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'Kirby and the Rainbow Curse' is unique, challenging
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"Kirby and the Rainbow Curse" - photo by Jeff Peterson
First things first: Kirby's latest adventure is a beautiful-looking game.

Developer HAL Laboratory, the team also behind Nintendos popular Super Smash Bros. series, has ditched the charming yarn and cloth motif from 2010's Kirbys Epic Yarn" in favor of a Wallace & Gromit-esque claymation look. The effect is instantly appealing. Every part of the candy-colored, fingerprint-covered world looks like it was lovingly molded by hand and then arranged, frame by painstaking frame. Even the animation itself has the rough, imperfect charm of a stop-motion movie.

Aside from the eye-catching visuals, the main selling point of "Rainbow Curse" is its gameplay. Using the same touchscreen-based mechanics as the 2005 "Kirby: Canvas Curse" for the Nintendo DS, Kirby's latest adventure effectively bridges the gap between classic Nintendo platformers and app games like "Cut the Rope."

Eschewing buttons and thumbsticks altogether, players instead move Kirby via rainbow-colored lines that they paint directly on the Gamepad touchscreen with the Wii U stylus or a finger. Of course, there's a little more to it than that. Tapping Kirby propels him forward in a quick spin attack, and after collecting enough stars, he can also unleash a supercharged attack capable of breaking metal blocks.

The basic control scheme is extremely intuitive. Even non-gamers will be able to pick it up and have fun with it almost immediately.

That doesnt mean Rainbow Curse is a walk in the park, though. Things get tough to an enjoyable degree pretty quickly.

Luckily, for younger or less diehard players, if one dies too many times in a row on the same level, the game offers to let them skip ahead. This makes "Rainbow Curse" playable for a much broader audience without sacrificing the challenge for those gamers willing to replay a segment over and over until theyve mastered it.

The combination of visuals and touchscreen gameplay also keeps things feeling surprisingly fresh. Rainbow Curse doesnt look like a Mario clone, and it definitely doesnt play like one, even while the various worlds basically follow the standard 2-D platformer checklist water levels, forest levels, cloud levels, volcano levels, etc.

Clichd platforming elements, however, present entirely new challenges in the absence of a more traditional control scheme. Even after getting used to using the stylus, something as simple as moving through water can still be tricky. (Kirby, it turns out, is naturally buoyant, so it becomes a constant battle to keep him from floating away.)

Just getting Kirby from point A to point B requires a lot more work on the players part than a more straightforward run-and-jump kind of platformer would, and it doesnt take much for things to get kind of hairy. One misplaced rainbow line and a formerly serene moment can quickly turn into a flurry of tapping and swiping just to keep Kirby afloat while the rainbow ink runs dangerously low.

Another feature that makes "Rainbow Curse" a solid choice for families is the multiplayer. Up to three additional players can join in at any point as spear-wielding "Waddle Dees" using Wii Remotes. Unlike the main player, though, the extra players use a traditional control scheme, which some people might actually prefer.

"Rainbow Curse" is not a long game the story mode could probably be beaten in a single sitting but a challenge mode and collectibles like figurines and songs from the soundtrack offer some incentive to replay each level.

This is also one of the few games that currently supports amiibo functionality. Amiibos are Nintendo's separately sold toy gaming figures similar to those found in the Skylanders and Disney Infinity franchises.

For those looking for something a little different from your standard 2-D platformer, "Kirby and the Rainbow Curse" is a refreshing change of pace that's easily accessible for inexperienced players but still challenging enough to keep old-school gamers entertained.

Game: "Kirby and the Rainbow Curse"

Platform: Wii U

Cost: $39.99

ESRB rating: E for everyone (mild cartoon violence)