This brilliantly inventive sidescrolling platformer was released around eighteen months ago and for all that time it has been hovering in my to-buy list, jostling for attention with newer releases and other games that passed me by as I progressed through life without any money to spend on fun things. In the time since the game’s release another Wii Kirby game, Kirby’s Adventure Wii has also been released which, as yet, exists hovering in my to-buy list. When I eventually get round to playing the pink blob’s most recent escapade it will be in the knowledge that it will have to be something quite extraordinary to match the quality of Kirby’s Epic Yarn.
Kirby is enjoying a walk through Dream Land when he comes across an unusual tomato. Ever the hungry one he happily inhales it but as he does a strange sorcerer appears and Kirby is sucked into a sock that hangs around his neck. Kirby finds himself in a mysterious land that seems to be made of fabric. Odder still Kirby himself has been turned into yarn. He soon meets Prince Fluff who explains the strange world is Patch Land and that the sorcerer is Yin Yarn who has been busy unstitching Patch Land. Kirby and Fluff must find several strands of Magic Yarn to restore Patch Land to normal and put a stop to Yin Yarn’s evil plans.
Kirby’s Epic Yarn takes a leaf out of Paper Mario’s book and weaves a unique world of fabric and string. The game’s vibrant visual style is so brilliantly realized that it elevates an otherwise easy and fairly simplistic platformer to classic status. It is a stunning looking game that far surpasses the appeal of Paper Mario and gets the absolute best out of its central concept.
As Kirby you must make your way through the incredibly colourful levels collecting beads, fighting yarn enemies and gaining patches that open up new levels as you search for the Magic Yarn. In an incredibly bold move for a franchise game the gameplay does away with three of Kirby’s signature abilities. Kirby cannot fly, he cannot inhale and he cannot copy enemy abilities, omissions largely explained by the fact that the game was not originally conceived as a Kirby game. Prince Fluff was first intended to be the main character but Nintendo suggested the developers, Good Feel, cast the pink blob in their visually innovative platformer (a bit like what happened with Star Fox Adventures).
Kirby does still transform into a wide range of things, however. With a double tap left or right he will turn into a car for quick traversal of the level, hold A in mid air to drift slowly downwards in parasol form and press down whilst airborne to turn into a weight to strike enemies. Otherwise Kirby’s main attack is to use the yarn of his body as a whip and grab onto enemies to unravel them. By holding the button he will instead ball them up so they can be used as projectiles. Kirby’s yarn whip can also be used to grab onto buttons allowing him to swing and jump to higher levels. Those are the basic mechanics of play and the work very well, the controls are fluid and balanced and the game is fun just to play. Additionally in many levels Kirby can transform into a wide range of things including a dolphin, a fire engine, a surfing penguin and even a train, during scripted sequences very reminiscent of Yoshi’s Island. Most of these occasions are an absolute joy that bring a much needed degree of variety to the otherwise fairly simple and repetitive gameplay.
But it is the ways in which the game represents its themed environments as textiles that provides a consistent and wholly enjoyable experience. As you explore you will undo zips to unfold pieces of fabric to change the layout or pull a thread to draw part of the level closer to you. Volcanoes are presented as drawstring bags that can be pulled closed to stop them erupting. Enemies fire button projectiles at you. Everything you see on screen is part of a cartoonishly colourful, eye-wateringly cute, endlessly appealing fabric world. The same game without this beautiful style wouldn’t be half as memorable. The amazing graphics combine with an almost equally lovely score, much of it beautifully orchestrated to create a wholesome, adorable and very gentle game that never runs out of ideas. The charming presentation compliments the intuitive gameplay extremely well resulting in a game that is absorbing and surprisingly addictive.
Perhaps appropriately the game is very easy. This is largely thanks to the fact that you cannot die. Rather like the second and third Warioland games, if you take a hit you will lose beads instead of energy, half your collected beads will go flying but you can grab them again if you’re quick. This at least makes your secondary objectives a little more challenging. By collecting enough beads you can earn gold, silver and bronze medals and your beads can be spent on furniture and fabric with which to decorate your flat. You can also pick up such items as well as music CDs within the levels themselves. These are needed to unlock a number of secondary challenges that might see you playing hide and seek, collecting as many beads as possible in a limited time or escorting a friend character through shortened versions of stages you’ve already completed. There’s enough varied content to keep you occupied for well over ten hours. It can be extremely satisfying to shoot for 100% and this is where those looking for a challenge will be gratified. After beating a boss and opening a new world there are still stages to try in areas you’ve already built if you can track down the required patches.
Kirby’s Epic Yarn is quite simply a work of joy, a game that is greater than the sum of its parts and is fun to play either solo or in co-op with the second player controlling Prince Fluff. The adorable world of Kirby is the perfect fit for the sumptuously presented visuals and the level of invention and polish on show is quite something.
Design – 9
Gameplay – 8
Graphics – 10
Sound – 9
Longevity – 7
Another game that gets the best out of the Wii graphically by focusing on art direction over processing power, Kirby’s Epic Yarn is a triumph of inventive design that all Wii owners should experience. If you have an aversion to the cute the title offers nothing to change your mind but when games like this are this charming and enjoyable that would be your loss.