Kirby, Kirby, Kirby - how we love you. We didn't even know who you were when picked up that copy of Mouse Attack for our new DS, but your cute box, and slightly squidgy pink blobbiness drew us in (and the fact we needed something to play, of course). But in you we found something we'd only dared dreamed of - a platformer that we could actually do, that played right to our slightly OCD collecting tendencies. Before long, we'd amassed every Kirby DS game going - the six-games-in-one Super Star Ultra, Mass Attack with it's ten Kirby's to control at once, and the roly-poly stylus-controlled Power Paintbrush - not to mention the legendary Kirby's Epic Yarn for the Wii, an adorable knitted adventure for two players that quickly became our game of forever.
Needless to say, we were pretty darn excited when Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush was announced for the Wii U - after all, outside of Lego City Undercover and The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, we've mostly been neglecting the poor little thing. A sequel of sorts to the first DS Kirby title, Power Paintbrush, it's a game which basically involves drawing lines for a more-rotund-than-usual Kirby ball to follow - and it's as nice to look at as it is easy to play. Rainbow Paintbrush has a rather unique graphical style. With everything, from the scenery to the Kirbster himself, and even the lines you draw for him to follow looking as though they've been modelled out of clay, complete with finger prints and all, it's a cute and colourful adventure that sucks you in.
The story begins when, one day, Kirby heads out for a stroll - only to find himself sidetracked by food, as usual, and ending up chasing after a runaway apple. No sooner has he got his podgy little paw on the precious fruit, though, than a huge tear appears in the sky, and the evil artist Claycia appears, stealing all the colours from Dream Land, and freezing everything - Kirby, apple and all - in the process, turning it into a desolate, grey wasteland. But fortunately, a former friend of Claycia - a magical paintbrush called Elline - just so happens to witness the catastrophe, and brings the Kirbster back to life with a lick of paint, as the pair set off through the portal to find and defeat Claycia and return the colours to Dream Land.
But Kirby's a lazy little blob, and although he has tiny feet, he seems to have forgotten how to use them. In this game, his preferred mode of transport is rolling along the rainbow ropes Elline - or rather you - draw on the Wii U Gamepad's Touch Screen. With a finite amount of ink to use drawing, you can't just plaster the screen with an elaborate roller coaster for the Kirbster to follow, so you'll find yourself having to think a little bit more carefully about where and how you draw your path, particularly when it comes to avoiding enemies, going around spikes or trying to navigate the puffball to a switch (even if your ink power does recharge). In fact, more than just a path for Kirby to roll along, your lines can even do double duty and act as a shield from incoming projectiles, redirect lasers or block waterfalls that threaten to sweep the Kirbster away. Underwater levels meanwhile, mix things up a little bit, as instead of using lines for Kirby to roll along the top of, you'll need to use them to keep him down and going in the right direction, preventing him floating off up towards the top of the screen.
In much the same way as Mario likes to collect coins, clay Kirby has a penchant for stars - which are found scattered all over the levels. Picking up a hundred of the things will give the Kirbster a power-up to use, as and when he needs it. By holding your stylus over the now glowing Kirby, you can activate his Star Dash, which triggers an increase in size and a tendency to go dashing off at borderline uncontrollable speeds - by directing the high-speed Kirby torpedo with rainbow ropes, he can now smash through metal walls and larger enemies he previously couldn't have touched, or be sent careening off the top of the screen to a secret area.
Such secret areas or metal walled areas often contain collectable treasure chests, five of which are hidden around each stage. Containing figurines of various characters, enemies and Kirbys, each with their own little backstory, as well as oodles of music tracks from Kirby games past and present, finding all five chests in a stage can take a fair bit of searching. Some may be hidden in plain sight, while others may require you to beat a certain enemy or group of bad guys, and others could be behind various challenge doors, where you have a grand total of fifteen seconds in which to solve a short puzzle and reach the treasure chest. These collectables aren't the only thing you might want to replay earlier levels for though - depending on the number of stars you manage to amass in a level, you'll pass with a bronze, silver or gold medal, whilst the end-of-level spinning wheel has a special Secret Diary item on there. Time it right, and you'll unlock a seriously cute entry in Elline's diary, complete with character profiles, little stories and doodles of her and Kirby's adventures.
