Developer: Good Feel, Hal Laboratory
Kirby’s Epic Yarn © Hal Laboratory, Nintendo
Review copy and Screenshots were courtesy of Nintendo
Outside of the Smash Bros. series, Kirby hasn’t appeared in a new – and a really good – game for a home console; since the third iteration of his Dreamland adventures back in 1997 (or, for most, 1996’s aptly titled Kirby Super Star). And while he has enjoyed success on the handhelds, it’s been a long time since the puffball took to a truly great canvas, but does Epic Yarn weave a fine tale, or unravel into loose threads?
Kirby games have never been ones for great or even good stories and Epic Yarn is no exception. Kirby spots a tomato and sucks it up. This, unfortunately, antagonises Yin-Yarn, the owner of said tomato and the game’s principle villain. In retaliation, Yin-Yarn uses his magic to send the gluttonous puffball to Patch Land, a world where everything is made from fabrics and other assorted materials. Saving and befriending Prince Fluff, Kirby learns that Yin-Yarn has split this land asunder by literarily ripping away the fabric holding Patch Land’s reality together. Agreeing to help Prince Fluff to recover the magic yarn, and holding to find a way back to Dreamland, Kirby undergoes his quest whilst Dreamland falls under the knitting needles of Yin-yarn.
The story is flimsy, and presented like a bedtime story, complete with a fatherly narrator; but its whimsical nature suits Kirby’s simple mind and the universe he lives in. His transformation makes sense of Kirby’s sudden inability to suck up all that oppose him, as the air passes right through him due to his lack of body; which also prevents him from his usual game-breaking ability to fly. These chances both force and enable the puffball to come up with new ways to entertain the player, a task which he is happy to undertake.
Played with a remote held on its side like a N.E.S. controller, Epic Yarn starts off with a standard tutorial, and gradually works its way up the ladder to more elaborate layouts. Kirby’s excursion through Patch Land is divined into seven lands, with forty levels spread out between them. While Kirby may not be able to eat his enemies or fly, he is still far from helpless, he can whip out a piece of yarn to ensnare foes, wrapping them into balls to use as projectiles against others. Instead of running, Kirby will morph into a car on a double tap of the D-pad, and a second press of jump will turn him into a parachute, allowing him to float to the ground and he transform into a submarine while underwater. The controls are highly responsive, and controlling the pink puffball quickly becomes second nature, a good thing, since the game.
Nothing here reaches the near insane difficulty of Nintendo’s other recent platformer Donkey Kong Country Returns, yet Kirby is able to get to mildly challenging, but never frustrating, levels of difficulty though not for reasons that platformers are generally known for. The reason is due to the fact that it is impossible to die in this game. Getting hit instead scatters a number of the beads that Kirby’s collects, sonic style, and even with zero beads getting hit has no real consequence. Likewise falling of the bottom of the screen will also just result in Kirby losing a number of beads as he is brought back to the last stable platform by a friendly angel.
The challenge actually comes from scouting out, collecting and then holding on to as many beads as possible, with the game awarding you medals and keeping track of your best score on every level, teasing you to go that bit further the next time you replay a stage. Hidden furniture and a music CD are also hidden in every level outside of boss fights (which grant you a music CD upon completion), and while they’re sometimes in plain view, certain levels ask you to do a bit of probing to find. This is where the visuals really aid the gameplay.
Unlike most games, where the visuals are useful but often merely a functional way of seeing what you’re controlling, Epic Yarn’s graphics aren’t just for show; they also represent the basic fundamentals of the game engine. Loose threads can be tugged to crimple the world and tie things up; buttons can be swung from, whilst pulleys can be wound creating folds in the land. Interacting with the world may reveal hidden paths or secret treasures; encouraging a degree of interest as to what the next strand of string will do.
The entire game can be played cooperatively, with a friend taking control of Prince Fluff. Both players can aid – or abuse – the other, with the ability to pick up, carry a weaker player through the level and even throw the other to otherwise difficult to reach platforms. As in one player mode, it is impossible for either player to die, which can be a boom for easing another player into the game; and a fun time for those who just want to mess around without penalty. In any case, while there is nothing in the game that requires the use of two players, it a fun diversion nonetheless.
During his stay in Patch Land, Kirby is given an apartment to live in. The furniture you collect can be used to decorate Kirby’s pad and you’ll be asked to decorate the other rooms as well with the items you’ve collected, opening the doors for new tenants. These tenants will offer Kirby to play games of hide-and-seek, bead collecting, races and other kinds of objective based tasks. While these aren’t too bad in their way and extend the game’s content, none of them can really hold a candle to the main campaign.
It wouldn’t be a Kirby game without making some sort of use of the pink polymorph’s transmogrifying power, and Epic Yarn has numerous points were Kirby can transform into a tank, a UFO and a fire truck, amongst others. Several of the transformations require the use of the remote tilt functionality, for aiming water from the Fire Truck and drawing tracks for the train; none of them are really complex and the game does not support motion plus. These transformations may invoke memories of the ones in Yoshi’s Island, which is never a bad thing; they at least make more sense here, given Kirby’s natural talents.
Kirby’s Epic Yarn is a fairly meaty game, taking around eight to ten hours to reach the adventure’s conclusion, and a little longer to recover every lost item. The draw of improving you level runs adds incentive and the challenges provide decent distractions, with the visuals the icing to the cake.
With personality carried on every stitch, Kirby’s Epic Yarn holds a very strong case for art-style over polygon power, with a beautifully knit tapestry bursting at the seams with textured detail. A lens flare made of string and cotton wool snowballs are just a few of the highlights awaiting players. Each level brings new enemies and wonders to this fabricated world; brimming at the seams with detail. Classic enemies – such as the ever present Waddle Dees – make their yarn-styled return, and, like the titular hero, they’re just as cute when made of wool as in their usual guises. The animation is brilliantly realised, with the fabric of the world and how it reacts being the biggest, with the world bulging and folds and creases as Kirby and his foes transverse the terrain.
The music features themes both new as well as plenty of remixed classics, with some especially heated moments during boss battles. The music is of good quality throughout, providing decent gaming melodies that set the tone for the game as a whole. On the other hand, a minority of the tunes in some of the more relaxed levels perhaps too slow and serene for the game’s own good (even the enemies are asleep).
With a look that’s not just for show, but is an integral part of the gameplay and an intriguing take on the mechanics in the lack of penalties, Kirby shows that he still has what it takes to innovate and provide a fun spin on the platform genre. And while it may be the antithesis of Donkey Kong Country Returns in terms of it difficulty, the pink puffball is pretty much got his platforming skill almost as tightly stitched up as the big ape, and is every bit as worthy of your time and money.
originally published in 2010 on gamingtilldisconnected