Forget Mario Kart 8. Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is about to become the Wii U's most beautiful game.
It's a new Kirby platformer, the character's first solo outing on the Wii U. If you played Kirby: Canvas Curse on the Nintendo DS, you'll know generally what to expect here: instead of controlling Kirby directly, you use the stylus to draw a path for Kirby on the Wii U gamepad.
The first thing I noticed, though, when I was able to get hands-on time with the game, is just how well the game pulls off its bright claymation aesthetic. Everything in Rainbow Curse, from Kirby to his enemies to the environments themselves, is made of bold, colorful clay. When I guided Kirby through an early stage, he rolled around on imperfect lumps and bashed into enemies that exploded into perfect puffs of clay. The intro cutscene — with a plasticine Kirby, Waddle-Dee and Rainbow Curse newcomer Elline — looked as good as an old Wallace and Gromit film.
After the game charmed me, I was able to ask the game's art director, Teruhiko Suzuki, how the team decided on the new style.
"Since this game is the spiritual successor to Kirby Canvas Curse," Suzuki told Polygon, "We considered in the very beginning possibly using a hand drawn style that was similar to that title. But we decided to go with something a little more distinctive to set it apart."
The team actually considered a papercraft style next. But the nature of the game didn't feel quite right with paper — you're essentially rolling Kirby toward the goal in most levels, and the team wanted a sense of depth and even heft to the visuals.
They were also afraid of making Kirby look a little weird.
"Given that the Wii U has high graphics potential for us to work with, we were a little concerned about going too far with the graphic representation of Kirby and getting too close to the uncanny valley and starting to look creepy!"
Clay just had the right texture for the job.
"So we modeled lots of these different versions of Kirby's world," said Suzuki, pointing toward a number of physical clay models on the table. "We tried to achieve a look that shows that the Kirby world is very soft and cute and approachable."
For the first step, the art team made a wide variety of those real-world models, before scanning them in and making high-poly meshes for the game.
"We made a lot of these early on in development," he said, pointing again at the clay characters. "And our dream was to get these into the game as close to this as possible."
"We had a lot of trial and error," Suzuki laughed, but noted that they prevailed in the end, with high-poly models that show off every imperfection in the physical clay.
Check out the gallery above for a look at the making of the clay models. Kirby and the Rainbow Curse will launch for the Wii U on Feb. 20.