WHEN I first came across Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan, for some reason I assumed it was a rather simple 2.5D platformer.
After a few hours with the game I was both blown away by how wrong I was, and how many ideas it manages to cram into its wholesome journey. It’s a puzzle-platforming adventure with Undertale-inspired turn-based combat, Pokemon-esque creature collecting, an old-school cartoon visual aesthetic, and a helluva lot of charm.
Upon starting the adventure, everything is peaceful as can be in the vibrantly colourful and picturesque World of Imagination, with the titular hero Rainbow Billy assisting the residents of Star Harbour in preparing the fireworks display for the upcoming Star Parade. After retrieving said fireworks from around the harbor, the parade begins, littering the skies of Star Harbor with even more colour.
Even before this moment, it’s abundantly clear that Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan is a particularly colourful and aesthetically pleasing game, sporting a visual look that is essentially a combination of Paper Mario and retro cartoons. It isn’t a graphical powerhouse by any respect, but it is still very pretty.
While Billy and the denizens of Star Harbor love all things colourful, they have the opposite effect on the giant leviathan who lives in the depths of the ocean. Frustrated by the light show occurring on the surface, the grey Leviathan springs into action, placing a curse on the World of Imagination that sees itself drained of its colour. Billy manages to escape the Leviathan’s grasp with their colour intact, and sets sail on a journey accompanied by his talking boat Friend-Ship to restore colour to the World of Imagination and its inhabitants, making countless friends on the way.
Billy’s journey sees him try to get ahold of the three colour cores, which the leviathan has placed in the hands of villainous beings that are located in the three different locations in the World of Imagination. Akin to The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, the World of Imagination is a vast ocean that has various small islands sprinkled amongst it.
Friend-Ship is the key to progressing from island to island, but his tank of Rainbow fuel diminishes quickly in the colourless water, meaning that Billy will have to return islands of their colour in order to give Friend-Ship the fuel to carry Billy and his buddies through the world.
It’s desire to appeal to children does make the overarching story quite corny and generic on the surface level, yet despite this it managed to have moments of profound impact with me, largely due to the well written dialogue exchanges between characters.
Despite living in the World of Imagination, the inhabitants suffer from very real problems, with issues such as depression, separation anxiety and an obsession with perfection just a few that appear along the way.
Deedle-Dee the dinosaur for example feels like they have no friends, while Glower is heavily self conscious about their teeth. Peekaboo struggles with being brave, afraid to leave her clam and fearing what may happen, while Hydrilly the Unicorn Seahorse struggles with depression and the work required to overcome it (pretty deep for a kid’s game right!?).
Billy’s way of helping them through these issues and seeing them come to terms with how to handle them is particularly well done, actually causing myself to reflect on how I handle my own mental health issues. I didn’t expect a cartoon seahorse and an array of other talking creatures to make me think so heavily about my own mental health, but I’m not complaining, as it’s a testament to how impressive the writing is, somehow managing to tell a child-friendly narrative whilst also dealing with very mature issues in an admirable fashion.
When a character in the World of Imagination lacks their true colours, their insecurities and negativity bubble to the surface and take control, with Billy’s role to reunite them with their colour in turn-based battles. Unlike most games where combat sees you kill your enemies, Billy attempts to talk to the colourless creatures, in order to get them to open themselves up.
Taking in the dialogue the enemy is saying and picking the response that is most helpful to them will see them expose their true colours, revealing some of the coloured shape attacks required to return them to their ideal self. While you initially only start with Billy’s one-eyed pet dinosaur Giro, you will quickly amass a handy bunch of buddies equipped with different actions that will be needed to return various foes back to their colourful forms.
While using your collection of creatures to return enemies with their true colours is the objective, your success in doing so is determined largely by your ability to complete the little mini-games that come with each attack. The mini-games don’t change up a great deal and do get a bit samey and stale towards the end of the game, but for the most part they are a good enough time and keep you actively engaged in the combat gameplay.
When not in confrontations trying to reunite creatures with their true colours, you will be making your way through the World of Imagination clearing the myriad of puzzles present across the various islands. They aren’t particularly difficult, akin to the game at large, but they are solid and engaging enough and never feel frustrating or too convoluted to understand.
While Rainbow Billy: The Curse of Leviathan is largely an enjoyable experience, there were some glitches and shortcomings that did negatively impact the experience.
On the bugs and glitches front, I found myself dealing with some pretty frustrating ones throughout the game. One of the most persistent issues I found was that the game often refused to accept the ‘X’ on my PlayStation controller when scrolling through dialogue, despite it being clearly displayed as the button required to proceed.
Another issue I encountered was a softlock in which I was trapped inside the Friend-Ship, unable to dock at any island. When in this softlock I could also clip through everything, which was hilarious but also frustrating as I had to restart the game. Although neither issue was horrendous, they were both disappointing blots in what is otherwise quite a polished experience.
I did find myself often frustrated with the slower nature of the turn-based combat, especially in the end-game where my patience for the slow and steady combat had reached its wit’s end.
Greater variety in combat in the form of the mini-games may have made the combat encounters palatable for longer, but unfortunately their lack of variety further compounded the issue.
Ultimately, Rainbow Billy does a great job of taking elements from a multitude of different other franchises and combining them together to make a resultant experience that is more than worth your time if you’ve ever enjoyed games like Undertale, Pokemon, Paper Mario and The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker.
It’s turn-based gameplay that sees you fight your foes with words instead of physical attacks is clever (albeit Undertale’s bread and butter) and surprisingly engaging and strategic in some instances, while the story manages to have its fair share of impactful dialogue conversations if you’re putting time into levelling up the bonds with your horde of creatures.
Its combat can be slow and it does suffer from the odd performance hiccup, but don’t let these issues and the cutesy vibe of Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan stop you from playing what is one of the most charming indie releases in recent memory.
Written by: @GrumpyGoron