Kirby: Canvas Curse, now nearly a decade old, used the unique features of the then-new Nintendo DS to rework Nintendo’s often-prosaic series. It asked players to eschew buttons completely, forcing them instead to move Kirby by drawing rainbow pathways on the screen. Drawn properly, Kirby would roll down these tracks toward victory. In a world where touch-screens were still a novelty, this bold design was considered an exemplar of innovation; our own Anthony John Agnello has upheld the game as Nintendo at its weird and experimental best. Kirby: Canvas Curse was not staid, comfortable Kirby, but a revolutionary Kirby at the vanguard.
Kirby And The Rainbow Curse, as a straightforward sequel to that 2005 classic, cannot be the same kind of innovative leader. But there’s more: the revolutionaries like Canvas Curse? They won. Touch-screen controls are ubiquitous now—the fat, penguin-shaped strongmen of the gaming kingdom. In this modern environment, Kirby And The Rainbow Curse’s path-drawing antics are standard and comfortable. And so weird Kirby has again become staid Kirby, a native in a land it founded.
This is still a Kirby based on a fantastic blueprint, even if it follows that blueprint closely. Rainbow Curse is primarily about drawing paths. Kirby can barely move on his own, but he still has to travel across dangerous lands to collect stars and treasure and get from one level to the next. Drawing a length of rainbow rope under Kirby on the Wii U’s Gamepad touch-screen causes Kirby to roll automatically down the rope, and tapping Kirby pushes him forward in a short rolling attack. Collect 100 stars, and a more powerful charge attack can be used to bust open new pathways. These basic abilities push Kirby into tight spaces, over dangerous depths, and through adorable enemies. The game riffs on these foundations often throughout its short run time. Sometimes Kirby is transformed into different big-eyed vehicles, like a constantly barreling forward rocket-ship form that your rainbow rope can only nudge. Other times, Kirby will be forced to travel underwater, where he’s always floating back toward the surface unless your pathways keep him submerged.
If the game is seeking the joy and stress that must come from successfully walking a high wire, it deftly achieves that emotional mix. The rainbow rope is thick, and so can feel slightly imprecise. Kirby is thicker, and his rotundness will roll down a rope that often seems to be somewhat off from where you meant it to be. And then suddenly an enemy will be there or the rope will disappear, and Kirby is not quite where you wanted him to go—instead, he’s in a grave situation that must be frantically and satisfyingly solved.
That doesn’t happen often. Instead, there are long stretches of pleasant ambling, where it’s okay if the rope’s not drawn quite right, separate from tough boss fights and encounters with enemies that can kill with a single touch. This is typical Kirby pacing—a mellow peace periodically shredded by challenges so intense they feel like violations. In Rainbow Curse, it’s like getting hit full-tilt at the bumper cars. There’s never any real danger, but after a few of them, the jostles start to take a toll and you need to have a break on the benches.
There are other reasons to take this game slowly. Kirby And The Rainbow Curse never strays too far from its simple core, making it a repetitive single-sitting game. (Yeah, you can get through this one in a sitting.) And the super-saturated claymation art moves from lovely to cloying when stared at too long, which is a shameful way to experience the game’s detailed, fingerprint-covered charms. Quick breaks in the Figurine Showcase, where Kirby series stalwarts are gorgeously reimagined as clay statuettes, or in Challenge Mode, where the game doles out 15-second puzzles of wildly varying difficulty, aren’t different enough. This is a game that can get overdone. At least its playful remixes of the classic Kirby score don’t seem to ever get old.
Kirby And The Rainbow Curse itself doesn’t feel old at all, despite closely following in the footsteps of its decade-old progenitor. If anything, it feels like it belongs here right now. It’s not taking us anywhere we haven’t already been, or showing us a bold new future, and that’s okay. It’s enough that Kirby showed us where we were going 10 years ago—and is there again when we arrived.
Kirby And The Rainbow Curse
Developer: HAL Laboratory, Inc.
Platform: Wii U