Kirby and the Rainbow Curse review: high touch

Game Info
Box Art N/A
Platform Wii U
Publisher Nintendo
Developer HAL Laboratory
Release Date Feb 20, 2015

What you see is what you get with Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, but I say that with the utmost affection.

As a new game in the long-running Kirby franchise, Rainbow Curse brings little in the way of innovation. Its clay-themed world is killer cute, but the charm of its plucky pink hero is familiar to anyone who's ever played a Kirby game: Here's an adorable character saving his adorable friends, with gameplay mechanics that you’ll be able to grasp from the first level.

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse has no desire to subvert that reputation, but instead embraces the straightforward. It's a game that asks you to repeat the same actions over and over, but with careful purpose each time.

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse follows up on the early Nintendo DS game Kirby: Canvas Curse nearly a decade later. Dreamland has been sucked dry of its color and life by an evil force. Kirby is revived by a paintbrush fairy, but developer HAL Laboratory’s pink puff of a hero is stripped of all his basic powers — eating enemies, copying abilities, even the freedom to move on his own. Where past games have placed emphasis on power-ups, Rainbow Curse reduces Kirby to a tiny ball of clay whose actions are molded by the player and their stylus.

Acting as both guide and protector is as challenging as it is satisfying

The swipes I made on the GamePad spat out a length of rainbow rope, which acted as Kirby's lifeline. These ropes serve a couple different purposes; on a basic level, Kirby will cling to them to achieve forward motion, or roll across them as a bridge. But they’re also a potential playground for Kirby to twirl and spin around. They can even provide clever protection against harsher elements. I traced out long, winding ropes to hurl Kirby into treasure, or deftly scratched protective lines around him to create a barrier. Acting as both guide and protector is as challenging as it is satisfying, and watching Kirby roll smoothly along a masterfully drawn line was gratifying every time.

Rainbow Curse isn't as easy as drawing lines, however. Your rainbow thread will need to recharge, which can leave Kirby potentially defenseless for a short time. This adds smart limitations, especially when levels charged me with keeping Kirby buoyed by the rainbow in otherwise empty spaces. Rainbows will fade after a short amount of time, but the game allows you to undo a bad draw by simply slashing through it with another stroke.

HAL Laboratory breaks Kirby and the Rainbow Curse into themed worlds that include a handful of levels culminating in a boss fight. Each world is short, but they all elaborate on Rainbow Curse's basic mechanics.

The ocean-themed world, for example, sent my stylus scurrying after Kirby as he got swept up in fast currents. A volcano-themed world, meanwhile, forced me to think one step ahead as I kept Kirby away from lava pits or deflected fiery waterfalls. Every movement I made felt like it served a purpose, because as a helpless, doomed-to-roll-without-end ball, Kirby needed the constant attention of my stylus.

Occasionally the game introduces vehicles to transform into: rocketships, tanks, submarines and so forth. These experiences usually only last for a level or so in each world, but they’re a sweet way to add some variety to a game otherwise filled with rainbow spaghetti. I loved cruising around water levels that featured the submarine, for example, because it completely changed the way I played. Submarine Kirby can only move when you tap a specific location to relocate him to; when you fire, you have to use your rainbow ropes to direct his torpedoes. After spending most of my time thinking about how and where to move Kirby, it was refreshing to use the game’s mechanics in a new way.

Kirby needed the constant attention of my stylus
kirby and the rainbow curse

tango for two (or more)

Playing Rainbow Curse with friends is the closest version of easy mode the game has. The game supports up to four players, with each character after Kirby defaulting to a Waddle Dee-like friend. Although adding friends is always more fun, it does make the experience feel easier in many ways. Waddle Dee or similar characters are free to roam about and attack like normal characters. They can use rainbow ropes as bridges, but they can’t roll along them like Kirby does.

It’s a give-and-take compromise that can be appealing to players who aren’t keen on skipping rope, but disappointing for anyone hoping to slide along with Kirby’s grace. Multiplayer misses out on the real joy of Rainbow Curse’s movement mechanics, but it made my experience with bosses better — and gave me the chance to share my time with friends.

I progressed deeper into Kirby’s world with a lot of swearing

Kirby games default on being ultra adorable, and Rainbow Curse is no exception with its slick claymation aesthetic. But its looks are exceptionally deceiving when it comes to the game’s difficulty; boss battles get noticeably tougher, and I progressed deeper into Kirby’s world with a lot of swearing. But if a hard time isn’t something you’re seeking, the game is there for you, too; after dying several times on the same level, I was always offered the chance to move on. I never took this white flag, but it made beating those levels all the more satisfying.

It’s hard to find many things to complain about in Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, because it’s just such a sweet, straightforward game. There are diary entries, items and trophies to collect, and challenge modes to revisit, but ultimately its fun comes from the little moments — prodding Kirby along in a particularly satisfying stroke, or sending him on crazy loop-de-loops with your rainbow, just because you can.

Wrap Up:

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is brilliant in its simplicity

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse shines because it’s a simple game that delivers superbly on a simple concept. You’re repeating many of the same actions again and again, but with each new stroke it feels more refined, more graceful. I’ve never felt smarter or more sophisticated while playing a Kirby game.

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse was reviewed using a retail copy for Wii U provided by Nintendo. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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