Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush: review

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Game code provided by the publisher

When we first saw this game, our first thought was of the criminally ignored Ivy The Kiwi?. While Ivy is guided solely by straight lines, however, the eponymous rainbow paintbrush can be used to draw on the screen any way you like. This basic idea is the source of both the strengths and the weaknesses in this game; but which dominates?

To get the obvious out of the way first, yes, Kirby’s adventures here are done in a claymation style (most eye-poppingly in cutscenes) and it looks wonderful. It’s a little disappointing that the whole idea of clay isn’t used to flavour animations more often – one of the few obvious examples being Kirby flattening when he hits a surface at high speed – but hey, you’d be clayzy to expect everything, right? It’s very (very) light on story, but can be genuinely amusing for brief moments; and besides, if you’re coming to a Kirby game expecting a strong story, you’re doing videogames wrong.

Rainbow Paintbrush is a cross between a platformer and a draw ’em up. Admittedly, the latter is a genre that we just made up, so that may not be particularly helpful. Kirby curls himself up into a ball and then entrusts his fate to unseen forces, which seems like a depressing analogy for the human condition. While a few environments throw up wind or water, these unseen forces are generally speaking your actions and the dangers that you may or may not protect him from. The dangers? Enemies, bottomless pits, and the occassional pair of walls seeking to squish the little pink fella. Your actions? Well now.

Oooh, shiny. Collect ’em in the main story for virtual figurines to gawp at.

While you don’t take direct control of Kirby, you can tap on him (the game is controlled exclusively via the touchscreen) to make him spin dash; his only attack, which can kill or damage all but the spikiest or toughest of enemies. Most of your time however will be spent drawing rainbow-flavoured lines on the screen. Kirby will automatically roll along a rainbow string when he comes into contact with one. You can make him dash on the string for a very brief burst of fastness, or draw a loop to build up speed. You can’t just draw a constant series of loops, though; you only get a limited amount of paint. It refills automatically after a short cooldown period, but that can sometimes seem like an agonising wait. If you run out of paint in mid-air, with no platforms nearby, all you can do is constantly lay tiny, ineffectual threads while Kirby plummets back to earth like a fat pink sparrow suffering a heart attack.

It’s not all mid-air acrobatics, mind you. As there’s not so much as a jump button, you roll Kirby along the rainbow string for everything from the smallest step up to the longest leap-of-faith distances. You’ll guide him left, right, up, down, and around. It’s not as simple as pathfinding, of course. You’ll have to manoeuvre Kirby into position to attack or avoid enemies, who will almost always constantly be on the move themselves. You’ll also need to avoid moving hazards and sometimes use your string to block lasers, flames, or a heavy flow of water to clear the way. All the while there are pickups to collect such as points, health – or stars.

Stars are dotted around each level, in plain sight as well as hiding in both nooks and crannies. Your reasons for collecting these are twofold. For every hundred stars you collect in a level you can activate one super-dash, which allows you to smash through otherwise indestructible enemies and blocks – good for grabbing previously inaccessible goodies, or just going really fast. Also, each stage will award you with a bronze, silver, or gold medal at the end depending on how many available stars you nabbed. Gold medals unlock bonus challenge levels.

The main game is full of surprises and wonderfully designed levels, but it’ll be over for most people in well under six hours. The challenges are therefore a welcome addition (with a few survivals thrown in), where you have to make your way through a series of single-screen rooms within a very strict time limit. That in turn gives you motivation to return to the main game, to earn the gold medals that you missed the first time around.

Up to three others can join you as Waddle Dees. Complete with pointy sticks!

First time round or second time round, Rainbow Paintbrush is a great game. It’s full of charm, inventive uses of a simple control system, and rewards for exploring the least direct route to the exit. It’s not without its problems, though. Firstly – and this is not necessarily a problem so much – this is, bizarrely, not a game that’s practical to play while looking at the TV. The touchscreen controls mean that precision can only be achieved by looking at the GamePad, and later levels demand a high level of preciseness.

On a similar note, it’s sometimes very important to ensure that the rainbow string is either above or below Kirby while he’s rolling along it (to avoid pointy things and so on). Now and again this is harder than it should be, perhaps because the nib on the Wii U stylus is just a tiny bit too fat. Whatever the reason, it leads to frustration – exasperated by the fact that there’s no button or easy way to delete a previously drawn string. Overlapping a string will make it vanish, but most of the time – if you’re in a rush – the result is just a different string in the way that you don’t want.

Don’t let that put you off. Despite the occasional frustration – and the fact that all but one of the (creatively designed) bosses are used twice – this is a fun Kirby title well worth your time. Just don’t expect it to last you long past the first week.

critical score 8

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Written by Luke K

He plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. He doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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