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Touch! Kirby

by Michael Cole - April 14, 2005, 10:36 pm PDT


Good penmanship finally pays off in this magical adventure.

In the months following the Nintendo DS launch, many owners have grown frustrated at the lack of quality new games that intelligently use the system's touch screen. Mini and micro-games have displayed what could be done, but the first few games were content to offer a variety of quick diversions in lieu of fully explored game mechanics. The result is a library of DS launch games that have painted a gimmicky picture of the lower screen's claim to fame. Thankfully, HAL Laboratory took a different path with Touch! Kirby (Kirby: Canvas Curse in North America) and has created a brilliant, touch screen game that every DS gamer should own upon its local release.

Kirby's first DS game is thoroughly intuitive. All of the action takes place on the lower screen, where Kirby is trapped in the world of paintings, cursed to live his days in ball form. By tapping the touch screen, players can destroy blocks, stun baddies, and hit switches in the side-scrolling levels. Tapping Kirby will unleash a special ability absorbed from a foe; if Kirby has none, he will attack by briefly dashing forward.

Most important, however, is Kirby's magical paintbrush (a.k.a. your stylus). Players can draw rainbow-colored walls, floors, ramps, and everything in-between to turn Kirby around, make him "jump" or otherwise manipulate his velocity. The magical lines can also shield the hero from enemy projectiles. Drawn lines exist for roughly two seconds before disintegrating, and when Kirby comes into contact with one, he is pushed in the direction in which the line was drawn. If Kirby is not bouncing, he will hug a line's curves, defying natural forces such as gravity and buoyancy. Kirby's paint supply is not unlimited: drawing depletes a meter displayed on the upper screen. The meter refills almost instantaneously while he is on the ground and gradually while off of it. This clever mechanic enforces proper rationing of paint, lest the player find his tank empty in a crisis. Simply controlling Kirby is fun—finally, a touch screen-oriented DS game that controls naturally and feels finished.

Touch! Kirby's main game is straightforward enough: get through each stage to reach and defeat the witch who cursed Kirby. While players could adjust to the game's physics and blaze through the main twenty-two stages in less than three hours, doing so would be foolish. Much of Touch! Kirby's pleasure comes from exploration and experimentation, and players will appreciate the game more as they learn its subtleties. Playing at a casual pace, I completed my first run through the main game after just over four hours.

The game may sound short, but it is very comparable to Kirby and the Amazing Mirror, since there is plenty to do after the initial run. Players can revisit stages to hunt down the three medals scattered within each stage and other more transitory goodies such as extra lives. The top screen contains a map of Kirby's immediate surroundings that is useful for medal hunting and navigation. Even with the map though, finding and claiming every medal will take skill. A few stages also contain large switches, guarding secret areas throughout the main game.

Once the player clears a stage in the main game, he can revisit pre-selected sections of that stage in Touch! Kirby's time trial and line trial modes. With sufficiently high scores, players can claim the three medals per stage for each mode. Time trial works as one would expect: the player must guide Kirby through the sub-stage as quickly as possible. Players must think on their feet and elegantly guide Kirby through the quickest route. Well-placed rainbows are often the key to swiftness, but overly-hasty players will find themselves cursing their custom paths as they transform into blockades.

Line trial is time trial's antithesis. While time trial encourages gratuitous use of rainbows and dashing, line trial demands Spartan use of both. The player is scored according to how much paint is conserved. This original mode requires a mindset focused on well-timed dashes, tiny lines and daring ricochets. Even the health meter can be a valuable resource: taking damage from spikes can prove less painful than traveling over them with drawn lines.

The medal changer provides a way to spend your hard-earned medals on goodies. One of the most prominent unlockables is the selection of alternative playable characters. Fat King DeDede is slow and mostly useless, but the other two characters handle similarly to Kirby and are often great choices for improving a high score. Waddle Dee is bouncier than Kirby, making him better suited for some line trials, while Meta Knight is significantly faster than Kirby but has minimal health (providing a greater challenge). Other prizes include special ability-themed stages for both trial modes, different line patterns, music tracks for the sound test, and extra health containers (for Kirby only). While there aren't nearly as many unlockables as in Super Smash Bros. Melee or Kirby Air Ride, rewarding players for collecting medals helps keep their interest well after they have defeated the final boss.

Bosses double as Touch! Kirby's sub-games. After clearing all three stages within a level the player must face off against Kracko, DeDede, or Paint Roller. Kracko's sub-game is loosely inspired by Kirby's Block Ball (GB): players must draw springy lines to ricochet Kirby around the screen, clearing blocks and enemies to rack up points and ascend. Kracko awaits his battle with Kirby at the uppermost level.

