Review: Kirby and the Rainbow Curse for Wii U

Play time means clay time.

In 2005, when the Nintendo DS was still fresh and new, an interesting title was released for it. Called Kirby: Canvas Curse, it took advantage of the newly-introduced touch screen to give people an idea of what new types of gameplay was possible on the innovative handheld.

The game was a success, and quite well-regarded. Unfortunately, it also became quite rare, meaning that while it was considered a must-play for the Nintendo DS, relative few were able to actually carry out the objective of doing so. Fast-forward an entire decade, and Nintendo has finally revived the concept which carried Kirby to Nintendo DS superstardom early in the system’s life.

This presents an interesting conundrum for one such as myself: Never having played the original, it’s difficult to compare Kirby and the Rainbow Curse directly to its predecessor. As such, I’ll try to fill you in as best as I can with what I know.

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The first thing that catches your eye in Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is the rather peculiar choice in art style. This is the third Kirby game to use its visuals to mimic the appearance of a crafting material, following Kirby’s Epic Yarn and, of course, Kirby: Canvas Curse. What’s odd about this is that Canvas Curse had players using a paint brush to move Kirby along on his quest, and the game was rendered with a paint-like appearance. Rainbow Curse follows the same paint motif to a degree, but instead of making everything look like a painting again, everything appears as clay.

It’s an odd choice, given that, but is nonetheless stunning as everything has a very realistic, convincing clay look to it. Not only does it look like clay, but the way everything moves seems authentic as well, from Kirby’s transformations to how a long fall might flatten him out like a pancake before he can right himself.

The sound and music are great, too. Some familiar Kirby tunes are remixed throughout, including some from the cartoon show, Kirby: Right Back at Ya!, and it tends towards more upbeat and adventurous melodies which make you eager to continue upon your quest.

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Much as in Canvas Curse, controlling Kirby is a touchscreen-only affair as you use the stylus to draw paths for our hero to follow and touch certain areas to trigger actions, or Kirby himself to initiate his main attack, a spinning dash. This does present something of a problem, however: Despite the glorious high definition visuals, you’re going to spend most of your time looking at the GamePad screen, thus rendering the television nearly superfluous, save for some situations I’ll touch on in a bit. Nintendo has said that players won’t be locked into the GamePad screen, and that with a bit of practice, they can use the touchscreen while looking at the television; for what it’s worth, I’m not sure how much practice that takes, but I’m not there yet.

That said, even while focusing on the GamePad screen, I found that controlling Kirby could be both fun and frustrating. The game calls for some very precise moves at certain points, and the input just doesn’t feel up to the task at times. Other times, it felt like it misread what I wanted, and I would end up wasting a precious Star Dash (which you can only perform after collecting 100 stars, save for a condition I’ll touch on later).

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For the most part, it’s not game-breaking by any means, but it can be frustrating to lose out on a bonus item or take a hit because you weren’t able to line Kirby up just so– particularly as these are not short levels, generally speaking. On average, I spent about ten to fifteen minutes clearing a level– not the longest amount of time, true, but compared to most platformers, it’s a bit of an investment. Of course, I usually try to collect as much as I can going through as well, so that might add to the time. Especially frustrating is when you’re having to go back for just one item, such as the diary pages found in the roulette at each level’s end, after only just missing it because the controls didn’t react quite as you needed them to.

Kirby never really stops, either. Often, momentum will keep him rolling along, however slowly, and generally the best you can do is place a small wall to send him in the opposite direction. Many a time, I just wanted a brake button to stop him so I could move him more precisely from there. Unlike Canvas Curse (what I’ve read about it, at least), he’s also more vulnerable while rolling this time unless you tap him for a quick dash attack, which can be problematic at times.

Or maybe I’m just not especially good at this type of control? I’ll openly admit that’s a possibility. That said…

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Unlike Canvas Curse, Kirby isn’t drawn into this quest alone. At the outset, the spear-wielding Waddle Dee is drawn into the action, and if you have an extra player and a Wii Remote, they can join in on the action! In fact, you can have up to three of them join Kirby, though I’ve only been able to experience just the one.

Personally speaking, I found it to be a huge improvement overall. Not quite as day-and-night different as Double Dragon Neon, but certainly noteworthy. That said, the television comes into play more for the Waddle Dee players, of course, as their life meters are displayed exclusively there and it’s just easier for them to look at.

