We’ve seen some twee stuff here in the Nintendo Life zeppelin, but Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan may be the twee-est thing ever created by human hands. It’s so ruddy twee that it might as well have been coded by the Teletubbies, all crowded ‘round Po’s little belly computer trying to punch in line after line of Python, ultimately resulting in his painful death by bludgeoning.
But that’s all irrelevant. The point is, Rainbow Billy is so twee that it makes Walter the Softy go “oof, this is a bit twee, isn’t it?” Therefore, it needs to be a lot of fun to counterbalance the sugary-sweetness, lest one’s teeth deign to rot. Thankfully, it is quite a lot of fun, though there are some caveats.
Essentially the gameplay is not entirely unlike Paper Mario or the recent (excellent) pretender, Bug Fables; with peppy, brightly-coloured 3D environments and well-drawn thick-lined 2D assets, it’s also very familiar but in an appealing way. The use of colour is excellent in general, with it always being clearly-coded where you can and can’t walk – which is surprising less limiting than you might think, as even the earliest area in the game has you scrambling all over rooftops. And the aforementioned colour, you’ll find, comes into play outside of simple aesthetics.
See, a sodding great dragon has stolen the world's colour, leaving it bereft of joy and, erm, pigmentation. Oh no! So, obviously — OBVIOUSLY — Rainbow Billy sets out on the open seas via his (deep sigh) Friend-Ship, in search of the stolen tincture via the trio of disciplines we'd usefully call exploration, platforming and "combat".
The sharper of those amongst you will have noticed that we put combat in scare quotes, which is accurate because there's no actual pugilism here. Billy must, instead, make friends with his opponents by speaking to them, listening and understanding their problems. Yes, it's all a bit Get Along Gang, isn't it? This is that tweeness we were talking about. But this isn't just a sub-Undertale sort of thing, there is strategy involved. In order to "understand" the enemies you need to use your already-recruited friends to acquire differently-shaped and coloured tokens and wear down the opponent's resistance to your BOUNDLESS FRIENDSHIP.
It's kind of creepy when you think about it, so just try not to. These morale battles are fun, and later in the game when you've got more friends than MySpace Tom, it gets somewhat strategic as the various necessary colours and shapes become a little less than accessible. You'll also need to play different button-matching minigames à la the already-cited Paper Mario series, but the presentation of these is a little lacklustre compared with almost everything else.
Getting around the world is a genuine treat, with secrets and cubbyholes full of coins hidden all over the place, and a nice variety to the game world as you sail from island to island making new pals, solving problems and generally having a bit of a grand old time of it. There are small environmental puzzles to solve, plenty of people to talk to, and a nice spot of fishing as a sideline (though the fishing minigame, such as it is, feels like an old Flash game).
This inherent niceness does come at a bit of a cost. While the game generally runs at a nice smooth 60 frames per second, we saw it drop down ridiculously low at times, mostly during the traversal sequences on the boat. Thankfully there was no twitch skill needed at these points, but it's still disappointing to see the game chug like that. It also opens with an astonishingly long loading screen. It's so long, in fact, that we timed it and it reached a full one minute and forty-five seconds, which is quite the wait. We're not sure why, either, as while the game certainly looks nice and feels expansive, it doesn't feel nearly-two-minutes-of-loading expansive.
Rainbow Billy is rather a lot better than the sum of its parts, and it's only some fairly severe technical issues that prevent us giving it a higher score. We know we've harped on about it a little, but it really is exceptionally mawkish a lot of the time, which leads to a bit of a disconnect wherein the subject matter can be fairly thoughtful and mature but the dialogue used to describe it is relentlessly cutesy-poo. It's definitely a strange game, but the surprisingly involved "combat" and snappy pacing of the exploration makes it a tentative recommendation if you can tolerate the tone. We'd say it's aimed specifically at children but the difficulty level can be fairly high, which confuses the matter a touch. Still, lovely visuals, well-designed locations, fun battles; the ingredients of a good game are all present and correct here.