Kirby Is Nintendo’s Triumphant Return to Touchscreen Gaming


Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is a great new Wii U game. It also represents Nintendo’s return to touchscreen gaming.

“But Chris,” you might be writing right now if you are the sort of person who comments without reading the story, “Nintendo has been making touchscreen games all this time. In fact, it has touchscreens on both its portable and home consoles.” Indeed it does, but unlike the original Nintendo DS from which both of these designs sprang, the 3DS and Wii U’s hardware designs disincentive the creation of touchscreen-only gaming.

So in fact, if you look at the history of Nintendo’s games since the launch of 3DS in 2011, we’ve seen very few games like Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, in which the main action of the game is controlled by directly touching the characters or environments. This is ironic, since mobile games, following on the success of the touch interface in the original DS, have now entirely shifted to exactly this sort of direct-touching control while Nintendo has moved away from it.

If you were to create a touchscreen game on the 3DS, you’d be missing out on one of the system’s most striking features, the glasses-free 3-D display. Any game developer would want the main action of the game to take place on the 3-D screen, not the 2-D touchscreen. But this means that touch controls end up relegated to selecting options in menus, or used for more abstract control: For example, you used to interact with the Professor Layton games by directly tapping on the environment. Now, the touchscreen is used as a sort of trackpad-type pointing device to control a cursor on the 3-D screen.

Same thing with the Wii U: Your television screen might not be 3-D, but can you imagine a game console having you play a game in which you never once look at the television? But that’s exactly what Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, available February 20, asks of you. In this game featuring one of Nintendo’s many second-fiddle mascots, you don’t move Kirby around the screen directly. Instead, you use the stylus to draw pathways on the touchscreen, which he rolls along. You can tap Kirby to give him a little acceleration boost, but you can’t control his direction—he goes where gravity and momentum are pointing him, and if you want to manipulate that, all you can do is draw hills, valleys and loops in front of him.

It’s a design that simply could never be pulled off without a touchscreen. Fittingly, it’s the long-awaited sequel to one of the first games that really showed how different and innovative touchscreen gameplay could be on the original Nintendo DS. It was just a hair under 10 years ago that Kirby: Canvas Curse appeared on the then-unproven DS platform. This sequel doesn’t radically differ from the gameplay of the original, but it’s great to have it back. (And it’s worth noting that you can still pop in a Canvas Curse cartridge and play it on your New Nintendo 3DS, 10 years and many hardware iterations later.)

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