It’s no secret that I like cartoons. I grew up watching cartoons from many different eras, but to me the ‘80s and ‘90s seem like they were the glory days of kids’ cartoons since my childhood took place in those years, so I think part of it is a feeling of nostalgia. Adult Swim is another reason for my cartoon appreciation and once I started watching that programming I began to look down on children’s cartoons, but a strong afternoon line-up on Cartoon Network made me reconsider my position. Shows like Adventure Time and Teen Titans Go! prove that children’s cartoons are just as, if not more, entertaining now. So When I saw Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan I was instantly drawn to its bright colors and crisp artwork that looked like a mashup of a newer cartoon with the old school ‘30s and ‘40s style seen in Cuphead. After a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2018 Manvoid Entertainment, the developer, spent the past three years working on their game and then Skybound Games stepped in as the publisher to help them get to the finish line. I liked the art style, but I really didn’t know what to expect from Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan.
If you had initially told me this was a licensed game, I would have believed you. It has a licensed game price of $30 and the story is very family-friendly. To sum it up, you play as a young boy named Billy living in a brightly colored fantasy land. One day an evil leviathan shows up and steals all the color from the world; the colorless visuals remind me of black and white television. Billy sets out to confront the leviathan so he can restore color to his world, but he’ll need help. On his adventure, he’ll recruit many companions to aid in his quest through the power of friendship and kindness. When I first started playing it did feel kind of like a licensed game because it starts out very simple and seems like it’s completely aimed at children. Like I said I really didn’t know what to expect, but in the first thirty minutes or so I was thinking, “What did I get myself into?” The platforming was underwhelming and the story couldn’t get any more wholesome and corny.
A few hours later though I was completely wrapped up in the gameplay. Half of Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan is a 3D action-adventure game that has multiple gameplay loops that I’ve grown to love, many of which are found in my favorite type of game – Metroidvanias. You have a lot of freedom in terms of exploration, which takes place across four areas, each of which is filled with islands that you can sail to in your talking ship. Islands have a variety of platforming challenges and puzzles, and they get more interesting as you progress through the game. Overall they are on the simple side, although as you get farther in they become more challenging, and some of them would definitely be too difficult and confusing for younger players. As you play you gain a few new abilities that expand your exploration capabilities and to get all the collectibles you’ll need to backtrack to previous areas and look around for what you missed. Luckily you can fast travel to any island that you’ve already completed from the pause menu.
The other half of the game is essentially a monster tamer centered around turn-based confrontations (the equivalent of battles but without any physical combat) where the goal is to befriend the creatures by playing tokens that match each creature’s colored shapes above their head, basically recoloring them. Each token is a representation of one of the creatures you have already befriended and they all start at level one and have one shape. I figured the game would only have three or four shapes and I was thinking how boring that would be, but I was very wrong. There are at least ten shapes and each creature can be leveled up twice, gaining an extra colored shape on their token at each level. Additionally, once they reach level two, they give you a special bonus if you play them first in a lane. Some of the bonuses include healing your morale (health), adding a random shape to their sequence, drawing an extra token, and many more.
The playfield consists of one to three lanes where you can play your tokens, and they usually have three spaces each. As you play the game the number of tokens you can play each turn increases. Once you are finished placing your tokens you play a mini-game for each lane that has tokens in it, the game is determined by the first token. Each creature has a little icon on its token indicating the game. They are all pretty simple and range from quickly pressing a sequence of buttons shown on screen to a slot machine, and there’s even a breakout-style mini-game where you use a paddle to keep balls in the play area. The difficulty of the mini-games usually depends on how many tokens are in the lane, for example in the breakout game if you have three tokens in the lane then you might need to keep two or three balls from getting past the paddle, whereas if you just play one token you’ll only have to worry about one ball. Normally I find mini-games in turn-based RPGs to be very tedious, quickly wearing out their welcome, but due to the large variety of mini-games on display here I didn’t really get that feeling. The change in difficulty depending on how many tokens you played also helps.
At the beginning of the game, the combat/taming portion is very simple with just one lane, and you only start with one friend, so you can imagine why I initially had reservations about the game. Fortunately, the monster taming portion of the game expands rapidly. You have the opportunity to befriend a new animal on pretty much each island you visit, and once you recolor them that island gets recolored as well. Overall the taming portion of the game is pretty unique, and the design reinforces the game’s wholesome theme. At the start of each turn, you have to talk to the creature and help put them at ease by selecting one of three dialogue options. Selecting the nicest/friendliest answer reveals some of the hidden colored shapes above the creature’s head; selecting a mean answer will damage your morale – essentially your health bar. Each animal has its own issues; some are selfish, others are self-conscious, and there are a lot that are bullies or think you’re a bully. Some of the confrontations have additional circumstances like blocking you from placing three tokens in a row (he thinks you’re cheating when you do), and there’s one that has a timer that limits the time you have to place all your tokens. I thought that one was the most interesting because of the extra tension, but they all add to the variety in gameplay, making the game more enjoyable.
