The beloved pink puffball begins his first Wii U solo adventure in Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush. With only three power-ups, the paintbrush fairy Elline and Waddle Dee to help him, players will guide Kirby across marshmallow-like ropes in a clay-crafted world, oozing with charm and delectable intrigue at every turn.
As a direct sequel to the DS title Kirby: Power Paintbrush – or Kirby: Canvas Curse, as it is known in North America – and developed by Hal Laboratory, Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush delivers the magic of play-doh at the touch of your stylus. With 22 levels stretched across seven rainbow-led areas, the Wii U game features such stylish and languid serenity it’s akin to a casual beach stroll in the summer sunshine, rather than a Caribbean cruise on choppy waters. But that’s not to say Kirby takes a smooth ride with every roll in his claymation form, with plenty levels full of pitfalls, hazards and tricky moments for players to work up a sweat.
Perhaps it’s the adorable clay animation that makes Kirby’s opening sequence one of the cutest ever witnessed, but it certainly tugs at our heartstrings when Dream Land is sapped of all its beautiful and vibrant colour following the appearance of a mysterious void. Brought back to life by the paintbrush fairy Elline, Kirby and Waddle Dee must take their chances against the evil forces in Seventopia, led by the wicked Claycia, in order to rid the dull hue from Dream Land.
Armed with an ink gauge, players must use the GamePad’s stylus to draw colourful ropes from left to right – or vice versa – for the pink puffball to roll under or over, whilst collecting stars, bonus treasure chests and secret diary entries across levels. Yet, despite the accuracy when drawing from stylus to GamePad, Kirby feels oddly unresponsive at times, particularly when coaxing him onto a newly drawn rope. He’ll occasionally roll the other way if he bumps into the start of a rope or will come to a complete standstill, refusing to budge, even though a rope is quite clearly beneath. It’s this lack of control that makes the game’s levels frustrating and confusing to newcomers. Fans of the series may fare better following the learning curve, though may share in equally stressful times when it comes to piloting Kirby across zipwires in a hanging basket during later levels.
With only four hit points, players will need to utilise Kirby’s defence tactics wisely by tapping him to build up speed and bump into enemies. Collecting over 100 stars will allow Kirby to perform a star dash and break through those super sturdy metal blocks to reveal hidden chests or pathways for players. But due to his turbo-charged and frenetic nature, Kirby’s star dash can be difficult to control with your ink gauge and occasionally initiates when tapping the pink puffball for a simple speed boost, only adding to the dissatisfaction. It is, however, incredibly handy to store several star dashes at once given there’s no cap limit on star collection.
In story mode, players will have the opportunity to use special Kirby power-ups in various levels, including a rocket, submarine and tank. Aside from providing level diversity, both the submarine and tank power-ups control beautifully and seamlessly. The underwater levels – normally insufferable in many franchises – are absolutely breathtaking in HD visuals and are expertly designed to allow for fluid, elegant control. Rainbow Paintbrush also includes a level which allows players to control two Kirby’s at one time and, though it may seem perplexing on paper, it works with such devilish, playful charm it is completely irresistible and a highlight of the game.
But, equally, there are also oddly convoluted levels such as the volcanic area, which considerably spikes in difficulty and often contains awkwardly placed obstructions to halt and frustrate players – especially if you are left-handed. And while the eight boss levels are fun they are largely uninspired, with three repeated, though the final showdown does shake the monotonous feel.
Aside from the main gameplay, Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush features multiplayer and challenge modes. The latter features over 40 different mini challenges, where players must beat the clock to find four treasure chests hidden in the levels. It’s a good change of pace, giving extra length to an otherwise short game. Multiplayer mode, on the other hand, allows four players to join the claymation game and play alongside Kirby as Waddle Dees. While it creates an additional enemy in Grab Hand, the mode feels disjointed as Waddle Dees must follow Kirby on screen, getting transported if you dare to stray too far.
With a completed game at just over 7 hours of total play, Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush feels too short. The HD visuals are astounding with the clay animation but, with touch-based controls, those gorgeous colours are pallid in comparison on the GamePad. Perhaps if there was an additional single player button mode utilising Waddle Dee, Rainbow Paintbrush may have had longevity. But for now, Kirby’s paintbrush rope is a little frayed despite its glossy front. We’ll keep on rolling until his next adventure.
Based on the PAL Version