What's a Nintendo handheld system without every member of the company's cute-character pantheon taking the lead role in at least one action game? So it is that Kirby: Canvas Curse has come before us, starring the eponymous adorable wad of pink fluff in his first DS adventure. All is not well for Kirby this go-around, though--an evil witch has turned all of Dream Land into a series of paintings, and she's worked Kirby over pretty bad, too. You'll have to take up your magical paint brush and delve into the paintings to restore everything to order and stop the villain once and for all.
You could describe Canvas Curse as Yoshi's Touch & Go but with more game. The conceit is certainly similar: Use your magic brush (read: stylus) to draw lines on the screen that will direct an ever-moving main character away from danger and toward the goal. Except in this case, you're drawing rainbows, not clouds. And this isn't Yoshi; it's Kirby. Most importantly, this simple but appealing mechanic is attached to fully featured platformer-style levels that will test your reflexes and ingenuity in equal measure, if the first two worlds we've played through so far are indicative of the rest of the game.
This isn't just the regular old Kirby you're used to--the witch has removed his limbs, and he has become a perfectly round pink ball. As such, he'll be careening haphazardly in one direction or another at all times, requiring you to keep on your toes with the line-drawing to keep him out of trouble. Just like in Touch & Go, you can draw lines on the screen that will direct where Kirby rolls. You can make a barrier to reverse his direction, a ramp to get him over a chasm, or a shield to prevent projectiles or enemies from hitting him. You'll have to be judicious with your lines, though, since you have a finite amount of rainbow paint to draw lines with. Your paint bucket fills back up quickly, but it also depletes just as fast if you're drawing a lot.
It wouldn't be a Kirby game if the little pink puffball couldn't harness certain enemies' powers for his own use. Since this is a Kirby game, luckily he can. When you see an enemy with a power you can steal, you can tap Kirby to make him speed up and go smashing into it, which will confer the new ability onto him. You can then activate this ability simply by tapping Kirby. One ability we received made a line of sparks swing around Kirby, while another one made him burst into flame and charge straight ahead at speed. A third had a column of lightning come down from the top of the screen to Kirby, which was useful for taking out enemies above us. Of course, when all else fails you can simply tap a regular enemy with the stylus to stun it and then have Kirby knock it out by colliding with it. If you're drawing a lot of ramps and loops and making Kirby dash a lot, you can go flying into enemies before you've even realized they're there, so the game's combat, such as it is, can actually become extremely hectic at times.
The levels in Canvas Curse that we've played so far have been full of unique obstacles and tools that will respectively hinder and help Kirby's efforts to proceed. There are a number of different kinds of blocks, for instance, such as star blocks, which will block your way but can be broken with the stylus or certain special abilities, and bubble blocks, which will disappear underneath you, forcing you to quickly draw a ramp to keep yourself alive. There are also items like jump pads and cannons scattered about that will bounce or launch you upward, and you can always use your paintbrush to create ramps that will help you achieve even greater heights.
There's an interesting boss system in play here, too. At the end of the first world, you're essentially presented three bosses to choose from, each of which poses different sorts of challenges. One makes you race against it by controlling the height of your track so you can snag power-ups and keep increasing your speed. Another has you simply battling a bunch of enemies at once, requiring you to take them all out quickly to progress. Finally, the third one uses a Simon Says sort of concept by briefly drawing shapes and then making you quickly draw them yourself (which is harder and zanier than it sounds). After you challenge each boss, the next time you finish a world, that particular boss will have increased in level (and challenge, obviously). After you've played all these bosses several times, you'll be able to challenge them again in a minigame mode. The game also lets you replay each level to finish with the best time or using the least rainbow ink, and it rewards you medals based on your performance; hopefully, these will go toward unlocking additional stuff.
From what we've seen so far, there's a ton of variety in Canvas Curse's worlds. The game is broken up into eight distinct worlds, with three aesthetically different levels contained in each one (and each of those levels is further subdivided into different parts). There are sunny, verdant areas, subterranean lava caverns, and even some sort of circuslike level just in the first few areas, so the game never gets visually boring. Though it sounds pretty simple, Canvas Curse is a surprisingly fast-moving game, and at times it took all our line-drawing skills just to keep Kirby from flying down bottomless pits or running into enemy trouble. The game takes the unique-but-underutilized stylus-only concept from Yoshi's Touch & Go and runs with it, so we can't wait to see if the madcap action we've seen so far will hold up throughout the rest of the game. Kirby: Canvas Curse is out next week, and we'll have a full review then.