Certain levels harness the power of Elline in a different way, where her doodles actually transform Kirby into an adorable mode of transport, each with a slightly different twist on the draw-lines-for-Kirby-to-follow formula. As a tank, Kirby can fire off missiles at enemies as he constantly rolls forward, guided by your rainbow lines - while the submarine Kirby moves to wherever you tap on the screen, firing off torpedoes automatically as he chugs along, which you'll need to divert along rainbow ropes to blow up blocks, defeat enemies and press switches. Sometimes, while transformed, you'll need to complete a short escape sequence, in which you draw a path to follow on a zoomed out map, going via any switches etc in order to open the exit.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Nintendo platformer without a few boss fights thrown in for good measure. Each of the game's seven worlds, which take in everything from cheery green fields to underwater caverns to sandy deserts, is split into three stages followed by a boss fight, including one against the recurring bad-tempered tree, Whispy Woods, who Kirby's beaten so many times he could likely make himself a nice log cabin from all the remains - and still have enough wood left over to see him through the winter. Generally a simple matter of launching the Kirbster off rainbow ramps and smacking the boss in the face, while avoiding any projectiles, minions or attacks he makes, they're not usually too challenging. However - our main gripe is that you end up fighting the same three bosses twice over - having to face off against a tougher, metal-plated version of the world one boss, Whispy Woods, a mere three worlds later, it does kind of feel like a bit of a cop out on Nintendo's part.
As adorable as it is, what with it's cutesy art style and amazingly sweet clay-sculpted theme, Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush is both pretty short and rather easy - not that the latter is much of a problem for the platforming-challenged among us, and it even gives you the option to skip a stage if you mess up a level too many times. But with just seven worlds of three levels apiece, you'll likely blow through the entire game in a few hours - although finding all the treasure chests, getting all the medals and unlocking all the secret diary entries may well take up a fair bit of time too. There's also a Challenge Mode, where you have a scant fifteen seconds to solve a quick puzzle and grab a treasure chest from a room, guiding Kirby past bouncy bumpers, beating up enemies and bashing through blocks to the prize. There is however a disappointing lack of the quirky little mini-games we've come to expect from the Kirby games, whether it was a hilarious round of throwing ninja stars at targets with friends, trying to scoff as many cakes (and as few bombs) as possible in an eating contest or a few rounds of a rhythm action drum-bouncing game - such little additions have pretty much become mainstays of the series, and the lack of any this time round once again makes Rainbow Paintbrush seem a little like half a game.
Still, it's nice to see support for multiplayer in what could have easily been a solely single-player game. While there's only one Kirby to play as, given that only one person can wield the Gamepad at once, up to three other players can jump in with Wii Remotes and play as a band of coloured Waddle Dees and lend Kirby a helping hand. And a helping hand Kirby will need, as during multiplayer sessions, a strange purple hand - imaginatively named Grab Hand - will occasionally try to kidnap the Kirbster, and it's up to the Waddle Dees to jab him with their spears before it can carry Kirby off screen, making him lose a life. While the Waddle Dees can't create their own rainbow ropes, they can walk along Kirby's too - and potentially get trapped by any wayward lines the Gamepad player might draw - leading to some fairly interesting co-op sessions (and a potential for a few arguments).
While a couple of aspects of Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush do feel a tad cost-cut-y in places (reusing bosses, lack of mini-games, less levels per world), in and of itself it isn't a bad game in the slightest - far from it. Once more Nintendo have crafted an adorably amazing adventure that oozes charm, and one which is tough to play without a giant goofy grin on your face. The brightly-coloured clay-mation art style is a winner too, making Kirby one of the nicest looking Wii U games out there - and it helps that there's a pot of platforming gold at the end of this rainbow.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo Wii U