Kirby's Power Paintbrush
| Kirby Power Paintbrush

As game characters go, the round pink blob that is Kirby is distinctly lacking in charisma. Indeed, if Nintendo's cast of gaming heroes got together for a game of five-a-side footie, the captains would be Mario and Link, and Kirby would be the fat kid that always gets picked last. So how heartening and unexpected to find the lad in pink running rings round the superstars and scoring a blinder.

Whereas other heavyduty touchscreen and stylus games such as Pac-Pix played like an interesting technical demo, Kirby's Power Paintbrush takes the unique control opportunities and makes a complete game out of them. As Kirby, you're on an adventure through the sort of colorful game worlds so beloved of Nintendo titles. But while it's a platform game at heart, here the action on offer is very different. Basic movement through the expansive settings is achieved by tapping Kirby to gain a burst of speed, and by sketching in rainbows to guide his path. On hitting one of these rainbows, Kirby travels in the direction it was drawn, meaning you can scribble a criss-cross of psychedelic conveyor belts to deftly steer clear of the numerous foes that stand in your way.

Alternatively, you can choose to take the enemy out head on. Tapping a hostile creature will temporarily stun them, allowing you to charge through an adversary rather than avoiding them. This can yield the added bonus of snatching their special powers, so suddenly you'll find Kirby can call upon a swirling destructive beam or transform into a fireball to lay waste to all that stand between him and the exit.

There are elements of Sonic the Hedgehog here, with sudden rollercoaster sections that see you shot from cannons and crashing through block walls. These give way to more thoughtful Mario-style exploration, as you puzzle over how to manoeuvre through tricky passageways or reach elusive areas. But while the game borrows, certainly, it also innovates. For instance, much of the time you're manipulating the surroundings rather than Kirby directly – bashing a path through blocks, sketching in rainbow elevators to guide him onwards and upwards, or protecting him from enemy attack by hastily drawn shields. Your eyes flick across the screen to check for danger, then up to the top screen to plan your progress through the enticingly large levels. Keeping Kirby airborne and away from danger through swift stylus swipes can be as nerve-wracking as juggling a baby.

Those clever controls really come into their own during the end of level boss challenges. Block Attack combines the frantic ricocheting of pinball with a 'draw your own bat' Breakout, while Paint Panic is like playing Etch-a-Sketch against the clock. Best of all though is the deceptively simple Jump Game, which has you hurtling towards the approach and then quickly drawing in an angled ramp to send Kirby on a leap of faith that recalls the joyous naivety of English ski jumper Eddie the Eagle.

So there's plenty to enjoy, and the game is full of smile-inducing touches – the charming music, Kirby bobbling about underwater and the little sepia-tinged celebratory scenes that mark your successes. Longevity may be an issue, however. Kirby's Power Paintbrush isn't desperately difficult and though there are always hidden bonuses to discover and medals to earn, you can progress through much of the first half of the game on your first few attempts. Some replay value is offered by the usual Time Trial challenge, though far more subtle and interesting is the Line Trial, which limits the 'ink' you have to draw rainbows, making every scribble count.

But while it lasts, Kirby's Power Paintbrush feels fresh and exhilarating. The well signposted routes, frequent checkpoints and gentle learning curve make it welcoming to beginners, yet the freeform rainbow scrawling enables expert players to add artistic flair to their gaming. It also innovates without ever labouring the point, and proves to be a wholly pleasant surprise on a handheld that seldom plays it safe.

Kirby's Power Paintbrush is on sale now.

Kirby's Power Paintbrush

Imaginative and fun, if a little short, Kirby's Power Paintbrush is full of good ideas that are a joy to explore