Games: ‘Kirby,’ ‘Alto’s Adventure’ balance cuteness, elegance

March 03, 2015 | 1:17 p.m.

THE PLAYER

'Kirby and the Rainbow Curse' relies on the player to draw multicolored ropes. (Nintendo)

‘Kirby and the Rainbow Curse’ relies on the player to draw multicolored ropes. (Nintendo)

Nintendo’s Kirby returns with an adventure that turns players into amateur artists and a new mobile game spins snowboarding into one of the world’s most graceful sports. Below, a look at recent and recommended games.

‘Kirby and the Rainbow Curse’

Pink, puffy and potent, “Kirby and the Rainbow Curse” is Nintendo at its most aggressively cute. But just because Kirby looks like a piece of bubblegum, don’t write the veteran Nintendo character off as child’s play.

Though Kirby hasn’t been around as long as his peers Mario or Donkey Kong, since introduced in the early ’90s he’s won a reputation as an experimental shape-shifter. Sometimes, Kirby has the power to inhale much larger foes. Other times, he can turn into a rocket. Then there was a time when Kirby was just a piece of yarn.

Here, Kirby, still looking like a gelatinous pink ball of puff, is transformed into clay and rolls through side-scrolling worlds by following the stylus of a player.  Each swipe, dash or circle of the pen creates a rainbow-colored rope for Kirby to latch onto. It’s like directing a tiny digital creation to dance, only one must also watch out for ghosts.

The Wii U-exclusive is played entirely on the system’s touchpad-like controller, the GamePad. If you want the little pink bugger to move, tap the GamePad to prod Kirby along. Sometimes, a player can hold the screen and Kirby can swell in size, essentially becoming a weaponized bowling ball. Important when enemies are coated in spikes, or if there’s a giant bell that needs to be rung. Don’t worry about plot — “Kirby” games are about creating an inviting and slightly perilous world.

Rainbow ropes, though functional, cannot be extended forever, and their uses include ramps, shields, erasers or water dams. While it’s a fixed world, the game gives the player a sense of content creation; where or what Kirby does is dependent upon the shapes one can draw. Or wipe away, as swiping the sides of a cavern can reveal secret passageways or jostle free a giant stone face blocking Kirby’s path. It’s been decades since I played with a coloring book (honest), but “Kirby and the Rainbow Curse” tapped into a similar sense of inventiveness.

Push, prod and draw in 'Kirby and the Rainbow Curse.' (Nintendo)

Push, prod and draw in ‘Kirby and the Rainbow Curse.’ (Nintendo)

It gets odder – and cuter – still. Sometimes, Kirby turns into a submarine. Other times, Kirby turns into a tank. Bullets shoot out of Kirby’s face, and one can change the direction of a bomb by giving it a new rainbow path to follow. Even the destruction here is delightful.

The game is tougher than its adorability lets on, as there are frantic moments that send Kirby hurtling through air. These require some quick draws. Then there’s the larger-than-life end-of-level battles that necessitate precision. One kept me busy for a good hour or so, as I kept drawing circles that led to Kirby’s demise.

There are also tiny details that inspire replays. The claymation world plays into the idea that almost everything is malleable, and just try not to get distracted watching Kirby flip his goggles on or off during water levels. Best of all: Because one is directing Kirby with art rather than pushing buttons, “Kirby and the Rainbow Curse” feels like a constant performance piece.

“Kirby and the Rainbow Curse” was developed by Nintendo and sells for $39.99.

The miniature interactive worlds in "Alto's Adventure" are pristine and refined. (Snowman)

The miniature interactive worlds in ‘Alto’s Adventure’ are pristine and refined. (Snowman)

‘Alto’s Adventure’

Snowboarding: Outside of the Olympics I didn’t think there was any way it could excite me. Then “Alto’s Adventure” came along.

“Alto’s Adventure” gives the sport a dapper makeover, as its diminutive star slickly traverses detailed never-ending forests. Llamas are on the loose (of course) and it’s the player’s job to save them, having to avoid prickly rocks, treacherous chasms and sleepy-but-ornery elders along the way. Try, if possible, to sneak in some tricks, that is if the tiny little specks emanating from a campfire don’t distract your view (spoiler: they’ll totally distract you).

The game is simple – tap the screen to jump, that’s it – but the look is elegant. Every panorama is given a wistful gauze. A moon twinkles in the distance, snow glistens as it falls, the sun leaves a pensive haze and lightening streaks across the night sky. Often, Alto would stumble into a rock simply because I was taken with a slow-moving windmill atop a hill or was caught watching the birds that scattered when I approached off the slope of a crescent-shaped hill.

'Alto's Adventure' is ultimately a fast-moving snowboard game, but its tone is contemplative. (Snowman)

‘Alto’s Adventure’ is ultimately a fast-moving snowboard game, but its tone is contemplative. (Snowman)

Then there’s the music – a dash of piano notes that stay close to the ground, not so much accelerating the game as accentuating the atmosphere. Strings come in and out, the sort of thoughtful score that would accompany a game of exploration rather than one of sport. But ultimately that’s what “Alto’s Adventure” is — one is playing not for the fancy backflips (those are here), but for the chase through town and the possibility to soar to the stars. “Alto’s Adventure” is a game of simple joys — skidding along red and white rooftops, hitting a rock just right, so Alto lifts off rather than falls face first, and enjoying the animation of the llamas as they slip along ice.

All the atmosphere allows “Alto’s Adventure” to feel like something of a mystery, but not one that needs solving. It’s a bite-sized mobile game that feels a part of a bigger universe. Why, for instance, are all these llamas on the loose? How come they so obediently sit down when Aldo crosses their path? Why do the elders get so angry at being woken up? How was that windmill placed in the center of that chasm?

There’s a story somewhere, but you’re too busy enjoying the ride. And the shooting stars. Now watch out for that rock and turn two backflips over a cliff.

“Alto’s Adventure” was developed by Snowman and is available for iOS devices for $1.99.

– Todd Martens | @Toddmartens | @LATherocomplex

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