Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan believes in the perfection of imperfection

Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan is a 2.5D platformer that looks like the sort of cartoon that I’d watch straight after coming home from school. It’s got the charm of Looney Tunes, the adventurous side of Cubix and the earnestness of shows like Steven Universe and Adventure Time that do their utmost to portray complexity with simplicity.

You’ll be forgiven for thinking that Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan isn’t for you at first glance. It’s cartoonish style and simplistic binary of right and wrong may indeed convey that this is a game that’s meant mostly for entertaining and educating children. And well, you’d be right. The protagonist of the game is 8 years old, and their quest is simple: save the world from the Leviathan by helping the world earn back its colours. It seems a suitable tale for kids and other young players.

Yet, despite the obvious sell towards younger audiences, it’d be wrong to dismiss Rainbow Billy as a game not worth playing if you’re older. Kids media can be just as enlightening, if not more so, about the world that we live in, and Rainbow Billy is no exception to this in how it handles topics like bullying, discrimination, toxic masculinity, and even gender.

Rainbow Billy approaches these topics through a mix of techniques. There is, of course, the text of the main storyline: bringing colour back into a world that has been changed by the Leviathan to function only in black-and-white. The concept of bringing colour back into the world isn’t exactly a unique concept, but this game adapts this mechanic in a way where the only confrontation you face to bring that change is through an honest and open conversation, not the clash of swords or the flick of a paintbrush. It helps that colour isn’t just something that’s meant to represent imagination, but open-mindedness and empathy to help others and be your true self. This contrasts with the black-and-white world brought forth by the Leviathan, a grumpy dragon who seemingly hates everything fun and cheery and strictly follows ‘traditional rules.’ This game lacks subtlety, but it makes up for it with spirit.

Rainbow Billy is an adventure about empathy and friendship

Still, with a life-altering mission in front of them, Billy is going to need more than just themselves to rely on. That’s where Rodrigo, a fishing rod that packs one hell of a (literal) punch, and Friend Ship, a boat, comes in. Throughout the player’s journey, Rodrigo and Friend Ship are two key figures that’ll not only encourage Billy on their journey, but navigate them through The World of Imagination in the first place, with Rodrigo helping you punch and slap obstacles, as well as fish, whilst Friend Ship acts not only as a maternal figure, but carries Billy and co from one side of the world to the other. You’re also able to enter Friend Ship and interact with the friends you pick up along the way.

The concept of ‘the power of friendship’ has become somewhat of a meme throughout the internet. Whether it’s because everyone is just trying to work through their own struggles with edgy humour or not, I can’t really say. Regardless, Rainbow Billy turns that sort of humour on its head and instead celebrates friendship the way an 8-year-old would: with wonder and excitement. With each person that Billy meets, they encourage them into the fold of not just saving the world, but their friendship group. It isn’t a typical suicidal mission you’ll find in games like Mass Effect 2, it’s just a group of friends trying their best to understanding one another. It’s cute.

However, becoming friends in this game isn’t as easy as striking up a conversation. Alongside turning the world black-and-white with its curse, the Leviathan causes the people of the world to turn black-and-white too. This means that instead of their happy selves, they become depressed and gloomy. The only way to bring colour back into their hearts is to talk to them through a fighting-esque feature called Confrontation. Instead of fighting though, you’ll have to get to the root about what’s bothering them through conversation, with the problem being unique for each character you come across. You could go against a dinosaur stuck in an egg who refuses to come out of his shell because he is shy and introverted, and in the same level you can also come across a sabretooth girl who feels insecure about her buck teeth. My personal favourite was a huge hound who had been bullied so much that he took to bullying back to get people off his back, the downside being that he became so used to bullying that he started to do it to people he loved, too.

After speaking to them and using the correct shapes necessary to chip away at the opposition’s walls, they’ll come to the realization that you’re not there to indulge their fears but encourage them back to being who they were before and will change back to their original colour palette. They’ll no longer be sad, but happy.

Confrontation battles are all about using your words and feelings

And well… The change of sad equalling black-and-white to colourful being happy makes Confrontations feel unsatisfying at times. I found it all a little too much on the nose, and I’ve never been a fan of the ‘being colourful means you’re happy and nothing can ever hurt you’, because it’s 1) unrealistic and 2) doesn’t convey that mental illness isn’t something that can be seen just by looking at someone. If anything, it’s a harmful stereotype. What also felt off was that Confrontations didn’t convey that sometimes people simply can’t be forgiven and not forgiving someone is totally okay. The game does later touch on something like that subject but, in my opinion, doesn’t go far enough.

Nevertheless, some of my feelings on Confrontations did later change and for a very good reason: Rainbow Billy takes the time to acknowledge that people don’t miraculously get better after one talk. In fact, it takes time and yes, encouragement from the people around you. Its why Billy is so well-liked by the friends they meet, because despite them being at their worst, Billy knows they aren’t ‘broken’ by their illness or flaws. They just need someone to believe in them and want them to get better, and don’t we all want friends like that? Don’t we want to be that friend?

Then there’s Billy. As I mentioned, Billy is an 8-year-old boy whose quest to empower the world through colour leads them to make new friends. They are also non-binary, and while I won’t address that fact too much (because spoilers, am I right?), I can say that it plays a key role in Billy’s story and I personally applaud ManaVoid for handling Billy’s identity with respect.

It’s long been argued by both clueless, but well-meaning adults, as well as downright diabolical folks with an agenda, that kids are unable to make decisions about their identity because ‘they don’t know better’ or aren’t ‘fully developed’. The same goes for LGBTQIA+ characters and storylines within video games, where the majority of queer characters are young adults or teenagers. This completely ignores the fact that kids are far more intelligent and open-minded than believed, and that understanding shines through brilliantly through ManaVoid’s depiction of Billy. I can only hope that it helps any child that might also be questioning.

So, despite the bugs (for which there were a handful that I experienced during my time with the game, though none were game-breaking), Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan is an earnest game that goes hard in wanting to convey the complexity of love, affection and defiance against a society that wants its inhabitants to follow misogynistic and heteronormative traditions through simplistic means. Its vibrancy might feel overbearing at times, and it doesn’t go hard enough on certain subjects, but it’s at least a game that has something to say and speaks it into existence with its whole damn chest. I can’t fault it for that.

Score: 4/5

A copy of Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan for PS4 was provided to Gayming Magazine by the publisher.

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