The leveling up portion of the game is somewhat unusual, instead of gaining experience to level up your friends you can give them gifts or feed them gummi fish. I’m sure you’re wondering how you obtain these gifts and gummi fish, and the answer is fishing, of course! There are fishing spots that respawn all throughout each area and when you interact with a spot you go into a full-screen 2D mini-game where you can move a hand side to side and press A to launch it straight down; if it comes in contact with a fish on the way down then that fish will be caught. There is also a chance that there will be a gift underwater, stuff like teddy bears, Lego bricks, friendship bracelets, and even ice cream! You can talk to all your current friends on your ship and they will tell you what type of gift they want. I don’t know why anyone would want a soggy teddy bear, but giving your friends gifts is the fastest way to increase their level. You can also find gifts by digging in the ground, and in fortune cookies. Overall the fishing game was my favorite mini-game, it’s more complex than the others and it takes place on the entire screen whereas the others are in a much smaller area.
Each time you give a gift to a friend they will tell you a portion of their background story,. These are actually pretty long, and I found most of them to be uninteresting. Some of them had a few funny bits, but on the whole, they felt like something that would appeal to a small child. This game seems like it would be a great game to play if you had younger children that wanted to watch, but be warned you’ll be reading a lot, and like I said it’s abundantly wholesome, full of morals, and extremely corny. It has the feel of a Disney or Pixar film, with lots of morals and positive lessons, but also with the occasional joke for adults or older kids. I was secretly holding out hope for a dark ending where Billy couldn’t live with himself anymore after all his friends became diabetic because he only fed them gummi fish. I don’t mean to spoil it, but that doesn’t happen.
The artwork is high quality and the characters look like they were pulled right out of a TV show. They also kind of have a sticker look to them because of their white outlines and the fact that they are all 2D in a 3D world. There are around sixty animals to befriend. Most of them are based on real-world animals but a few are more imaginary, like the female fish that looks like a cat, and a shark that has four legs making it sort of look like a dog shark. When you first encounter them (while they are colorless) they have a different appearance, most looking slightly naughty or mischievous. After a successful confrontation where you restore their colors they take on a more friendly look, many of them turn out to be pretty cute. The juxtaposition of the monochromatic sections with those that are colored really makes the art design stand out, and each of the four areas has a distinct visual appearance making them fun to look at and explore.
As a whole the art design is one of the stronger aspects of the game; it also helps that the game has animated cutscenes, which really make it feel like this is based on some kid’s cartoon that you’ve never heard of. The only thing I disliked about the visuals concerns the fact that while you are playing as Billy (not sailing the boat) the camera is fixed. The camera does move occasionally, for example while working on many of the puzzles the camera zooms out so you can see more of the puzzle area. Having a fixed camera makes it easier for the designers to hide secrets in the game, and I liked how sometimes the camera angle would change if you got close to a hidden area showing you what was there. Good news though, there is sort of a built-in secret finding tool; the game has a photo mode that can be accessed from the menus. While in photo mode you can essentially move the camera around like you are flying a drone, but it will only go so far away from Billy. I put it to good use while I was cleaning up the collectibles at the end of my playthrough.
The sound design is another aspect that helps to solidify the experience. The music is pretty cheery for the most part, although it can change in tone during some of the more perilous situations. The sound effects feel like they were taken right out of this hypothetical cartoon show I keep mentioning. The one thing that could have really taken this game to the next level would have been to add a voice track. This would have been a gigantic undertaking however since there is A LOT of dialogue. I think the overall aesthetics and story of the game would really appeal to younger kids and they could practice their reading skills, but there’s just so much dialogue I think they’d quickly lose interest in reading everything.
I decided to review Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan on a whim, and I’m glad I did. There’s a lot to like here, and I think it could appeal to a lot of different gamers. The story goes off the deep end in terms of wholesomeness and could be perfect for children that know how to read. The exploration, the monster befriending, and the wonderful art style are the best parts and I found the game hard to put down, many nights I’d tell myself “oh, I’ll just play one more island real quick” – “Gotta recolor ‘em all!”Become a Patron!
This game was reviewed based on Xbox One review code, using an Xbox One console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.