Violent encounters are nowhere to be found in this colourful puzzle-platformer.
Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan was certainly a title that caught our eye during June's Steam Next Fest. This vividly colourful adventure sports an animated look similar to classic Disney cartoons, and its combat encounters are about as family-friendly as they can get. Turn-based battles are non-violent and you must listen to the struggles of your foes to try and get to the root of their personal issues and befriend them. It certainly makes for an intriguing concept on paper, but how well does it hold up?
After holding a firework show, the titular character foolishly awakens a monochrome Leviathan from its slumber deep underwater. This strange two-handed beast isn't pleased at all, and it enacts its revenge by stripping the land of colour in an effort to expose Billy to the grim and depressing realities of life. Billy then manages to escape the clutches of the Leviathan and embarks upon a seafaring adventure to try and restore colour back to the land once more. Doing this isn't a simple task, however, as he must locate three colour cores that are being guarded by powerful bosses.
The gameplay within Rainbow Billy is really split into three aspects. You'll ride across the sea on the playfully titled Friend-ship and have to manage your fuel levels when roaming across waters devoid of colour. There are also platforming and puzzle-solving elements that you'll encounter when exploring brand-new islands on foot. Whilst we found puzzles to be thought-provoking and challenging, the platforming sections sadly feel a little clunky. There's no option to rotate the camera 360 degrees, and due to this, we found ourselves missing jumps and falling down the backs of ledges.
The turn-based therapy sessions are where Rainbow Billy shines the brightest though, as they are a playful alternative to battles seen in typical RPGs. During these encounters, you need to listen to your foe's personal issues and then select the most suitable response from three different answers. Here we ran into a rodent that was insecure about its front teeth and a wolf that was too fiercely protective of its younger brother. It feels like you get to personally know each opponent, and due to this, each standoff is unique.
Paying attention and empathising with your foes really counts, as the wrong answer can cost you morale (your health) and a correct answer will expose more symbols above their heads. These symbols correspond with different attacks, and an encounter is successful when you've reduced your foes resolve and matched all of them. During each turn, you only have a limited amount of actions and you need to pay attention to your creature's attack types and positioning on the battlefield. To unleash an attack, you have to play a short mini-game similar to Undertale (one is a rhythm game and another is a Pong clone), and the potency of your attack is dependent on your performance.
Where things start to fall apart for us is that these mini-games are repeated far too frequently and they are a breeze to complete unless you venture into the accessibility menu and enable hard difficulty. The right answer to select when talking to enemies is always pretty obvious too, as some of them just involve you being downright rude and others are simply repeated from previous encounters. It would have been great if these dialogue options were a little more dynamic and context-specific, but we get that they have perhaps been simplified to help appeal to the game's predominantly younger audience.
Moving away from the negatives though, we found the creature designs to feel really unique, and it was fun to be able to visit and interact with the creatures we obtained inside of the Friend-ship. One of these, for example, is a gorilla with a volcano on its back and another is a hybrid between a cat, a bat, and a dragon. There's even the option to level up these creatures and find out even more about their personalities by performing fetch quests and bringing them items they crave. Not only is this a fun side distraction, but it's worthwhile doing, as it encourages exploration and can help unlock brand-new moves.
With its fixed camera, choppy framerate, and repetitive battles, Rainbow Billy might not make for the most polished puzzle-platformer on the market, but it's one that we're not going to be forgetting any time soon. Its cartoonish visuals just look gorgeous (especially on an OLED Switch), and its non-violent encounters feel refreshing and add a sense of personality to each enemy. Its addictive creature collecting mechanic and accessible combat we can see being a huge hit with younger gamers too, so it's definitely worth checking out if you're seeking a fun and cost-efficient title to gift to a younger relative.
7 / 10
Its non-violent combat is unique, its animated visuals are gorgeous, its creatures have unique designs and their own personalities.
Inconsistent frame rate on Switch, platforming feels clunky, battles can feel repetitive.