When I was but a young geekling Public Enemy implored me not to believe the hype. This is a lesson that I took to heart. Since then I have made every effort to neither drink the Kool-Aid nor count my chickens before they hatch. It has made me a rather cautious adult, but it’s also saved me from many a crushing disappointment. (I am looking at you, Phantom Menace.)
I tell you this so that when I say that newly released Wii platformer Kiby’s Epic Yarn is every bit as amazing as you’ve been told to expect, you know that I am not blowing smoke.
I could describe to you in painstaking detail how amazingly beautiful this title is, even handicapped by the system’s obvious lack of high definition graphics, but you already know the drill. Rather than dazzle with processor-choking light and water effects or charge headlong into the fracas that is the push for 3D gaming, Kirby’s Epic Yarn instead limits its graphical representation to the kinds of textures you’d likely find at a sewing circle.
Developer Good-Feel uses this distinct art style to great affect as the textures of quilted patterns, yarn, felt and denim are beautifully, simply represented on-screen. This isn’t the only departure from the norm, as leading puffball Kirby also forgoes his cannibalistic tendencies in this unique foray. Instead Kirby’s Epic Yarn plays up the pink one’s ability to transform, offering a number of standard forms, like parachute, racecar and anvil, as well as specialized transformation. These include everything from U.F.O. to fire engine, and they supplement the title’s standard controls – which rely heavily on the NES-style sideways Wii-mote – by often incorporating tilt-based mechanics using the accelerometer.
At its core, Kirby’s Epic Yarn is a straight-up platformer, and thus jumping is the order of the day. Secondary to that, of course, is combat, which is handled via a simple pair of attack options. Kirby’s primary assault involves unraveling his fabric-based enemies, while his secondary attack – executed by simply holding down the button – sees him rolling an unfurled adversary into a ball of yarn than may be used as a projectile weapon.
The movements in Kirby’s Epic Yarn are simplistic yet fluid, and as you run, jump and swing through various themed worlds and levels you can’t help but appreciate how tight the controls truly are. The environments themselves are heavily interactive, and you can manipulate them via a myriad on on-screen buttons and zippers just as easily as you unravel your enemies.
The title boasts a great sense of scale, both with regard to your movement through the sizable levels – which often involves traveling through and behind multiple layers of the backdrop fabric – and in the game’s fun and frantic giant boss battles. These gaming staples are handled aptly and, while they are occasionally challenging, I never found them devolve to that dreaded level of out-and-out frustration.
It’s important to note that Kirby cannot die in this game. Instead each time he falls into a pit or takes damage, the jewel beads that have been collected thus far in a level spill out uncontrollably, and you must pause to collect them before they disappear. This was a wise design move, as it feels impactful but doesn’t detract from gameplay. Within this title’s reality you have no problem accepting that this is a cheery world of minor annoyance instead of permanent death.
The aforementioned beads serve as both points and currency. You gain bonus beads by completing a game level quickly and efficiently, and various secondary game modes can be unlocked throughout the title that also serve to give Kirby more chances to collect these and other remarkable baubles. Along the way you encounter lots of collectables like unlockable music tracks and furniture that can be used to customize your in-game house a la Animal Crossing. Additional furniture, wallpaper and upholstery patterns can be purchased from vendors using your hard-earned beads, but the most sought after pieces – those that themselves unlock supplementary game modes and content – must be acquired in the more out-of-the-way reaches of the game’s core levels.
The most important of all these in-game collectables, however, are patches. At the end of any given story level Kirby receives such a patch which then becomes part of the game map, thus opening up the next linear level or world. This process is tied to an amazing series of transitional animations, and watching as the game opens up before you is an absolute joy to behold.
The primary story elements are revealed through a similar series of cut-scenes that, while they may lack the flash of these unlock animations, are accompanied by sweetly engaging narration that really pulls you in. As silly as the plot itself may be – after all, it does revolve around Yin-Yarn, the scourge of Patch Land – its storybook-style presentation makes the entire affair instantly endearing.
As Kirby literally stitches a broken world back together via magical strands of string you are treated to such additional amenities as tons of in-game unlockables and the rare and beautiful 2nd-player drop-in. Each level allows you to go it alone or play some co-op with Prince Fluff, the game’s originally slated protagonist, but it never penalizes you for going solo.
My only knocks against Kirby’s Epic Yarn are few and far between. The length of the core experience, because of its straight-forward simplicity, can easily be powered through in the span of six to eight hour. Still, to Good-Feel’s credit, the game isn’t padded by artificial elements like harsh difficulty. Instead it focuses on a steady stream of supplementary materials like more furniture and beads to collect and new bonus levels to unlock. This extra content feels (perhaps unsurprisingly given the game’s “all natural fibers” approach) totally organic, and even get-down-to-business gamers like myself will likely never find this content laborious.
Likewise, while the game tends to pause to load content or auto-save more often than most, these load and save times themselves are exceptionally brief. This means that, why you may be forced to step out of the enchanting game environment at regular intervals, you’re generally afforded the opportunity to jump right back in before you’ve had time to lose your cotton-filled contact high.
In short, Kirby’s Epic Yarn is, at least in my opinion, the best side-scrolling platformer available on the Wii, and easily one of the most utterly enjoyable gaming experiences I’ve had in recent years. Whether you’re already a Wii owner or finally plan to adopt this holiday season, pick up a copy. It’s a title that’s easily accessible to gamers of all ages and skill levels, and it’s exactly the kind of uniquely engaging experience you’d expect from a first-party Nintendo title.
WIRED: beautifully understated graphics, simple yet tight controls, great use of music and sound, should appeal to the whole family, a definite Wii must-own
TIRED: relatively short core playing experience, nonsensical story may prove a turn-off to some, lots of load and save screens
Review materials provided by Nintendo of America