Hi Kirby! ^_^ What a treat, everyone has gathered at the title screen to say hello. Before this game has even started I’m already feeling good. With a friendly wave and adorable high pitched voice, Kirby’s just so happy and excited that someone has come to visit. It’s so welcoming to see the effort everyone has put in to show up and greet you. Things are great in Dream Land and everyone is so happy. Kirby picks up an apple and thinks about eating it, before getting distracted by a pretty butterfly. Kirby drops the apple and rolls down the hill with it, chasing the butterfly. Weeeee!! What a great day.
Without warning, a hole opens up in the sky. A beam shoots out of it and sweeps across the land, draining all life and colour in its path. In seconds the vibrant hills and trees are blanketed in despair. Kirby’s lifeless shell sits motionless in front of the now empty river. Everything is dead.
Luckily, a Rainbow Paintbrush descends from the hole in the sky and paints Kirby back to life. Kirby gathers his bearings and looks down at the apple he was holding. Once red and delicious, now reduced to an inedible white husk. He looks around the barren landscape searching for any signs of life. Kirby’s eyes squint and shake in a desperate attempt to cry, but there are no tears inside Kirby either. His inner being has been drained much like his home. It’s now up to the player to enter the portal in the sky and guide Kirby’s aimless soul through 7 worlds to restore colour to Dream Land. YAAAAYY!!!!
The control scheme is what sets this game apart and literally makes or breaks Kirby’s adventure. The GamePad is used exclusively to draw lines and interact with the environment with no buttons at all. Kirby’s movement depends on which direction you draw the line from and he’ll shoot sideways, upwards and downwards chasing the line. You can also tap Kirby to do a little roll attack which is necessary for killing enemies. The control scheme sounds simple, because you just draw lines right? Too easy. However, when put into practice a lot of complications can arise. Once Kirby gets going he can be very hard to stop either because you’ve run out of ink, drawn a line in the wrong place, or you just don’t have time to block an enemy. All of this is manageable, but it’s easy to get carried away and find Kirby spiraling out of control into a death pit. The level design strikes a nice balance starting with big open areas to get you used to the controls, before entering little rooms and caves where more precise lines are needed.
The freedom of the control scheme can be a double edged paintbrush because if you just go crazy with lines then Kirby will get confused. If you draw a line in a bad place and want to get rid of it, then you’re most likely screwed. Trying to “erase” a line by drawing another one through it is the “solution” the game encourages, but it’s almost never practical. Firstly, you’ve probably got no ink at this point, it’s temporarily drained after drawing a few lines. Secondly, drawing ANOTHER line to get rid of one can just cause more problems for our pink little ball. You’ve broken the line but by making a new one so quickly, the new line runs in the same place and needs to curve obscurely to reverse the damage. Seems like a problem that just goes with an innovative control scheme? Nothing they could do about it? Part of the package? Well I would happily blow on the screen to remove lines. The GamePad mic allows this and I think it would’ve been a great solution. People would inevitably complain about having to expend energy to play a videogame, because gamers waste all their breath on trivial issues. However it’s the only practical way I can think of. Buttons are too far out of reach and using gyro would make your lines very squiggly. While I’ve used an entire paragraph to highlight this “problem”, it honestly was not too bad and becomes less of an issue when you expect it. More an illustration of how dynamic the game can feel and the consequences of bad playing. Every line has a beginning and an end. That’s some deep shit right there.
The gameplay gets even deeper when you go for high scores, because star combos suddenly become part of the level design. To get a gold medal you simply need to collect a large amount of stars. Collecting stars consecutively will add bonuses at the end of the chain, so you get +8 stars magically added to your score for example. This means it’s not just about what you collect, but how you collect them. There are certain patterns that didn’t even become apparent to me until I specifically thought about my score, which was after beating the game. There are places specifically set up so that you can go from one set of stars to another, just to continue a combo and increase the “bonus stars” you get at the end of the combo. Switches and levers can make stars appear, and these almost exclusively exist so you can increase a combo around an existing bunch. This gives you more to think about and I had a lot of fun figuring out where to draw lines and how to execute certain patterns in an efficient way. Another classic example of Nintendo’s gameplay depth that normal reviewers don’t notice because their brains are in “easy mode”. You can just guide Kirby through the game, there’s nothing wrong with that, but you’re not getting the full experience and should not claim to be an authority on games if this is how you play. As somebody who bought this game with money and the intent of playing it, I did not have the mindset to beat it in 3 days and be “done” with it. I had more fun with this game the more I played.
