Nintendo and Good Feel weave a wonderful platformer.
Attendees of the 2010 Electronic Entertainment Expo were witness to many exciting announcements on June 15th during Nintendo’s press conference—one of them being the highly awaited return of Kirby to home consoles. This would mark Kirby’s first appearance on a home console since 2003’s Kirby Air Ride for the Gamecube, and his first platforming adventure since 2000’s Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards. It clearly had a lot to live up to. But alongside roaring applause, the announcement was met with many raised eyebrows regarding our pink hero’s return—for he had undergone a change the likes of which a Nintendo mascot hasn’t seen since Paper Mario. Kirby was made of yarn. Yes, yarn. And his new game, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, would see him battle across a world of felt and fabric against a new foe, and with a new friend. Nevertheless, everyone was excited and anxiously awaiting its release. So, did Nintendo weave the world a masterpiece (yes, I just said that)?
Epic Yarn’s plot is presented in short, storybook-like scenes whose silliness is only surpassed by that of its narrator. It’s really something only a small child would find entertaining, and luckily these scenes can be skipped by those who don’t care. If you’re one of those people, I suggest skipping to the next paragraph...
While taking a stroll through Dream Land, Kirby stumbles upon a strange Metamato made of yarn and tries to eat it. It turns out to be the property of an evil sorcerer named Yin-Yarn, who sucks Kirby into a magic sock as revenge for consuming it. Kirby winds up in Patch Land—a world where everything, including himself, is made of yarn. Because of this, Kirby’s powers of inhalation are useless, as air passes right through him. Instead, the Metamato has given Kirby the power of transformation, which he uses to rescue a young yarn boy, named Prince Fluff, from a monster. Prince Fluff thanks Kirby and informs him that Yin-Yarn has separated the fabric of Patch Land, and that he must gather the missing pieces of magic yarn to sew it back together. Kirby decides to help, and the two set off together to save Patch Land.
As mentioned, players won’t make use of Kirby’s signature inhale and copy ability this time around, and will instead utilize his new-found powers of transformation—as well as some sort of yarn whip—to defeat enemies and navigate the world.
Using the whip, Kirby can unravel enemies or wind them into a ball, which can be thrown to destroy other enemies or break through barriers. The whip can also be used to latch onto various objects sewn about the game world. Kirby can swing on buttons, rip patches of felt off, unzip pieces of fabric, and more. The mechanic is used quite cleverly. One of my favourites is tugging on a loose piece of string (tied to a button) and pulling the felt background towards you, thereby bringing a series platforms in reach or perhaps revealing a hidden area. Manipulating the game world in this way is surprisingly satisfying.
Kirby can also transform to help him get around. Some transformations can be used at any time—these include a car to move faster, a parachute to descend slowly, a submarine to move through water, and so forth. Other, more complex transformations occur after grabbing a special item. Most of the time, these transformations are mandatory for navigating a certain section of a level. These transformations include a fire engine, a train, a dune buggy, a UFO, and a giant tank-like robot, among others. Certain transformations require additional inputs from the Wiimote, requiring you to tilt it or even point it at the screen.
Most transformations are quite fun, but I found the train extremely boring and even annoying. This transformation requires you to point the Wiimote at the screen and draw a track for Train Kirby to ride as he constantly moves forward. The only direct control you have over him is choosing to turn him around at any time. Drawing the track can be finicky for one thing, but the primary reason for the frustration is how excruciatingly slow Train Kirby moves. I’d often just draw the simplest, shortest path out of a level rather than collect all the beads or treasure so as not to prolong the arduousness.
As a direct contrast, one of my favourites is Dolphin Kirby—whose controls bring back memories of Ecco the Dolphin for the Sega Genesis. He’s fast, agile, and has an attack that can destroy just about any enemy. Most importantly, I found Dolphin Kirby levels to be some of the most fun and creative.
As mentioned, as players move through levels, they will gather beads and find hidden treasures such as music and furniture that can be placed in their very own apartment back in the hub world of Quilty Square. As a means of keeping score, beads are also used as currency to purchase various unlockables. There are approximately 500 items to find or purchase. Once a level is complete, the next will be unlocked, until players finally face off against a boss. Boss fights, in particular, are one of the game's highlights, in my opinion. They're the perfect mix of just the right amount of challenge and fun. After a boss is defeated, the piece of magic yarn it was holding will weave its way through the fabric of Patch Land and sew it back together, unlocking the next world. There are 7 worlds in total, each with a couple of bonus levels.
Eventually, players will unlock four challenge modes as they progress. These modes require the player to do a number of tasks, such as collecting a certain number of beads, defeating a certain number of enemies, playing hide-and-go-seek, and more, all before a timer runs out. Each of these challenges takes place in a small section of levels players have already beaten. When a player clears a challenge, they receive a felt background and unlock the next one (provided they beat the level in takes place in first).
Overall, the game is pretty fun, however seriously lacking in the difficulty department. Death is nonexistent. Falling victim to an enemy or hazard will do nothing more than strip you of a portion of the beads you’ve collected in the level thus far, and usually most if not all of them can be recovered anyway.
The absence of challenge coupled with a childish, uncompelling plot makes the journey to restore Patch Land feel more like a giant scavenger hunt rather than an epic quest. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can feel tedious occasionally. Because of this, I had very little motivation to return to past levels and collect missed treasures or improve my score, and completing the extra challenges in particular felt like a chore. The overall result was growing bored of the game after very short sessions. Nevertheless, I kept coming back, which I guess is the most important thing, but I know it’s mostly because I didn’t have other gaming endeavours at the time.
Co-op mode lets two players tackle the game together, with player two controlling Prince Fluff himself. The prince has the exact same controls and abilities as Kirby. The game's difficulty does not increase to compensate for the additional player, and instead becomes all the more easy. The duo can wrap each other up into yarn balls, just like enemies, and use each other as weapons against their foes. The two can also use each other as platforms to get to those just-out-of-reach areas. As you can imagine, this mode is great for playing with a young child, especially one new to gaming or the platforming genre.
Visually, the game is an absolute masterpiece. The charming graphics and animations are a delight to behold and are easily some of the best and most creative we’ve seen in the history of 2D gaming. And who could resist Yarn Kirby? He's just so darn cute. That being said however, I think Nintendo would do well to leave this title as a standalone adventure in the Kirby universe. A second trip through Patch Land would surely feel stale.
The up-beat soundtrack is a mixture of new tunes and remixes of old Kirby classics which work well within the game. Kirby fans will surely hum or whistle along as they play.
Despite being aimed at small children, Kirby’s Epic Yarn provides enough entertainment to warrant the attention of even the most picky platforming fans. However, for some, a rental might make more sense, as they may not likely take a second trip through Patch Land after completing the game for the first time. The impressive art style and creative level design accompanied by a solid sound track are enough to coax the player forward despite the goofy story—though the novelty may wear off quickly for those looking for a real challenge. Still, Epic Yarn can be great for gamers just looking to kick back, relax, and enjoy some simple platforming fun.
I feel like this is the launching pad for a much grander Kirby adventure, and I’m very much interested in seeing where Good Feel and Nintendo take our puffy pink hero next.
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