Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Review: Kirby Canvas Curse (DS)

Sometimes a game is so blissfully simple that I am suddenly reminded of why I play videogames. Enter my latest foray into the duel screen handheld world of Nintendo. Kirby: Canvas Curse is a fun-filled romp through the two-dimensional, side-scrolling world of our favorite pink ball. Use your stylus to guide Kirby through intricate levels and clever mini-games. This is more than just another showcase for DS technology—it's the real deal.

Serious Business

I know what you're thinking: kid stuff. But this isn't just a race through glitzy, star-filled realms... this is serious business. After all, Kirby has been cruelly wrenched out of his Dream Land home and dropped into a world drawn by the evil sorceress, Drawcia (yes, Drawcia). Things are looking dire and as Kirby, it's up to you to advance through seven dangerous worlds, defeat the evil sorceress, and set things right again.

Okay, so the plot won't have producers clamoring for a movie deal. But don't let the stars and rainbows fool you; Canvas Curse is a challenging and exciting game for players of all ages, abilities, and tastes. There are time trials, unique mini-boss battle scenarios, and unlockable features. Kirby fans will rejoice as they tap and crash into enemies to steal special abilities. And anyone can appreciate the satisfying gameplay throwback to the original Sonic—action is often fast and furious as you spin, spiral, and soar to the goal at the opposite end of the screen. The premise is shaky, but the payoff is fantastic.

It's Dangerous To Go Alone

Good thing you're armed with a magical paintbrush (ahem, stylus) that conveniently taps on Kirby to give him a speed boost, taps on enemies to freeze them into vulnerability, and taps on obstacles to make your path easier to navigate. And that's not all. The real beauty of the "magical paintbrush"—and the crux of the game—lies in its ability to draw rainbows that launch Kirby through the air, protect him from enemy fire, and steer him around dangerous obstacles.

In fact, Nintendo has come up with a surprising number of unique ways for Kirby to interact with that little rainbow line. Sometimes, the buoyant Kirby must be pushed underwater with the rainbow or kept from drifting in a "zero gravity" environment. The rainbow keeps lasers from frying our hero, guides Kirby into lamps to light a pitch dark room, and bounces him around like a pinball to collect items on the screen. By the time you reach the final boss battle, you'll be using all of these tricks—and plenty more—to dodge traps, defuse missiles, defeat minions, and destroy Drawcia.

How Kirby Conquers All

Of course, it's not all wanton zooming and bouncing. Sure, Kirby collects stars to gain extra lives, items to restore health, and medals to trade in for bonus features. But there are challenges along the way. Paint for your brush is limited and replenishes slowly unless you're rolling on solid ground. And when you run out of lives... you begin again at the beginning of the world (not the last level or checkpoint you cleared). There were many times when I would reach far into the third level, then lose my last life and begin at level one all over again. Thank you, Marble Madness, for teaching me patience.

And while the patience was much needed in later levels and the final battle with Drawcia, the "boss battles" at the end of each world proved strangely simple. I finished all these scenarios unfailingly on the first try—not a testament to my gaming prowess, I assure you. The difficulty level was obviously scaled down in favor of offering a change in pace from the regular gameplay. In Block Attack, you hurl Kirby around like a pinball to defeat Kracko the eye monster. In Cart Run, you race King Dedede in fruit-boosted carts (that look like they belong in a coal mine). And in my personal favorite, Paint Panic, you emulate the paint strokes of Paint Roller—some kind of roller skating artist fiend. Don't be surprised if you blast through each mini-boss, but be sure to replay the scenarios as subgames outside the regular "plot," where they offer a bit more challenge.

And the final battle? Surprisingly tricky and extremely satisfying. It took me several tries, but by the end, quick-thinking helped me discover important strategies and my skills with the stylus had certainly reached a pinnacle. Kirby won the day.

Replay Value is For Wussies

I want to be clear: Canvas Curse absolutely shines in its regular gameplay. It's like a conversation with the game developers; they teach you level by level how to combine dozens of moves into one seamless enterprise and you show them what their game can really do. And when you finally defeat Drawcia, you feel as though you've really mastered something. But I don't think it's the sort of thing most people would play again and again.

Don't get me wrong... Nintendo has plugged in a number of features to extend the life of the game. Between main game missions, you can replay your boss battles in classic "score attack" style, racing King Dedede into eternity or imitating Paint Roller with increasing grace and agility. Plus there's the Rainbow Run, which allows you to replay various levels as a time trial (clear the level as fast as you can) or a line trial (clear the level using as little paint as possible). There's even a reason to play the subgames and race through Rainbow Run; achieve certain results in the games and you'll be awarded more medals to swap for bonus features. You can add health to Kirby's life meter, turn your rainbow into a "tropical" line, or earn the ability to play as the huge ball-shaped King Dedede.

But those things aren't why you should play the game. What makes it so fun is that it's quick to learn the gameplay, fun to discover new ways of moving Kirby through the level, and just as you think it might start getting tedious, the game is over. After just five and half hours of game time, I was taking on the big bad boss, bringing my stylus play to the next level, and adding Canvas Curse to my completed games resumé. So if you're looking for a solid rental offering for your handheld, look no further. If you're looking for a game you can purchase, cherish, and come back to five years from now, this probably isn't it.