In the earlier years of the games industry, games marketed at kids were often terrible. This was especially true once licensed products, like the infamous E.T game on Atari 2600, began to surface. The sheer amount of shovelware at the time was almost impressive. Thankfully, in recent years we’ve seen these games largely phased out by quality products led by talented indie developers. And no game is more proof of that than Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan.
Rainbow Billy is a puzzle platformer, seemingly inspired by Paper Mario. It shares a lot in common with Nintendo’s RPG spin-off. Both are 2.5D puzzle games, both feature RPG elements, and both use turn-based combat. The Curse of the Leviathan even uses its world’s loss of color as the main story point. Consequently, comparisons to Paper Mario: Color Splash are inevitable. But whilst that game failed to deliver on its promises, I think Rainbow Billy rises well past expectations.
The Leviathan’s curse
The story follows Billy, a young adventurer full of spirit. One day he and his friends are celebrating the Star Harbor Festival and accidentally wake up the Leviathan. Channeling his anger, the Leviathan punishes Billy by trapping all of the world’s color in three orbs. This drains The World of Imagination, turning everything black and white.
The Leviathan hands these orbs to his three most trusted allies to protect. Until all three are collected, the world will remain shrouded in darkness for eternity. It’s up to Billy to collect these orbs and save the day. Thankfully, he isn’t alone. His partners Rodrigo the punching rod and Friend-Ship the boat accompany him.
You’re challenged with traveling through several different worlds, each with their own variety of islands, in order to collect the three colored orbs. Getting to these requires Friend-Ship to sail across the dark oceans, consuming Rainbow Fuel in the process. This fuel mechanic limits how far you can travel without refueling.
When an island is first reached there is no way to refuel, as Friend-Ship uses color to fill up. However, by clearing an island and saving its occupant from despair, it’s possible to bring color back to that segment of the map. Once cleared, Friend-Ship can refuel at that island and you can go on to reach further areas.
Some of the larger islands require multiple individuals to be helped to bring color back to them, while the smaller, optional islands offer useful bonuses for exploring them. For example, some will have Thoughts on them, which are small creatures that you can trade in for permanent upgrades. These guys also produce some humorous shower thoughts like this: “If I punch myself in the face and it hurts does that make me strong or weak?”
Rainbow Billy does an excellent job of encouraging exploration. The unlocks themselves are nice, but it’s the smaller touches that I appreciate most. Be it the funny dialogue, engaging puzzles, or fun platforming segments, The Curse of the Leviathan always offers something to look forward to. Not once was I traveling to an island because I felt I had to. I was doing it because I wanted to. Developing a grind that doesn’t feel like a grind is a skill that very few game developers possess.
Make friends, not war
For the sake of ease and understanding, I described Rainbow Billy as having turn-based combat, but that isn’t strictly true. You never directly attack anyone, and there isn’t even a health bar. Instead, the mission of each confrontation is to listen and talk to troubled individuals and help them overcome their problems.
This may seem odd, but it actually works remarkably well in practice. Each enemy requires a certain selection of shapes to be helped, and these shapes are revealed throughout the fight by reassuring the opponent. It’s important to listen to each character’s troubles and then decide what the best thing to say to them is.
However, revealing the shapes is only half the battle. In order to fill these shapes, characters have to be played onto the field. At the start of a conflict, Billy draws a hand randomly selected from the characters he has previously saved. When played, each of these characters fill up to three different shapes depending on their social level. Each friend’s social level can be raised by either giving them a gift or feeding them food they like.
Furthermore, each character has an effect that needs to be considered when choosing who to play. For example, Lavarilla stays in play for an extra turn when played. So, if an opponent requires several of one of the three shapes he covers, it would be a good idea to play him first to save an action next turn.
Sometimes you’ll get unlucky and not have a character that is suitable. In this situation, it’s necessary to redraw a new hand and hope for the best. These RNG aspects aren’t too troubling at lower difficulties but can pose a real challenge once scaled up. When played on hard difficulty, Rainbow Billy can become a surprisingly tough game to beat.
This highly flexible difficulty is great as it doesn’t overly limit the game’s target audience. Even though Rainbow Billy is clearly marketed towards children, it has enough there for adults to enjoy, too. I imagine this would make an excellent game for parents to play alongside their kids. After all, Rainbow Billy also teaches some valuable lessons about complex social topics like toxic masculinity, loneliness, and LGBT relationships. The game handles these topics in a way that isn’t overbearing and doesn’t take away from the gameplay.
So much color
It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that a 2.5D game with cartoon aesthetics runs well on PC. With an RTX 2060 at 1440p, I was managing in excess of 250 frames per second with zero notable performance drops. PC gamers looking to achieve optimal frame rates will want GTX 970 or better, although much weaker cards like a GTX 650 will still run Rainbow Billy fine. This is an exceptionally well-optimized title.
As for its visuals, Rainbow Billy is an impressive game that makes the most of gorgeous hand-drawn 2D art. Given the game’s color theme, it only seems fitting that it utilizes a full color palette. There are bright blues, greens, purples, reds, and just about every other color that you could want. It might not be an aesthetic for everyone, but I love it. It reminds me of my favorite cartoons growing up like Adventure Time, and who doesn’t love a good slice of nostalgia?
A game for all audiences
When thinking about what makes Disney films so good I always come back to one conclusion. It’s that they can be enjoyed by both kids and adults alike. In many ways, Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan is the video game equivalent of that. It has the colors and wholesome humor that kids will love but enough gameplay depth for adults to get sucked in too.
The combat, if you can even call it that, is interesting yet doesn’t contrast with the game’s overriding message. When people are down, it’s best to reach out and try to help them. If Billy and his friends can do it, so can you. Even if Rainbow Billy is aimed at kids, there are lessons that all of us can learn from playing through it. Packaging such a powerful message in a game as fun as this results in a product that appeals to a wide audience. The achievement of creating such a game alone makes The Curse of the Leviathan a special product that is well worth playing.