Kirby’s Epic Yarn Review
Game: Kirby’s Epic Yarn
Developer: Good-Feel & HAL Laboratory
Available on: Nintendo Wii Only
It has been eleven long years since we have been party to a home console platform jaunt starring the HAL Laboratory created Nintendo icon, Kirby. That was the somewhat underwhelming Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, which hardly left us crying out for more. Despite this, the loveable pink fella has been involved in some charming handheld efforts for the DS, as well as featuring as one of the main roster in the Smash Bros. franchise, and floating around winningly in 2003’s Kirby’s Air Ride. He has always been there or thereabouts in the Nintendo universe, but always playing something of a second fiddle to the big boys like Mario and Link.
When Kirby’s Epic Yarn was announced for the Wii, it would be fair to say that none of us were expecting a grade-A, top tier platform game to rival the likes of New Super Mario Bros. But E3 2010 changed all preconceptions, as Kirby smashed it out of the park, winning all kinds of accolades from the critics including more than one Game Of The Show award. The floaty platform dude was about to step out of the shadows and reinvent himself in a spectacularly charming manner!
STORY: For the unitiated, Kirby hails from the mean streets of Dream Land, a whimsical place where over the years he has used his unique powers (which to paraphrase Wayne Campbell, involve both sucking and blowing at the same time) to hold firm against his sworn enemies Meta Knight and Dedede, who invariably attempt to do wrong by the good folk in Kirby’s ‘hood. This time, as we learn from the charming Mr Men style intro, our hero has lost his ability to inhale after rather unwisely choosing to eat a mysterious tomato found whilst frolicking in the woods.
Upon necking the fruit, a nasty sorceror by the name of Yin-Yarn appears, stripping Kirby of his wheezy talents and banishing him to Patch Land, a mysterious world made entirely of fabric. Kirby in turn is transformed into yarn, but no ordinary yarn! The powers imbued to him by the mysterious salad accompaniment allow him to transform into all manner of different entities, as well as effectively being able to use his own body as a handy whip-like weapon. It is this skill that he then uses to rescue a nearby boy, who turns out to be none other than fabric royalty, Prince Fluff (stay with us here).
Fluff lays it out to his new homie; Yin-Yarn has been up to no good and has seperated Patch Land into pieces. Between them they decide to enter into a quest to find seven pieces of magical yarn which can be used to bond Patch Land together again, using Kirby’s awesome new transmorphing abilities. Meanwhile, Yin-Yarn has captured Dedede and Meta Knight and is using them to his own ends. Needless to say it is all going off for the wee chap named after the Kirby vacuum cleaner. It is your task, as the player wielding the sideways Wii remote, to kick some haberdashery ass and restore some order up in this bitch.
GRAPHICS: In a nutshell, Kirby’s Epic Yarn looks beautiful. Fabric Land is wonderfully rendered in such a fashion as to resemble actual materials that could have been transported straight out of your wardrobe, presuming that is, that you dress a bit fruitily and have a penchant for pastel coloured patchwork quilts. The entire landscape consists of fabric, and behaves as such in the context of the gameplay. Kirby can pull back sections of scenery by a thread as you would draw a set of curtains; similarly he can undo an actual zipper to open up a new area. The woven backgrounds scrunch, fold and flutter in the wind. It is wonderful to behold the beautifully animated string-Kirby morph into his myriad forms and traverse the landscape full of imaginative enemies and spectacularly put together boss set-pieces. The obvious comparisons to make would be Little Big Planet or even the classic Yoshi’s Island. However, HAL Labs and Good-Feel have had a blinder here and this ranks among the best graphical achievements on the motion-sensitive console, and all without the need for 3D and high definition.
SOUND: Epic Yarn is played out to a relaxing, almost 8-bit style soundtrack with some symphonic flourishes. Musically it is not groundbreaking but what is on offer is both perfectly adequate and very pleasant. Each stage contains a hidden music CD as a collectable; find it and you get to listen to the soothing tune from each respective area at your leisure. On the flipside, the narrator who chats during the many cutesy cutscenes is fantastic. A one-man band of a voiceover artist, he negates the goings-on by simply altering his voice to channel the different characters, much like classic UK children’s fare.
GAMEPLAY: Easy to pick up and worryingly compulsive once you have done so, the easily mastered, logically progressive platform action marks the finest entry in Kirby’s lengthy canon. Whereas in all previous incarnations he has been able to take on the abilities of his enemies by gulping them up, this time the cotton-based blighter is able to transform simply by entering specific areas of a stage or hitting the directional pad as appropriate. Double tap forward and you become a motorcar; float through the air as an anthropomorphic parachute, pass through a portal and turn into a goddamn flying saucer. It is fantastic fun, and incredibly inventive.
The gameplay is not earth shattering as platform games go. You finish the many levels, all of which include three hidden collectables and gemstones that are gleaned from Fabric World and from killing enemies (for these, read: Star Coins and ordinary coins, if in Mushroom Kingdom lazy comparison mode) and encounter bosses along the way that require different techniques and a bit of savvy to beat. The usual platform mechanics apply here, you can whip enemies to death, unravel, push, pull and manipulate scenery to progress, send stunned enemies careering into blocks in order to remove them, and so on, but the key here is that you are constantly surprised and rewarded the further you explore and the nearer you get to handing Yin-Yarn’s arse to him on a hessian platter.
Variety is key. As the aforementioned flying saucer incarnation, you use a tractor beam to suck up coins and enemies. Turn into a the rip-roaring tank-bot and the level becomes a side scrolling shoot ’em up. Enter train mode and you get to rush along, using the remote to place tracks on the screen as you go. Turn into a dolphin and you invoke memories of Ecco as you splash around in the drink. The whole thing is just a pure hoot and will keep making you gasp with joy. No joke here, you simply haven’t lived until you have guided a floating pink blob through the zip on a pair of giant jeans.
In addition to the cracking single player experience, the developers have also managed to include a masterful co-op mode which craps from a great height on the oft-confusing experience offered by the recent New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Whilst you cannot play it online, two local buddies can team up as Kirby and his new bestie Prince Fluff to rip it up in Fabric stylee. Whilst you can both do your own thing and rock the same cotton pickin’ moves, at certain stages you merge into one, with each player taking responsibility for certain actions, for example whilst one player pilots the tankbot-Kirby, the other operates the firepower. It is a good old romp, that proves two players can co-exist on a platformer if a bit of thought is put into it.
LONGEVITY: Not being able to actually die and the often gentle, tactile nature of the game means that yeah, this is an easy game to master and pretty easy to finish. In terms of extras, there are few; you can collect items of furniture along your travels and decorate your very own crib in a light approximation of Animal Crossing, and listen to the tinkly music you have collected. That is about it folks. But it is bloody hard to have a pop at this game for it’s longevity when it is so fun to play and the two player co-op is just so damn good!
VERDICT: Kirby has been reborn here, no questions asked, and has soundly inhaled all of his previous games over the years and defecated them out of his cutesy, constantly smiling little body. This is the best platform game on the Wii that doesn’t involve a certain plumber, and almost certainly the most universally appealing one to grace the platform to date.
It is hard to imagine even the hardest hearted, ultra hardcore gaming afficionado not secretly being enamoured with what has been achieved here. I urge you to take a break from your more realistic, serious, shooty games of today to pick up this string-wrapped bundle of joy as soon as possible, and either by yourself or with friends, unravel the many welcome surprises within.