When you get good at the game it becomes expressive. After a few hours getting comfortable with the GamePad positioning, a happy zone starts to open up. This durpy face is not going to get me a high score but it’s fun as hell to draw stuff like this. Why? Because the gameplay ALLOWS it and I’m here to have fun. Not many games let you draw a picture in the sky so I like to make the most of it. This game is on rails but you still have control, because you’re drawing the rails. Imagine trying to do that in a 3D game, the console would explode. Here we have an organised plane to do as we please. It’s really satisfying to set up a good path for Kirby, then tap the little fucker to speed him up because your line is so perfect and you know it.
The game mixes things up with transformations that utilise the core controls in a new way. I really like this approach, because unlike Yoshi’s Woolly World which adopts completely new mechanics for transformations, the ones in Rainbow Paintbrush are skills that carry over to the rest of the game. Kirby can transform into a Rocket, Tank, Submarine and these are also guided by drawing lines and tapping them. The submarine’s bullet trajectory can be manipulated and carried by the lines you draw, and this opens up more creative doors in the level design. It also adds multitasking as you can create multiple paths to split up bullets. That way you can actually collect the cool stuff after killing enemies. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to drag Kirby out of danger. That’s important.
The visuals are another defining aspect of this game. It already looks pretty in screenshots, but not until I actually saw the game running on my TV did I understand why they chose this style. The game is fucking alive. Everything animates like it’s clay being molded, with frames being skipped to represent a step-by-step hand molding process. It’s an absolutely stunning game with a lot of variety and the levels pack a good dose of personality. There’s some magical innocence about them that is reminiscent of gaming in the 90s, where everything just wanted to look like a videogame. The entire game is a fun visual treat. Unfortunately you spend the majority of the time looking at the GamePad where the resolution is a bit lower, but all the detail and craftsmanship is still there. The clay also makes for an interactive game mechanic, as some areas can be molded on the touch screen. By removing clay in the right place you can make things drop and connect with each other and solve puzzles. A good example of how the visual style is not just for show.
The music in this game is worth taking about. Ever since I heard the music in the eShop I was thinking “Really? It’s this good?“. It really is. This is literally what sold me on the game and it still exceeded my expectations when I started playing. The entire soundtrack is phenomenally well composed and perhaps the best in the entire Kirby series. A meaty 122 tracks consisting of BRAND NEW songs as well as fucking awesome arrangements of previous songs in the series. The compositions use a huge variety of classical instruments to recreate a fast paced videogame feel true to Kirby. It’s a rare combination and I find it refreshing that they didn’t go with the boring ambient approach. It’s advanced and complex without sounding like it, and delivers a great deal of hype to make sure you’re in a good mood and understand the scope of the situation. Check out King Dedede’s Theme for example of an awesome remix, and Great Cave Escape to give a sense of purpose and heightened energy to your travels. It feels like Kirby is on the journey of a lifetime and it’s so important that you carry on. For some reason I just expected basic remixes while playing, but it’s mostly new stuff you hear in gameplay while the remixes are unlocked exclusively to hear in the sound test. That’s right, some songs ONLY exist in the sound test menu.
There are new arrangements of songs from Kirby’s Fun Pak, Kirby’s Dream Land 1, 2, 3, Super Star, Mass Attack, Triple Deluxe, Adventure, the Wii games, Kirby’s Air Ride all sitting in the sound test. Why? Because they just felt like it. This game is bursting with so much quality music and they didn’t want to cut any of it. I’ve just switched it on while writing this review. There’s so many songs and they’re all good, so I can put it on shuffle and let Kirby jam out. They put SO MUCH love into the soundtrack, this should be stapled on the box and hammered home in every review. Even while selecting levels you get one single dynamic song, with 7 different arrangements that change seamlessly to represent each world, and another layer of rhythm gets added just by highlighting the boss level. I’ve never seen one tune stretched that far before. A real strength of Kirby and Nintendo in general, is that everything must be fun. Not just gameplay but menu navigation, intro screens and even idle animations and sound effects. It’s so nice to see things pushed this far in what appears to be a side game. No. There are no half-arsed Kirby games. Only joy.
Overall this game isn’t perfect but it makes me happy. A few control issues stop it being something I’ll replay very often, but I am proud to have it in my collection. The struggles to control Kirby are a defining part of the experience and essential to the game’s challenge. With outstanding music, graphics and an innovative control scheme, it’s the kind of experience a lot of people are asking for, but not actually engaging in. There’s no other game on Wii U or any modern console with these controls, unless you go back 10 years to Canvas Curse on DS, but Rainbow Paintbrush is a much better game. It’s not only unique for it’s control scheme, but graphical style and music. Most games innovate in ONE of these fields, but Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush is as fresh as it can be. I give Rainbow Paintbrush four Kirbys out of five. The fifth one is just a bit distracted.
(>’.’)> (>’.’)> (>’.’)> (>’.’)> d(^.^)b