As far as video game characters go, Kirby is pretty adorable. Whether he’s his usual self, or even a string of yarn, he’s a character known for his cuteness, and never before has he been as appealing as he is in Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush. You see, Kirby and friends (as well as his foes, and everything else in the game) are made out of modelling clay.
The entire game looks – and feels – like a clay animation, with some finely crafted models which look as though they’ve been quite literally handmade, rather than created on a computer. It’s a style which rarely falters, complete with an intentionally lowered frame rate to give it a more stop-motion feel.
It’s truly a masterful creation, and simply delightful to look at. If games were judged on art direction alone, then this would be one of the best around. Alas, that’s not the case, but thankfully the gameplay also brings something unique and extremely enjoyable to the game.
Rainbow Paintbrush isn’t your traditional platformer, as you don’t directly control Kirby. Think of him as a rolling ball, not unlike Sonic, and when tapped will dash. You’ve then to guide Kirby to his objective, creating rainbow conveyer belts to move him along by drawing on the Wii U’s Gamepad.
Dashing isn’t Kirby’s only ability, as when charged he can turn into a larger, fast-moving ball which destroys everything in its wake. He’ll also transform in certain levels into vehicular objects, including a tank and a submarine, both of which change up the gameplay massively, while still sticking with that rainbow drawing mechanic, the latter transformation allowing you to guide your missiles tactically by drawing.
In true Nintendo style, there are plenty of throwaway mechanics which you’ll see only once or twice. When mechanics do return, they’re always advanced quite cleverly, so the gameplay always feels fresh. It’s just a shame that most of the levels don’t have quite the same longevity as other Nintendo platform games such as Super Mario or Donkey Kong, and it all feels as though it’s over too soon, with only several hours of gameplay in your playthrough.
While it does scale up the difficulty quite nicely, with more complex puzzles where you’re moving silver balls instead of Kirby or collecting keys to get through doors, it never really reaches the heights you’d expect, and it’s relatively easy throughout. Kirby’s always been more of a family-focused series, however, and it’s clearly geared towards a younger audience, with an option to skip the level completely popping up if you die a few times while trying to beat it.
There’s also a co-operative mode for family fun, where other players play more traditional platforming roles, helping out by damaging enemies or opening paths, and it’s a good way to make the Gamepad player feel unique in their position of power.
A challenge mode does extend the gameplay, offering a mixture of quick-fire levels where you have 15 seconds to grab a treasure chest. These do become fairly complex, and with around 200 short levels, there’s plenty to enjoy. For completionists, there’s a great deal to collect throughout, with levels featuring secret sections and treasure chests in abundance.
It’s really all the little details that make this game though – just looking at the collectible models in the viewer is quite enjoyable, as you see the finely-detailed clay. The way enemies plop out of the modelled environment is very pleasing, too, and the only time the experience isn’t quite as refined is a jaggy background in one of the later levels.
It’s also a shame that, while it’s nice and crisp on the big screen, you’ll have to spend most of your time looking at the Gamepad in order to succeed, and the lower resolution screen doesn’t do the visuals quite the same justice. Still, at least it sounds great, with finely composed soundtracks matching the mood of each level perfectly, simultaneously chilling you out and spurring you on.
While hardly a big issue in a platformer such as this, there’s a distinct lack of storytelling, with scenes bookmarking the adventure being the only real substance, despite storybook collectibles giving you a bit more background information. It’s also missing most of the cast of Kirby characters that you may expect to see, although Amiibo support does bring in both King Dedede’s and Metaknight’s abilities to the game.
Kirby and the Rainbow Curse doesn’t feel quite as refined as Nintendo’s other output in terms of gameplay, but that graphical style is what we’ll keep coming back to. It’s simply a beautiful looking game, which offers several hours in the main mode and even more in the challenge mode. As a budget release, there’s enough content here to justify it, though perhaps not quite enough difficulty for platforming aficionados.