once per day. King Dedede gives a health boost, Meta Knight increases your attack, and Kirby grants unlimited Star Dash special attacks. I found the effort of looking for an amiibo figure far more exhaustive than just playing the game normally.

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is a fine successor to Canvas Curse—it’s on par or better in many ways and should provide a potent challenge for even the most experienced platform player. It’ll also keep you on your toes as it constantly adds new elements over the course of the game’s seven worlds. And, of course, it does all that in a charming, colorful fashion that can only be decidedly described as staying true to what Kirby’s all about.

Developer: HAL Laboratory • Publisher: Nintendo • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 02.20.15
Bright, colorful worlds brought to life by a unique art style, coupled with challenging, diverse gameplay highlights yet another successful Kirby spin-off that is as good or better in many ways than its predecessor.
The Good The stylus-based controls are simple to learn but difficult to master.
The Bad Never looking at the HD graphics besides the opening and ending cutscenes in order to see where you’re drawing on the GamePad.
The Ugly HAL Laboratory has officially run out of naming ideas. The game has seven levels, so they call the world “Seventopia”? Really?
Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is a Wii U exclusive. A retail copy was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review.