The Waddle Dees play more like a traditional platformer for the other players, who can double-jump to get around and also use the platforms the GamePad player creates. Plus, their spear makes them a bit less vulnerable; they have but two hit points to Kirby’s four, but can be revived by a bit of button mashing when knocked out of the picture. Their more “normal” freedom makes them a tremendous asset when trying to collect everything in a level, relieving much of the stress from the GamePad player as they can simply focus on getting Kirby through the level.

Incidentally, it’s worth noting that much like Kirby’s Return to Dream Land, the other players are merely along for the ride. As ever, Kirby is the star of the show to such a degree that others cannot move on without him, even to enter doors they may reach first.

While the accompanying players’ duty by and large amounts to protecting Kirby and gathering items they’re able to more easily access, I honestly preferred playing with more than one person, whether I was using Kirby or Waddle Dee. Doing so also seems to cut down on the time a stage requires, if only just a bit. With 28 stages in the main game (not including challenges), of course, that can be considered a good or a bad thing.

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Even more fun are the handful of stages in which Kirby is able to assume other forms. Despite his trademark being his ability to inhale enemies and assume their powers (which was carried over to some degree in Canvas Curse), he has no such ability here. Instead, Kirby and friends will periodically come across a painting easel and canvas, which Elline (the “paintbrush” who creates the paths Kirby travels along) uses to transform them into a tank, submarine, or rocket ship (Kirby, at least; the Waddle Dees get their own comparable forms as necessary).

These transformations present unique play styles, and are a highlight of the game. As a tank, Kirby moves along automatically (you can give him a boost and guide his path, of course), and touching enemies on the screen has him fire upon wherever you’re touching. Charge up, and he unleashes a monstrous volley of firepower with devastating effect. The submarine is like the exact opposite, with Kirby moving where you tell him by touching a point on the screen (though even this is sometimes subject to the finickiness of the controls, as you must touch a point in the water for Kirby to move in that direction) and firing torpedoes automatically all the while, with lines drawn in this form helping the ordnance find its target. Finally, the rocket form is essentially a flying version of the normal gameplay.

As noted, Waddle Dees can get in on the action, too, and have more freedom of movement than Kirby himself. Again, this can prove quite beneficial, as just getting Kirby to the goal can be a feat in itself, never mind trying to collect everything.

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I mentioned before how gathering 100 stars was one condition necessary to perform a Star Dash, but there is another way. Like many of Nintendo’s newer releases, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse uses amiibo figures to give Kirby different abilities and attributes– specifically, the Kirby, Meta Knight, and King Dedede amiibo from the Super Smash Bros. line.

With the Kirby amiibo, you can perform the Star Dash ability at any time; Meta Knight gives Kirby’s Star Dash a speed boost and more power, along with the character’s signature mask; and King Dedede adorns the pink hero with the character’s royal hat and adds two bars to his life meter. These features can only be used in one stage, once per day.

Unfortunately, much as I’d love any of the three, I don’t have any of the Kirby character amiibo figures, so I can’t say much more about how they work, only that they’re available and compatible with the game (if you can find them). I assume at the very least that with Kirby’s, wasting a Star Dash because the game misread what you were trying to do (there is no way to cancel a charge once you’ve begun, that I’ve been able to find) is less of an issue.

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Beyond the main game, there is plenty of great bonus content as well– something of a staple of the Kirby series at this point. In addition to challenges to complete, you can collect music, diary pages which tell about the story and feature some cute art of the characters on their journey, and best of all, figurines!

The figurines are much like the trophies found in Super Smash Bros. titles, but these are all characters from the game, rendered in its signature clay style. What really makes these desirable– in some ways more than the Super Smash Bros. equivalents, even– are the descriptions which go along with them. Each briefly details the characters in such a way as to make the entire game’s world all the more endearing, or pokes fun at their form or the game in gentle ways that are amusing all the same.

With the exception of the diary pages, most of this content is found throughout the stages in treasure chests, with about five per stage. Once you get started, you may get hooked on trying to get them all.

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Kirby and the Rainbow Curse took me a while to get a good feel for. At first, I really enjoyed it, but got a little irritated by some of the nuances as I went along, but after signing a second player on, I was enjoying it more than ever!

In the end, I think it’s definitely worth playing, but you might need to experiment a little bit to see what way of playing it feels right to you. Fortunately, with multiple player options and amiibo compatibility, there is a fair bit to experiment with.

KirbyRainbowCurse_boxKirby and the Rainbow Curse was released for the Wii U on February 20th, 2015 at a price of $44.99.

A review copy was provided by Nintendo of Canada.


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David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.