This time, Kirby doesn't suck.
Kirby: Canvas Curse marks a big departure from the series norm. Kirby has starred in plenty of games in which he doesn't use his trademark inhalation and flying moves, but they've all been silly pinball or golf offshoots. Canvas Curse is the first true Kirby action game to take away those abilities, and it feels a bit odd at first. In this game, Kirby is just a pink ball, and you control him with the touch screen. You can tap Kirby to make him dash, and you can change his rolling path by drawing lines on the screen.
The weird controls work very well, though not perfectly. The game's physics are picky enough that you'll run into frustration when your line-drawing isn't perfect. The swimming controls are serviceable, but not great, since fast flowing water pushes Kirby around and makes drawing lines less effective than simply dashing/diving. Still, these cases are the exception rather than the rule; in general, the game's controls are so good as to restore some of my faith in the DS touch screen's long term viability.
Even though Kirby has no mouth in Canvas Curse, he can still absorb some enemies' abilities by dashing into them. There are about a dozen familiar abilities, including Beam, Missile, and Stone, but some of the old classics are missing, such as Sword, Cutter, and UFO. Abilities are activated by tapping Kirby, so his normal dash is replaced. The dash is required to navigate many parts of the game, so most of the copy abilities are followed by a little dash of their own. It's a cheap fix, and it can be confusing due to the delayed dash, especially when Kirby is underwater. The result is that copy abilities tend to be more annoying than useful in many cases, and I found myself often discarding them immediately.
Kirby's trademark copy ability may be limited (and annoying), but simply moving him around in the wonderful level designs is challenging and really fun. It's a great contrast to other Kirby games, in which Kirby's mobility (including unlimited flight) is almost overwhelming. In Canvas Curse, just getting Kirby across a pit or up to a higher platform takes concentration and motor skills, especially if you're trying to be fast or draw short lines.
Those situations will come into play often in the game's Rainbow Run mode, in which you try to beat levels as fast as possible or with as little drawing as possible. Beating these challenging tasks will earn medals, which are also hidden in each level of the main adventure. The medals are used to unlock goodies such as bonus levels, health extensions for Kirby, and secret playable characters with their own ball physics. Though the main game is typically short, Canvas Curse will stay in your DS for a long time thanks to the Rainbow Run exercises and the difficult task of finding all the secret medals.
With its fresh new approach to the series, Kirby: Canvas Curse is an excellent turn for Nintendo's venerable character. It's also a great showcase for your DS, with eye-popping 2D graphics and touch screen controls applied to a real, full-length game.