Originally on Kickstarter as Steamboat Billy back in 2018, Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan is a transformation from the traditional idea of an RPG in many ways. On top of that, it appears to be an adjustment from their Kickstarter plans as well.
Dropping you immediately into a tutorial, the game begins with Billy learning the ropes of the controls and game mechanics by gathering fireworks for the festival known as the “Star Parade”. Jumping on roofs, fishing, and learning a few mini games will quickly assemble the required pyrotechnics to start the celebration. This year’s Star Parade is celebrating Billy because of Billy’s heart’s “true colours”. The story dives into this theme over the course of the adventure, but leaves it largely mysterious at the beginning; as will I.
A dangerous being known as Leviathan hates the “Star Parade” that Billy and friends are having. Awoken from his slumber by the light show, he summons a storm that drains colour from the world, and most of the inhabitants in it. To keep Billy’s “true colours”, Billy must quickly escape on the “Friend-Ship” to another land.
Docking the Friend-Ship at the first Island you find, Billy runs into an old friend. The One-eyed dog Giro has made it safely to the island by following someone who was sent flying by the storm. Entering a cave, Billy meets “Rodrigo”. Rodrigo is a talking “Punching Rod” who immediately recognizes Billy as the Star Parade’s guest of honour with a heart full of colour. They join forces to save the World of Imagination, and the adventure truly begins.
Rainbow Billy follows the roadmap of a traditional RPG with reimagined battle mechanics and motivations. Battles have been renamed to “confrontations”. Any confrontations you have are with characters that have lost the colour in their hearts. By choosing to listen, characters will tell you about themselves and why they are unhappy. You can then talk to them and try to choose an option that makes them feel better about themselves. If successful, symbols are revealed above their heads. These symbols can be filled in by choosing friends to confront them, and fill their hearts with colour once again.
Billy’s team can only stay in a confrontation as long as the “morale” meter doesn’t empty. Each turn, monochrome opponents will take swipes at Billy or say things that decrease morale. Certain friends can boost morale when chosen, functioning like a health potion. Choosing your friends for their symbols is only the first part of combat. Running out of moves on your turn takes you to the mini game component of confrontations. Each friend has a button pressing, timing sensitive challenge that dictates how many symbols are flying at the opponent that turn. If all of this sounds strange, then I’m likely explaining it properly.
Successfully colouring the hearts of monochrome fiends adds them to your roster as friends for future confrontations. You can gift a friend items to increase the variety of symbols that can be chosen; sometimes unlocking abilities for when they hit the field. Some boost morale, others automatically bring in best friends, some even stay on the field for an extra round. Encounters are different in Rainbow Billy, and kept my interest throughout the adventure by adding depth and changing up the rules a few times unexpectedly. Boss fights were notably cool.
Outside of confrontations, you explore the World of Imagination by means of the “Friend-Ship”. Travelling between monochrome islands, Billy must befriend everyone on an island to have it become recoloured. The Friend-Ship runs on “Rainbow Fuel”, which quickly drains while sailing on monochrome waters. When emptied of fuel, the Friend-Ship is captured by Leviathan and bumped back to the last safe island. Recolouring an island provides a safe area that automatically refuels the ship, allowing Billy to leapfrog from island to island as he brings colour back to the World of Imagination.
Islands are filled with fun challenges. From platforming to puzzle solving, Billy has many insurmountable obstacles in his way. Without the help of his trusty “Punching Rod” friend Rodrigo, Billy would be lost. Luckily, Rodrigo is not simply limited to punching, and gains a few neat abilities throughout the game that keep gameplay fresh and allow Billy to access new places and solve previously impossible puzzles. Solving puzzles is often required to proceed towards your goal. Some examples include flipping switches, rolling snowballs, bouncing light between mirrors…there is a solid amount of variety in Rainbow Billy’s brain teasers.
Along with puzzles, islands can contain hidden treasures. Items for gifting to friends are always welcome, but more importantly are the angry little “thoughts” that can be collected and brought back to the Friend-Ship to unlock permanent upgrades. “Thoughts” are cute little angry devil-cats that like hiding in tucked away spaces. Bringing enough of them back to the Friend-Ship unlocks upgrades for Billy in confrontations. Having more actions per turn or more friends available each round are some of the upgrades you can expect to unlock.
While a mostly positive experience, there are definitely a few quirks worth mentioning. The platforming controls can often feel floaty and inaccurate. There are a few areas that were annoying due to these control issues. A surprising omission was a complete lack of rumble in the controller. The combat mini games and platforming felt hollow without any controller feedback. Speaking of combat, I wasn’t able to end my turn using the “end turn” option without the currently highlighted friend being chosen. In addition, the default colour of that friend is selected, making it impossible to properly end your turn early with any real strategy. And finally, upgrading friends so they have more options in combat is powerful…but comes with SO MUCH dialogue. Billy’s writing team did great work, but at times there was simply too much to read when upgrading multiple friends. None of these issues were deal breakers, but definitely made Rainbow Billy feel less polished.
With a great soundtrack and wonderful artwork, Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan was a fun and charming adventure. The overly positive messages the game communicates in terms of conflict resolution and being true to yourself are heart-warming, and delivered in a way that feels genuine. While a few parts lack polish, the overall experience was entertaining and defied my expectations of what an RPG needs to be.