Kirby: Power Paintbrush – also known as Canvas Curse in North America – was originally released on the Nintendo DS in 2005. Following the trend of many other franchises during this new generation of handheld gaming, the HAL Laboratory-developed title moved away from traditional platform game conventions by utilising the defining touch control features of the portable.
Fast forward to 2015 and Power Paintbrush – the first of a number of Kirby entries released for the Nintendo DS – has now been added to the Wii U eShop Virtual Console library. The entirely touch-centric approach to the game is the focus here, and while it was both an alluring and fresh selling point in 2005, sadly the sheer novelty of these types of games has since worn thin – so how does the title hold up to the test of time with this important factor in consideration? It's still a solid game, but it's just not half as captivating as it once was.
Kirby: Power Paintbrush begins with a strange and mysterious event – in this case a portal appearing in the sky – and a witch named Drawcia casting a spell upon Dream Land, turning the world into a canvas. Kirby attempts to stop the evil witch when the situation backfires; she turns him into a limbless ball and summons replicas of long-time foes such as King Dedede. Fortunately a magical brush – the Power Paintbrush – comes to Kirby's aid and from there the pink puff sets out on an adventure to restore Dream Land to its former peaceful state.
Although this title slots under the platform genre, the player does not directly control Kirby with button inputs. Instead you are required to navigate him through levels by tapping, swiping, sliding and flicking the stylus on the touch screen (which is somewhat fiddly at times), prompting him to perform certain actions until you reach a rainbow coloured doorway which signifies the end of a level. Using the power paintbrush (your stylus), players can guide the ball-shaped Kirby through levels by drawing temporary rainbow lines which are fuelled by an ink meter on the top screen that replenishes over a short period. If this is sounding familiar, you've probably played the more recent Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush on Wii U.
This power paintbrush allows the player to fill dangerous gaps, move Kirby to higher and lower ledges, create barriers to protect him from enemy attacks and projectiles, and poke him to make him do a speed dash. The player can also interact with enemies, stunning them with the stylus and copying their abilities – replacing Kirby's original dash move; these special moves are lost if Kirby takes damage. Adding to all of this is a variety of hazards and obstacles including sections where rainbow lines cannot be drawn, laser fields and switch sections. In addition there are also items to collect such as the iconic Maxim Tomato and 1UP for extra lives, along with multiple enemies to deal with including the likes of Waddle Dee.
This establishes the core mechanics for Kirby: Power Paintbrush, which spans over eight themed worlds, with three levels per world on average that often drag on. The levels themselves are the usual variety of open green plains, lava-filled volcanos and chilly ice levels, supported by a canvas backdrop that is slightly reminiscent of the art style featured in the Yoshi's Island series. The music is also rather fitting, with cheery and relaxed Kirby sound effects, and tunes which take inspiration from previous songs in the series. Collectively, this works well with a visual style that moves away from classic Kirby game art.
Unfortunately, all of these elements combined are the downfall of Kirby: Power Paintbrush, at least compared to the mascot's more conventional titles. With touch controls now a familiar sight in many modern games, the remaining package on offer is a somewhat underwhelming experience. Simply put, it's not packing enough punch. It feels more like a padded touch control mini-game for a smart device by today's standards rather than what should be considered a memorable platform game that perhaps paved the way for particular types of game experiences.
On the subject of mini-games, this is the approach the title has taken to bosses. Rather than regular encounters, Kirby challenges bosses in sub-game events. For example, facing off against King Dedede in a mine cart race and collecting fruit to go faster. There's not much to get excited about here, with the offerings minimalistic at best. These mini-game boss events very much mirror the basic design and shallow nature of the main game. Thankfully they are a pleasant break every once and a while.
Adding extra life to the title is the ability to collect medals to unlock prizes including sound tests, new paint colours and even new characters. This can be achieved by playing the main levels and finding the three medallions on each, defeating lesser bosses outside of the main game to earn a high rank and lastly by playing the Rainbow Run mode. Rainbow Run is an alternate mode that allows players to replay levels and earn medals in two trial modes – these are Line Trial (focused on paint management) and a regular Time Trial. This additional content fails to enhance what is still an average experience at best.
The main issue with Kirby: Power Paintbrush is the overly simplistic nature of the title and its inability to truly engage the player or hold their attention beyond the now-standard touch control system. Adding to this is the fact that this control method can become both fidgety and frustrating in more frantic moments of the game. In saying this, if you're content with a relatively average platform game at its foundations driven by what was – when first released – considered a unique control method, then this is probably a decent option. Otherwise you would be better off playing a more traditional Kirby title or platform game from this era.