The other two sub-games are less complex. King DeDede's mine cart racing sub-game alludes to the Gourmet Race from Kirby Super Star (SNES). The player must adjust the vertical placement of the stylus to define the mine cart's path as it rushes forward. Guiding Kirby to food will boost his speed, while failing to evade obstacles will slow Kirby's ride to a crawl. Appropriately enough, Paint Roller compels the player to draw crude pictures of various items and characters by connecting dots, and finishes with a game of quick reflexes resembling whack-a-mole. Once a boss sub-game is cleared on level two in the main game, it becomes accessible through the menu, along with a third difficulty level.

Touch! Kirby's fantastic art direction celebrates the game's drawing theme to its fullest. As Kirby ventures through the game, he is greeted with a wide variety of scenery. Players will be wowed with the colors of pastel plains, vector art sunsets, stencil cities and charcoal caverns. Touch! Kirby's vibrant worlds are countered by black-and-white industrial settings, sandy ruins and more abstract scenery rarely associated with a squishy pink ball.

The game's soundtrack echoes Touch! Kirby's bold departure from the saccharine. The songs consist almost completely of remixes, but some of the classic Kirby tunes are so manipulated that Nintendo fans may not immediately recognize them. I would classify one or two remixes as encroaching on trance; even the most straightforward remixes are highly decorated with surreal electronic noises and effects. The music's liberties may annoy fans who want to hum along, but such unexpected renditions add another layer of maturity that betrays the franchise cute façade.

Touch! Kirby may not be perfect, but it's pretty darn close. It offers the most intuitive, polished and entertaining use of the touch screen yet. What's more, it has enough depth to hold a player's attention for hours on end. If you liked Super Mario 64 DS's line-drawing mini-games or Yoshi Touch & Go, you'll adore this game. If you found those games short or shallow, you'll adore this game. Heck, anyone who owns a Nintendo DS should love this game.

Kirby: Canvas Curse has a June 13th date in North America, but if you cannot wait that long for this excellent game you can purchase an import copy from our friends at Lik-Sang.

Discuss it in TalkBack


Graphics Sound Control Gameplay Lastability Final
9 8 9.5 10 8 9.5

This game's moody presentation is totally unanticipated. The artists really ran with the game's theme, conjuring beautiful artwork in styles ranging from watercolor to unworldly. Environments are eerily static—but then again, paintings shouldn't animate. The game's art may break Kirby's mold, but sprites and the scrolling screen move as smoothly as ever.


The game's sound effects and aural cues are Kirby as usual—the soundtrack is a different matter. While most of the melodies are borrowed from prior Kirby games, many of the remixes are so unconventional for Nintendo that they may as well be considered new. The fresh soundtrack compliments the graphics and gameplay perfectly.


Indirectly controlling Kirby with the stylus is blissfully entertaining. Players will spend sizeable chunks of time simply goofing off with ramps and dashes, just as gamers clowned with Mario and his analog stick back in 1996. The predictable screen scrolling never mucks things up, though attempting to initiate a line near Kirby can accidentally trigger an attack instead. This quirk is rare, though, and can also be blamed on player error.


Touch! Kirby presents line-drawing gameplay so well that one wonders if Nintendo has already reached the trail's end—but I cannot hold such suspicions against this masterpiece. This game is charming, addictive, and thoroughly impossible on any other dedicated gaming system. Even players who think they've had enough will be imagining crude rainbow lines in mere hours.


Touch! Kirby is of average length for an episode in the series, making it somewhat short but still longer than most DS offerings. Players aiming for 100% will find at least fifteen hours of entertainment, and most gamers will revisit the title for its clever sub-games and the challenge of self-improvement.


Touch! Kirby does not offer a brand new use of the touch screen. Instead, HAL Laboratory has combined and honed Nintendo's earlier concepts into the most comprehensive, compelling line-drawing DS experience yet. Touch! Kirby represents a new pinnacle for touch screen games and a higher standard for Nintendo DS software quality.


  • Beautiful and uncharacteristic art/sound direction
  • Genuinely fresh and fun
  • Polished design with a healthy set of gameplay modes
  • Unlockable extras
  • Main game is short—it is a Kirby game after all!
  • No multiplayer
  • Only one hi-score recorded per time/line trial
Review Page 2: Conclusion

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Kirby: Power Paintbrush Box Art

Genre Action
Developer HAL Laboratory

Worldwide Releases

na: Kirby: Canvas Curse
Release Jun 13, 2005
jpn: Touch! Kirby
Release Mar 24, 2005
RatingAll Ages
eu: Kirby: Power Paintbrush
Release Nov 25, 2005
aus: Kirby: Canvas Curse
Release Apr 06, 2006

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