Rollin' with the big boys.
Those requiring proof of Nintendo's incredible power over gaming's youth need look no further than Kirby, a pink booger that has somehow enjoyed more success than scores of irreverent, agile wannabes. Despite his inability to do anything other than occasionally disobey the laws of gravity and overeat, this Hellen Keller of a ball is responsible for a respectable number of pretty good handheld games. He's part of Nintendo's seemingly unstoppable pantheon, a member of an elite club and clear evidence that Nintendo can make a star out of anything.
And in his latest outing, our hero has done what none of his kind have been able to manage thus far " star in a genuinely good Nintendo DS game (that didn't already come out 10 years ago). Kirby Canvas Curse takes the concepts introduced in the lackluster Yoshi Touch & Go and rolls them into an interesting platforming/puzzler, helping the bright pink puffball stand out as Nintendo's mascot du jour.
I don't know why they even bother with stories in Nintendo games anymore, but if you squint, you'll find one tucked away here. An evil witch has turned the world into a flat canvas and morphed Kirby into a ball by tearing away his limbs, which we sadly do not get to see. Undaunted, Kirby managed to snag her magical paint brush before she disappeared. He hands you the brush and asks you to help him unflatten the world. Like, zero effort on the plot, but what do you expect from a game starring a marble?
Besides, it's all about style " or stylus. You don't use the D-pad or face buttons at all. Rather, you control Kirby by drawing rainbow colored lines on the touch screen. He'll normally roll lazily through a level, but the lines give him direction, purpose and speed. He'll follow these faithfully; if you draw loops or near vertical lines, the pink ball will roll accordingly. You'll need to draw lines to get him over gaps, roll him over gate triggers, protect him from enemy projectiles and simply navigate through the game's 21 missions. To keep you from just filling up the screen with lines, you'll have to manage an Ink meter that depletes with each stroke.
Other interactions are key to the gameplay. Poking Kirby will make him dash and prodding enemies will freeze them, enabling you to safely take them out. You will also need to repeatedly ignite lamps to light up darkened levels and trigger bombs to break down otherwise impassable walls. True to form, Kirby can occasionally take on the power of a fallen enemy; poking him will then turn him into a fireball, bring down a bolt of lightning, transform him into a speedy wheel or, in one of the game's better quirks, inflate him like a balloon to reach high ledges.
This innovative control scheme works well in the framework of the short 2D level design. There are seven main worlds broken into three smaller levels, and each of these is broken further into three even smaller sections. It makes Canvas Curse feel at times like a puzzle game as you try to "solve' each segment, although this also means the game is very linear.
But it's not a roll in the park. Though you can just bolt from start to finish, each sub level contains a medal - 250 in all - which often requires some tricky maneuvering to snag. Medals are later spent on unlocking bonuses like sound tests and new colors for the line, as well as playable mini-games. At the end of each main world you'll have to contend with a boss, but even this classic formula is given a twist as you can choose from one of three different bosses. A boss increases in level after each defeat, so you'll eventually want to try them all.
Boss battles can be replayed later as diversionary Sub-Games. Even more content is here in the form of the Rainbow Run, a collection of one-off Time Trails and Line Trials (in which you're rewarded for using very little ink) spanning the various worlds. There's a lot here for a DS game.
No matter how you play, you'd have to be pretty square not to enjoy yourself. Manipulating Kirby is simply good fun; you'll actually begin to like the little guy despite his total lack of character.
If Canvas Curse has one major problem, it's that it's still a bit gimmicky. While not short on modes or charm, that doesn't mean it's full of depth. Without a cohesive world or a plot to frame the action, this isn't the kind of game you can play for four hours in a sitting. Some sort of multiplayer might have fixed this - they got it into Yoshi Touch & Go, you know - but alas, it's solo or bust. Canvas Curse functions much better as a quick diversion in which you tackle a level or two, then move on to something more engaging.
It's easy to become attached to the quirky graphics, however. Since the rickety story theoretically drops you into a painting, the levels are awash in bright colors and groovy backgrounds. The ball follows the rules of basic physics, paying heed to gravity and bouncing around appropriately. Our pink pal has never looked this cool.
I would say he never sounded so cool, too, if he actually had a mouth. If he does, it's wired shut. Most of the audio is typically cute, catchy Nintendo midi and doesn't get in the way.
Who would have thought that this unassuming, second-rate mascot would roll to the front of the pack? Kirby Canvas Curse is simply one of the best DS games released thus far and an easy choice for DS owners griping about the lack of strong software for their tech-heavy handheld. He might not have legs, but this old pro will get you where you need to go.