It's not all sunshine and rainbows.
I loved Kirby: Canvas Curse back on the DS, because it was the one launch-era game that made the second screen feel necessary. You moved Kirby in an inventive way, by drawing a path for him to ride along on. It was a platformer in which you were consciously creating the platforms. Canvas Curse fans have been clamoring for a sequel lo these many years, and we finally got one—but it’s on the wrong hardware. Rainbow Curse is a Wii U game; that should give you pause.
If you think of the Wii U as a giant DS, where the top screen is your TV, it sort of works. But in this case, the top screen is displaying the same thing as the bottom screen, but you can only interact with the bottom screen. The critical difference here is that the top screen in a 51” HD plasma television, while the lower screen is, well, not. You want to look at this game—which is gorgeous—on the top screen, but you can’t. The GamePad is not a Wacom tablet; there’s no on-screen indicator showing where the stylus is hovering over the screen. You are actively playing the game on your GamePad, and all the beautiful claymation graphics are being wasted.
This is the game’s core problem. Many of the subtleties of claymation—the uneven surfaces, the way things morph when hit, the way light and shadow play across a piece of clay—simply don’t show up on the GamePad. They do on the TV, but the tragedy is that the person playing the game gets the short end of the presentation stick. The game looks fine on the GamePad, but all the loving details that Kirby and the Rainbow Curse are built on are in short supply.
But let’s talk about the game itself. You guide Kirby through stages by drawing a path for him with rainbow paint. The paint does eventually run out, but you can find pickups that refill it for you or you can just wait a few seconds for it to restore itself. Your goal through each stage is to (1) survive; (2) collect all the treasure chests; (3) collect a lot of stars; and (4) grab the Secret Diary in the roulette at the end of the stage. Many stages are open and somewhat freeform, allowing you to explore at your leisure. Others are more directed, either with very specific paths forward or actual forced scrolling. Once Kirby has collected 100 stars (which isn’t hard), he can activate a super attack in which he grows huge and rockets around like a pinball for several seconds, breaking certain blocks in the process.
He’ll also transform into a tank, submarine, and rocket at various times, controlling differently through ensuing obstacle courses. These vignettes are fun diversions but don’t last long. There are three stages and one boss fight in each level, and stages can be quite long, typically clocking in at between 10 and 20 minutes. This is long enough to make you reconsider going back for treasure you missed the first time—especially since many treasure chests are “do it wrong and you miss it” sorts of affairs. Treasure chests contain character models and music tracks—nothing critical to the experience—but the completionist in me is very conflicted. My solution to missing a chest is to die immediately and try again, but the game isn’t heaping on 1-Ups like a New Super Mario Bros. game, so that can eventually take a toll. Lives don’t rain from the sky in Kirby and the Rainbow Curse.
One thing I really did not like: the game reuses bosses. They're tougher the second time, but it's not great.
While the meat of the gameplay is in Story Mode, you’ll constantly be unlocking new Challenge Mode courses. Accessed from the main menu, Challenge Mode features bite-sized chunks of gameplay, arranged into individual minute-long segments. You’re tasked with recovering four treasure chests, with 15 seconds apiece, in each challenge (although there are rare longer ones). Challenge Mode asks you to master certain aspects of the controls, and I really sank my teeth into it. A few of them are very tricky, but completing any given room feels great.
There’s also multiplayer mode for Story and Challenge. Here, up to three friends—playing on Wii Remotes or Wii U Pro Controllers—can control Waddle Dee characters while player one uses the GamePad and controls Kirby. Your pals get to watch the TV, because Waddle Dee controls like any normal platforming character. He can jump, attack, and walk on rainbows, so your friends are likely enjoying themselves more than you are. The game also becomes significantly easier with more people. They can ALL collect puzzles pieces, for example, or help Kirby with crowd control during vehicle segments. Waddle Dee can actually pick Kirby up and carry him around!
In the end, Rainbow Curse is a good game that provides plenty of content for both single players and a group of friends. I’m annoyed by the length of some stages, however, and it’s a real shame that the player controlling Kirby cannot have the same viewing experience that the others players have. Thankfully, the core gameplay remains very enjoyable and I can still recommend it—but you should know what you’re getting into.