In 2005, the Nintendo DS saw the release of Kirby: Canvas Curse, a Kirby game that used an unusual mechanic to control the pink puffball: drawing on the touch screen. The game was well received by critics, and this, I imagine, is what prompted Nintendo to release a sequel for the Wii U, and with a new aesthetic: clay. Or “plasticine” as it’s sometimes known as. When my son was younger, he called it “lunch”. Let’s see how well-moulded this game is.

In Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush, the game opens with a portal appearing in the sky, and a mysterious entity called Claycia draining all the colour from the land. All (colour) is not lost, though, because Elline—a fairy shaped like a paintbrush—comes flying through the portal and, along with Kirby (and optionally, his friends) heads off to save Dream Land from the big evil, and restore to colour the parts that Claycia stole.

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For reasons unbeknownst, Kirby is stuck in the shape of a ball, so he’s restricted to rolling around. Almost none of the Kirby standards are here in terms of gameplay: no swallowing of enemies, no stealing of powers. Instead of directly controlling Kirby, you control Elline and use the stylus to draw platforms and paths for Kirby to follow. The paintbrush has a limit, though, and you have to pause your frenzied scribbling for a second every now and again to let the brush refill. The magic painted ropes do more than just guide Kirby, though: they can act as barriers and also erase specific bits of landscape. Furthermore, if you create a nice, tight loop, you can temporarily increase Kirby’s speed. The greyscale portions of the world cannot be drawn in, though, so you have to traverse these sections with the cunning use of momentum. These “stolen colour” bits aren’t that widespread, though, and I expected more of this mayhem, given the pre-game movie.

Along the journey, you’ll collect rings coins stars, and collecting 100 of them lets you tap and hold Kirby to have him transform into his super saiyan super star form, breaking bricks and enemies in his path. In each world, one stage before the boss, Kirby transforms (much like he did in Kirby’s Epic Yarn) into various vehicles from submarines to rockets. Movement is still simplified (sometimes he moves on his own, other times you tap to indicate where he goes). Elline’s rainbow ropes provide a path for Kirby’s ammunition in these cases.

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So…Does drawing the paths make Kirby difficult to control? Yep. Does it make the game frustrating? Yep. Does it stop the game from being fun? Nope. And here’s why: in many cases, any mistakes and troubles you run into wind up being you not drawing quickly or accurately enough. Some of the frustration comes from Kirby doing what you tell him to do, not what you want him to do, and this fine distinction makes all the difference.

If you have friends (or children) lying around, you can rope them into the action. Up to three players can join as differently coloured versions of Kirby’s buddy, Waddle Dee, and playing the game on multiplayer is a completely different beast. Waddle Dee can jump and attack as per normal, and even carry Kirby around. Kirby himself still needs the magical ropes to guide him, but the ropes also act as platforms for Waddle Dee to jump on. Furthermore, halfway through each stage in multiplayer, Waddle Dee has to defend Kirby from an attack by Claycia. Kirby’s job here is just to keep out of the way.

As you can see from the screenshots, the game is in claymation (a la The Neverhood or Clay Fighters), and this lends so much delightful charm to the game that it made me want to go out and get some modelling clay to make my own figurines. From what I can see, the game’s assets are made of actual clay, and not just a CGI mockup thereof, and they actually deliberately kept the framerate low to emulate the feel of a claymation film. I like the idea of HAL Laboratories hiring a team of clay sculptors and artists to bring the game to life. It’s such a pity, then, that unless you’re someone’s player two, you’ll spend almost the entire game staring at the Gamepad and not the HDTV where you can appreciate the visuals, down to fingerprints on the clay sculptures.

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Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush falters a little when it comes to the minigames—there aren’t really any. Instead, what you get are a bunch of challenge rooms, giving you 15 seconds each to complete. It’s not a lot of time, and the sense of haste you get is half of what makes you fail. On the other hand, if you’re a collector, there will be tons to keep you busy. Each stage has five chests that contain the game’s models and music, and at the end of each stage you have the chance to collect pages from Elline’s diary. I might add that if you’re going for diary pages, you’ll have far more luck with Waddle Dee, since Kirby’s movement is too inaccurate to faithfully go after each of the pages.

Still, Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush is great fun, and definitely something that can be played with the kids (or cooperatively with other adults). The visuals are the game’s biggest draw, but the lack of any powers makes this less a Kirby game and more something else. The game supports the use of three amiibo: Kirby, King Dedede, and Metaknight, each one granting Kirby a particular power once per day. Overall, it was an enjoyable experience, but some Kirby stalwarts might find that its differences make it a little too different. The game is fun, addictive, and incredibly, incredibly cute.

Final Score: 8 Claymation prawns out of 10

Detailed Information:
Developer: HAL Laboratories
Publisher: Nintendo
Distributor: Nintendo South Africa
Release Date: 8 May 2015
RRP: TBA
Age Rating: PG
Website: https://www.nintendo.co.za/Games/Wii-U/Kirby-and-the-Rainbow-Paintbrush-893013.html