Woven to become one of Wii’s standout experiences, HAL Laboratory took great joy in throwing their loveable pink puffball into a world made entirely out of cloth and yarn. Kirby’s Epic Yarn‘s patchwork adventure wasn’t the most challenging that the young Star Warrior has ever undertaken, but it had allowed us to marvel in happily unravelling the world around us.
We can take equal delight in Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush, the cuddly star being moulded with another playful substance for his Wii U debut. Clay.
This chosen art direction is nothing short of a visual sensation, and you’re likely to be captivated from the moment you see the irrepressibly charming opening cutscene that lays out the story behind Kirby’s latest quest. When evil artist Claycia drains all colour from Dream Land to paint her own world, Seventopia, Kirby and Waddle Dee set out to reclaim it with the help of magical paintbrush, Elline. The premise is as simple as that, with Elline’s powers sparking the clay-based adventure that follows.
As a successor to Kirby: Power Paintbrush, Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush treads the same path in not playing like a traditional Kirby game. Having once explored stylus-orientated input on Nintendo DS, HAL Laboratory takes on a similar quest with the Wii U GamePad all while chasing asymmetric gameplay experiences. That sees one player drawing rainbow ropes to guide Kirby on the Wii U GamePad’s touchscreen moving in the direction that the line was drawn, whereas three others can join in the action with Wii Remotes (or Wii U Pro Controllers) playing as Waddle Dees on the TV screen – clambering on the ropes and tackling foes.
Rainbow ropes are key to Kirby’s traversal in each stage, with an ink gauge being slowly drained as you carefully paint them. This gauge replenishes over time, but drawing loops are important to help increase Kirby’s speed whereas you won’t want to be left without ink while rolling your way over hazardous surroundings. Ropes can also be drawn to shelter Kirby from waterfalls, dispersing clay, or to create barriers that block marauding enemies, and making the pink hero roll into a rope will see him change direction.
Tap Dash attacks can be made by quickly tapping Kirby to damage any enemies or blocks that he crashes into. Whereas collecting 100 Point Stars, which numerously appear throughout each stage and relate to the Medal that you’re awarded at their conclusion, will let you perform a more powerful Star Dash – often required to break walls to uncover the Treasure Chests hidden away.
The control scheme is easy for even casual players of any age to grasp, and once again differentiates Nintendo’s experiences from publishers that often fail to think outside the box. However, it can suffer from inconsistency thanks in part to the awkward way in which you erase ropes. Make a mistake and the only way to dismiss a rope is to draw over it with another. Do it again and it can become quickly irritable, often being quicker to wait for the rogue rope to fade over time instead.
Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush displays some wonderful diversity in approach, with underwater levels seeing Kirby don a snorkel and float upwards – altering where you’ll have to position rainbow ropes. There are certain stages where Kirby will encounter a canvas, Elline then inspired to transform Kirby with her magic into whatever it shows. This is an excuse for vehicular stages, Kirby shifting his clay form into a tank, submarine and rocket over the course of your adventure – welcomingly switching gameplay away from the central rope mechanic for a moment.
Sadly, Story Mode is over all too quickly and can be beaten in approximately six hours. That leaves players to either tackle Challenge Mode’s time-limited puzzles, or revisit stages to discover missed Secret Diary pages and treasure chests – in turn unlocking content for the Figurine Showcase and Music Room menus. As with Super Smash Bros. for Wii U’s trophies, the clay-based figurines, in particular, are exceptionally detailed and worthy to collect.
amiibo support for Kirby, King Dedede and Meta Knight isn’t particularly inspired, players able to use each once per day to have unlimited Star Dashes, extend your health and increase your Tap Dash speed respectively in a single stage. It can help on harder stages but feels largely superficial – especially when, after failing four times, you’re allowed to skip straight past whichever’s perplexing you.
But the largest crime with Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush is not making the most out of the playful, clay world that the pink hero finds himself in. Where Kirby’s Epic Yarn had us interacting with our surroundings, Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush simply has us rolling through it which comes as a disappointment in creativity. There can be no argument against this being one of the most wondrous-looking games to grace the Wii U, it just falls short of matching that with an as endearing gameplay experience.