KIRBY IS MADE OUT OF CLAY!
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Format: Wii U
Released: February 20, 2015
Copy provided by publisher
There seems to be no ends to the things Kirby can be. He’s been made of string, he’s been dozens of tiny versions of himself, he’s been a pinball, and he’s probably been some other things that I could tell you about if I did my research. In his latest adventure, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, Nintendo’s beloved pink swallowgoblin has become a malleable construct of clay. It doesn’t matter why he is clay, he just is, and I’m perfectly okay with that because it turns out clay is a fantastic look.
So fantastic, in fact, that it’s a tragedy Rainbow Curse is almost unplayable if one chooses to look at the television screen. Controlled solely with the stylus, and requiring constant attention, this spiritual successor to Kirby: Canvas Curse requires both eyes focused on the GamePad’s touchscreen, which is a shame because the bright claymation-inspired visuals are gorgeous on an HDTV, showing up exactly how washed out and inferior the Wii U controller’s display truly is. Beautifully animated, full of subtle detail, and delightfully colorful, none of the game’s visual splendor carries over from the big screen to the little one, but you’ll be needing to keep your eyes down if you want to make any progress whatsoever.
For reasons unexplained, Kirby has lost the use of his feet and can only navigate the world by rolling around. The stylus aids our spherical glutton on his quest, used as it is to draw rainbow ropes in the air to which Kirby sticks. He’ll move in the direction the rope is drawn, allowing players to navigate him through the various chasms and traps by catching him, indirectly steering him, and occasionally blocking his path. Tapping directly on Kirby allows him to briefly surge forward in whatever direction he was rolling, allowing him to defeat enemies and get around with some extra momentum. That’s about all there is to controlling Kirby, but as with many spin-offs from HAL Laboratory, this one simple gimmick is built upon a dozen times over to create some impressively varied challenges.
Key to Rainbow Curse‘s success is the level design. Intricately built to get the most out of the central premise, each stage has its own little twist on the idea, whether it’s splitting Kirby in two and making the player quickly draw ropes in different areas to solve puzzles, using the stylus to guide missiles toward targets, or connecting pre-existing ropeways to form new paths for a gondola. There’s always some clever new way of interacting with the world, even though one’s input is fundamentally unchanged and deceptively uncomplicated.
At various points, Kirby will be transformed into a variety of vehicles – similar to his blasphemous mutant forms in Kirby’s Epic Yarn – with their own special properties. The tank moves on its own and fires shells wherever the player taps. The submarine moves where it’s told and automatically fires torpedoes that rainbow rope can guide. Meanwhile, the rocket surges forward and requires constant use of the rope to stay on track.
Collectible stars litter every stage, and collecting 100 of them allows Kirby to grow in size when the stylus is pressed onto him for a short while. Big-Ball Kirby can smash through otherwise impenetrable surfaces, take out large invincible enemies, and is often required to collect bonus points and optional treasure chests – the latter of which unlock clay figures and music tracks as little extras.
Of particular note are the boss battles, each of which are beautifully designed and require some deft drawing skills to avoid bombs, tentacles, and all other manner of aggressive interruptions. The first battle, for example, requires drawing paths around spiked growths to reach longtime nemesis Whispy Woods’ face and bash it in. It’s not overly complex, but it blends strategy and light puzzling in a delightful way. Every large-scale encounter has its own spin, whether you’re drawing ropes to block laser beams or leading Kirby around the rear of an opponent to smack it from behind. It’s just a shame that – not counting the final battle – the six major boss encounters are fought by only three bosses, each one appearing twice (albeit with an additional gimmick on the second skirmish).
For the most part, Rainbow Curse works brilliantly, taking its dozens of iterations on one fundamental premise and providing a good few hours of smart, adorable fun across both a story mode and a series of time challenge courses. Every now and then, however, the limitations of the screen-based gameplay can come into effect. A handful of faster-paced levels seem to outrun the general responsiveness and precision of the touchscreen, and the small size of the GamePad’s display can make the navigation of more complicated, time-sensitive areas more irritating than it perhaps ought to be. A few times I’ve found the stylus just doesn’t quite have the level of control I want, a hardware limitation that nonetheless impacts the experience with the software.
One disappointing facet of the production is its amiibo functionality. By scanning the Kirby, King Dedede, or Metaknight figures, players can bestow an added passive skill upon the sentient sphere, evolving his dash move to be more powerful and effective while also altering his physical appearance. Though it’s a neat idea, Kirby’s new ability disappears if the player dies once in a stage, and it lasts only until that stage is cleared regardless. Additionally, the amiibo in question cannot be used again for a day once scanned.
It’s the kind of needless, arbitrary, thoroughly Nintendo restriction that further hammers home a significant problem with a concept I otherwise really like – the rewards for using amiibo seem hardly worth the effort of pulling them down from a shelf. It’s not that I expect – or even want – amiibo to change the game in any dramatic fashion, but the restrictions on usage seem utterly pointless – and I still can’t believe I can only scan five of them in Hyrule Warriors a day.
Anyway, let’s not get started on amiibo, or we’ll be here all day.
The soundtrack is captivating, among my favorite musical scores in a long time (though one or two tracks sound oddly like they’d belong on a Wings album), and I cannot help but be thoroughly enchanted by the clay-flavored visual style during those few moments I get to look at the screen. From the bouncy animation to the various smudges and fingernail indents on the environment, it’s a stunning looking title with a most original artistic style.
Minor annoyances aside, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse continue’s Kirby’s hot streak of lovable, imaginative, joyful adventures. As shrewd as it is straightforward, HAL’s latest effort provides an afternoon of unassuming fun for a fair price, and no matter how much I try, I just can’t ever over how damn wondrous it looks!