He started in "Dream Land," but if ever a Kirby game deserved the word "dream" in its title, it's "Kirby and the Rainbow Curse."
The new Wii U platformer takes two curious steps for a console game: First, it all but requires you to lock your eyes not on the TV, but on the touchscreen on the system's GamePad. That's because, secondly, you can only maneuver the beloved pink puffball by scribbling on that screen with the controller's stylus.
Sure, you can watch the game on your TV. You'll want to. You'll want to see it on a screen that does justice to its precious claymation look, which outfits every character, every environment, in dented, semi-gloss skin. You'll want to see all this rainbow splendor at the highest resolution possible, if only to look for a thumbprint.
But unless you have the hand-eye coordination and muscle memory to perform brain surgery blindfolded, watching the TV won't take you very far into Kirby's quest to restore color to Dream Land.
It's a strange feeling, then, playing "Kirby and the Rainbow Curse." With a larger screen you can't look at, and more nuanced controls you can't manipulate, it feels off. It feels fuzzy, distanced. It feels like a dream.
Thankfully, dreamlike and fun are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, developer HAL Laboratory leverages the crudity of controlling Kirby with the stylus into some wonderful platforming.
The basic rules: You tap Kirby to move him forward and topple enemies. And you draw a rainbow line that acts as a sort of conveyor belt once Kirby's riding it. Depending on the shape and placement of the line, it can lift him off surfaces, steer him around obstacles or catch him when he's falling.
Beating levels means using the rope to get Kirby to the end. For completionists and challenge-seekers, however, collectible chests and stars will coax some fanciful drawing in order to sweep Kirby toward every last object. If someone was watching you but not the screen, they'd think you were sketching something you really wanted to look nice.
The stars determine level grades, but also serve a purpose. Grabbing 100 of them grants Kirby a power attack that can drill through the enemies and metal blocks that gate off many of the game's collectibles.
The power attack is especially useful in the game's excellent boss battles. Some, like the Hooplagon and series regular Whispy Woods, can't be beaten without it. So not only will you have to assiduously move away from these baddies and the pointy, blasty things they throw your way, you'll have to move toward the stars that splash the screen before they disappear. All by drawing.
The control scheme does have its pitfalls. There doesn't appear to be a simple way to turn Kirby around; you have to bounce him off a surface or toy with the rope to get him facing the right way. The ability to erase previously drawn rope by striking through it can thwart nimble movements in tight corners, too. And the game will often mistake tapping for line tracing, and vice versa.
A few knots can be forgiven in the face of so much innovation. As "Kirby and the Rainbow Curse" goes on through 28 levels, HAL twists and turns the line mechanic and meets consistently fun results. A game that asks so much of your motor skills can only be played in bursts, but you will want to go back. You might even dream about it.