Kirby and the Rainbow Curse
Developed by: HAL Laboratory, Inc.
Published by: Nintendo
Available on: Wii U

Discounting Pac-Man, no iconic video game character has the raw simplicity of Kirby, the pink blob with the red shoes and chipper attitude. What started as a temporary stand-in for a more elaborate character design captured the enthusiasm of its then-nineteen-year-old creator, Masahiro Sakurai, and his colleagues at HAL Laboratory, Inc. The company, which had worked closely with Nintendo since the release of its first home console, was going through an arduous period when 1992’s “Kirby Dream Land” for the Game Boy gave it a much-needed commercial hit. Sakurai, who would go on to direct six more Kirby games (2003’s “Kirby’s Air Ride” was his last), won even greater fame after creating the Super Smash Brother series. However, like a man shackled to his own success, Sakurai has publicly questioned the industry’s reliance on sequels.

Speaking of which, “Kirby and the Rainbow Curse” is a sequel to one of the most critically lauded games in the series, “Kirby: Canvas Curse” (2005) for the Nintendo DS. Similar to its handheld predecessor, the new Kirby game requires players to use a stylus to control Kirby.  As a consequence, most players will have to keep their eyes trained on their Wii U GamePads. Up to three other players can more easily appreciate the game’s claymation-inspired graphics on larger screens by tagging along as Kirby’s helper, Waddle Dee, who can be guided using any Wii U supported controller.

As someone who had only a passing familiarity with “Kirby’s Adventure” released near the end of the Nintendo Entertainment System’s life cycle in 1993 I had no expectations when I began the game’s twenty-eight stage story mode. Correction: I was a tad alarmed by the babyish, high pitched “Hi!,” that goes along with the game’s intro. That squeal made me fret that I might have bumbled into a gaming corner meant for tots.In a sense, I had.

The first Kirby game was commissioned by Nintendo as an on-ramp to introduce children to gaming. “Kirby and the Rainbow Curse” sticks with a child-friendly aesthetic of bright colors and cute enemies. However, as with many other series in Nintendo’s stable, the game’s difficulty rapidly scales from level to level with the inclusion of optional pathways capable of putting more seasoned gamers through their paces. Indeed, as a friend of mine more or less said, “At first you think that ‘Hi!’ at the beginning means the game is for babies. Then you realize the game will make you cry like a baby.”

Then again, what would a platformer be without a little frustration? This seems like a question the developers must have asked themselves when they decided to develop the game around stylus controls. Presumably, more people have held a pen, pencil, or crayon in their hand than a game controller. So on a tactile level, “Kirby and the Rainbow Curse” should feel more accommodating to people for whom game controllers feel a bit foreign.

As mentioned, the game starts off simple enough. A brief cutscene shows how a malevolent artist filches the colors from Kirby’s world — planet Pop Star. Then we watch the pink puffball team up with Elline, a friendly paintbrush, and set off in pursuit. The game’s opening level, Green Valley, which reminded me of “Sonic the Hedgehog’s” Green Hill Zone, introduces players to the game’s core mechanics. Using the stylus, one taps on Kirby to move him and steers him by tracing rainbow colored lines on the screen. Drawing these lines diminishes Kirby’s paint supply, indicated by a meter in the upper corner. Luckily, when Kirby touches the ground his paint supply quickly replenishes. The game builds upon this dynamic, forcing players in later stages to carefully plan their lines and be mindful of the places where they one can recuperate their powers.

If, like me, you spend more time pecking away at a keyboard than writing or drawing by hand, you might be surprised at how pleasant it is to use a stylus.  The game does a good job of rolling out new gameplay mechanics up through the last world. So the lines you draw quickly become responsible for things other than setting Kirby’s trajectory — such as scratching away obstacles, erecting defensive barriers, and fashioning overhead cables for a gondola.

Yet, as refined as the game’s mechanics are, the seven worlds that make up the story mode do not stray far from the usual background templates of air, water, lava, and space, which can be found in an ungodly number of platforming games. That aside, what’s most annoying about “Kirby and the Rainbow Curse” is its none-too-subtle hawking of amiibos — Nintendo’s line of figurines. One is conspicuously rewarded with virtual figurines for progressing through the campaign.  On a more positive note, the game also contains a challenge mode stacked with compact trials such as acquiring a deviously placed treasure chest within a fifteen-second time-frame.

While playing the game, I thought of my father, who is a far better sketch artist than I am. He is one of those people who is interested in video games but professes to be allergic to dual analog stick controllers. If the game’s stylus-driven mechanics can win him over, I might owe Nintendo a heartfelt tweet.

Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer who has been playing video games since the days of the Atari 2600. His writing has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the Barnes & Noble Review, Al Jazeera America, the Guardian and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.

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