Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is a beautiful game but sadly not a very fun one and it feels wholly misplaced on the Wii U. Acting as a spiritual successor to the much beloved DS game, Kirby: Canvas Curse, it aims to take the line riding gameplay from that title and bring it to Wii U’s gamepad. An admirable goal to be sure, but in doing so they’ve left behind a lot of what makes the Kirby games so fun. The series standard Copy mechanic, the clever mini-games, and the great sense of variety that normally define the Star Warrior’s regular sojourns are gone and replaced with imprecision and repetition. While they have at the very least managed to craft a drop dead gorgeous aesthetic to sheath this whole affair in, it unfortunately feels wasted on this game. All in all it’s something of a disappointment and while die-hard Kirby fans might be able to dredge some fun out of it, even those whose bleed puffball pink will probably end up leaving Rainbow Curse dissatisfied.
As I said though, Rainbow Curse does have one ace up its sleeve, and that’s the absolutely adorable clay visual aesthetic the game is decked out in. Every single pixel of this game looks as though it was lovingly crafted from colourful modeling clay, with even periphery elements such as the UI sporting a soft and mushy texture that instantly brings back memories of 3rd grade art class. It’s especially impressive in motion as the slight ridges and curves of each model and texture warp and change slightly with every frame, simulating the effect of stop-motion animation and giving the world a very tactile feel, making it seem almost as if you could reach in and tear off a piece of it. One of the two major collectibles in the game is figurines that you can deeply inspect and it makes clear the utterly gratuitous level of detail that went into the assets of Rainbow Curse. That said, unless you’re lucky enough to be watching someone else play the game, you never really get to see the full effect of this amazing art style because the gameplay forces you to keep your eyes glued to the Gamepad’s vastly inferior screen which simply isn’t a high enough resolution to really do justice to the finer details on display. It’s also important to note that for as beautiful as the clay aesthetic is, it does absolutely nothing for the gameplay, unlike Kirby’s Epic Yarn. There are no special clay related mechanics or anything like that, it’s nothing more than a visual affectation, which seems like a waste of potential considering how well Kirby’s copying abilities could integrate with the clay look on a mechanical level.
While we’re talking about the presentation, we might as well discuss the sound design as well, which is good but strange. The soundtrack is mostly composed of remixes of classic Kirby themes, though there are a few new songs in there as well; what’s really impressive is the wide range of instruments and styles on display within the soundtrack. Piccolos, accordions, heavy electric guitars, xylophones, and all sorts of other stuff finds its way into the mix, giving things a folksy vibe while at the same time not being afraid to rip out some heavier riffs when it feels the situation calls for it. Whether all that stuff meshes together super well is up for debate but at the very least it makes for an interesting and eclectic soundtrack that gets away from the more traditional Kirby sound. That said if you want that traditional Kirby Music, that stuff is in there too, it’s actually other major collectible alongside the figurines. As for the sound effects, it’s all what you would expect, the franchise standard coos and chimes that have entertained us for decades now.
I mused about the potential of the copy mechanic co-mingling with Kirby’s new clay world earlier but it’s a moot point I suppose considering that the copy mechanic isn’t in this game anyways, which is strange because Canvas Curse did allow Kirby to keep those abilities. Instead all Rainbow Curse offers is the “Rainbow Rope” system, which it works to a bloody nub. The crux of the concept is that you have no real direct control over Kirby and instead must guide him through the levels by drawing lines everywhere. Kirby will automatically attach to and roll across these lines if they’re close enough to him and you can give him a little boost of speed by poking him. The only other major ability you have is the Star Dash, which allows you to rocket around a little bit and destroy special metal blocks. You’ll also occasionally get to use a couple of vehicle forms, but they don’t control all that well and are still generally forced to ride the Rainbow Rope. Sadly despite the gameplay being so simple, it still manages to feel somewhat imprecise thanks to the game’s somewhat uneven pace, and constant repetition and failure is the result. For all intents and purposes Kirby moves like a pinball in this game and when he gets going he’ll move just fast enough that you’ll not be able to keep up with him; as such you’ll find yourself drawing a lot of lines just behind the enemy into which the pink little idiot just crashed. Of course when Kirby loses his momentum you encounter the opposite issue, as it can be a little hard to get him going again, and having Kirby limply fall off a line rather than gracefully fly to the next platform is less than pleasant. That’s not to say the game is hard though, in fact it’s actually incredibly easy thanks to the generous amounts of health, lives, and checkpoints lying around, it’s just annoying and not all that much fun.
A large reason for that is because there simply isn’t all that much actual fresh content in this game, with bosses and level gimmicks repeated a surprisingly large amount. Before we discuss the nuts and bolts of the story mode, I suppose I should actually tell you the story of the game. It’s not a complicated premise: an art god-thing named Claycia steals all the colour from Kirby’s world so she can build seven worlds of her own and then Kirby, with the help of Claycia’s apprentice, runs through those seven worlds to stop her and get the colour back. Those seven worlds span a total of twenty-one levels and seven bosses fights…well actually more like four boss fights because the first three boss fights each repeat later on in the campaign. Those bosses aren’t very enjoyable either, with some being blindly easy and some being unpleasantly frustrating thanks to the finicky mechanics. Outside of the core campaign, the only other content in this game takes the form of small challenge rooms that task you with collecting four chests, each in under fifteen seconds and under varying forms of duress. These rooms aren’t terribly fascinating as they’re just built out of mechanics and gimmicks you’ll see during the campaign and compared to the more involved and creative side games that you normally see in Kirby games, they’re an absolute joke.
The thought I come away from Kirby and the Rainbow Curse with is that it feels like it was originally two separate games. The gorgeous clay aesthetic could have easily supported a Kirby game all on its own if it had the classic Kirby gameplay in place to take advantage of the unique art style. Similarly, the Rainbow Rope could have made a better showing if it was in a straight-up sequel to Canvas Curse on the 3DS that purely focused on building fresh and interesting gameplay around that concept. Unfortunately though someone decided to throw both of those great ideas into the same mold and all that came out of the kiln is a mass of wasted potential. As such I’m giving Kirby and the Rainbow Curse a 2 out of 5 stars.