Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush - Review

Platform: Wii U
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Publisher: Nintendo 

It's a slight disappointment that the first Kirby game to hit the Wii U comes as a sort of budget title. This is a stripped down Kirby, one that's on a diet. And, perhaps more contentiously, one that seeks to emphasize the uses of the Wii U gamepad.

There's no jumping in this game. None. And don't expect Kirby to eat things either, he's not capable this time around. No, the main mechanic is the titular rainbow paintbrush, a device which has you plastering Technicolor strokes across the gamepad for Kirby to roll and bounce along, expanding on the gameplay laid out in 2005’s Kirby and the Canvas Curse for the DS. Initially, it seems like something of a wonky mechanic. There's little it seems to do, and where's the challenge when you can simple draw a ledge right over the spot where you'd die?

Granted, Kirby games have never been the hardest platformers ever released, and that's arguably intentional, but when the game's main mechanic seems to strip the game of any difficulty, not to mention rob the cute little fella of his classic move set, you do start to worry.

But, with a little patience, things do start to improve. For such a basic mechanic HAL Laboratory get the most out of the paintbrush, forcing you to use it more ingenious ways as the game progresses. Later on, you'll be using it to have Kirby perform loop-da-loops and carefully angling your strokes to spring him up to higher points that you couldn't reach otherwise. Then, when you think the game might have run out of ideas, it sticks you in a gondola and has you acting as an additional cable-creator, drawing paths to switch Kirby from track to track. Or, as is the case in the final level, it'll split Kirby in two, having you divide up the brush strokes between both Kirby whilst you manage your ink levels (there's a limit to the paintbrush, and Kirby has to touch solid ground for a second or two for it to recharge).

To break up the general brushstroke gameplay, there's the addition of vehicle sections. Kirby has no transformational powers this time around, at least in the classic sense. Instead, some stages will have the pink bubble-gum transform into a rocket, tank, or submarine, each with their own twist on the basic gameplay. The tank is pretty much as you'd expect, with the stylus being used to shoot enemies down. The submarine and rocket however, manage to tie the vehicle elements in with the paintbrush gameplay. The submarine shoots rockets straight forward, but their trajectory can be altered by painting a path on the screen, guiding the rockets towards their intended target. The rocket meanwhile, will continuously jet forward unless you steer it around.

Like with the core controls, these moments can take some getting used to, and the rocket in particular doesn't feel especially precise when your only ability to control it comes from the stylus. Still, for an otherwise svelte game, Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush makes sure to put some variety into its smaller runtime.

It's the bosses unfortunately, that take the brunt of the cuts. There's only three in total, not including the final stage, with each boss being remixed slightly for the second round for the latter half of the game. They're not especially interesting either. Most of them have you furiously jabbing on the gamepad as you whittle away their health. Other than that, you'll be playing stall tactics whilst you rush around collecting stars in order to power up your super attack. It's not that the bosses are especially bad in any way, they just begin to show the limits of the games mechanics, as each encounter struggles to do anything new with the paintbrush.

Of course, I can't finish this review without mentioning the gorgeous art design. Everything comes to life in a wonderful attempt at mimicking Claymation. Kirby bobs around the screen with a real weight and texture to him. Fire him out of a cannon and he'll splat against the wall, before floating to the ground like a limp piece of Play-Doh. It adds a fun tactile charm, and it'd be a shame if this is the only game Nintendo decides to give the Claymation treatment.

The biggest problem with Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush is that's there's not many places it can go, and you can't help but wonder why this wasn't released on the 3DS. Granted, I doubt the 3DS could muster up a visual style similar to this, but this is a game where you spend all of your time staring at the gamepad, to the point where you forget this wasn't actually released as a portable title. Its bite-sized levels and slim runtime lend themselves to gaming on the go.

I feel somewhat guilty saying that however, since the Wii U needs all the games it can get, and, despite my overall issues with it, Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush is a decent game, if somewhat underwhelming. Provided you can overlook the limited mechanics, and the disappointing copy-and-paste of some of the later bosses, this is a fun, charming platformer for those looking for something a little less demanding.


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