Note: Apologies for the late review, blame Nintendo for delaying the game in Europe. The PAL release date is still undetermined but Nintendo has confirmed that the game won’t ship until Q1 2011 at the earliest.
As one of Nintendo’s B-List mascots Kirby has surprisingly been neglected these past few years. His 8 and 16-bit adventures were all exceptional; however the transition from pixels to polygons has not been easy for the pink protagonist. Kirby 64 was a disappointing follow-up to the likes of Dream Land 3 while Air Ride on the Gamecube felt like a practical joke pressed on to a disc. A trio of great titles on the DS helped to salvage Kirb’s reputation and now Epic Yarn has arrived to solidify his position near the top of Nintendo’s family tree. Developed by HAL and Good Feel, Kirby’s Epic Yarn is one of the most unique and charming platofmers ever to grace a console. Recent titles such as Sonic 4 and New Super Mario Bros. Wii have been relying on nostalgia and familiarity to draw players in but Epic Yarn throws tradition out of the window and provides a refreshingly new experience which all Wii owners should check out.
When it was first revealed at this year’s E3 it was abundantly clear that Epic Yarn would be a beautiful game. While the Wii may not be able to compete with the Xbox 360 and PS3 in terms of raw horsepower, Epic Yarn is certified proof that great art direction can be more encapsulating than fancy visual flares or high definition textures. Clearly inspired by the Japanese commercial for Kirby’s Adventure, the game world in Epic Yarn is made up entirely out of fabric and other textile materials. Both the backdrops and the foreground terrain look as if they were stitched together using multiple pieces of fabric while all enemies seem to be made up of thick yarn. Other objects and puzzles in the environment compliment this theme so across the 7 lands and 40+ levels you’ll be tugging loose strings to alter or reveal platforms, swinging from stitched-on buttons, ripping off patches to expose secrets and at times you’ll even venture between the layers in background. The hand-woven aesthetics look amazing but more importantly they also allow for some creative gameplay elements and serve as the canvas for the games story-book narrative. After accidently consuming a tomato which belonged to a villainous wizard named Yin-Yarn, the magic –spewing antagonist sucks Kirby in to a magic sock which transports him to a mysterious world where everything, including Kirby, is made up of Yarn. While in patch land Kirby meets Prince Fluff who is essentially a blue clone of himself and the duo team up in an attempt to take down Yin-Yarn and return to normality.
Due to his new form factor Kirby no longer has the ability to swallow enemies and steal their powers however early on in the game the rounded hero discovers that being made of yarn has actually enhances his transformation capabilities. Dashing, swimming and double jumping will cause Kirby to shape-shift and respectively become a Car, Submarine and Parachute. Furthermore at various points in the game you will gain the ability to temporarily make some more dramatic changes and become anything from a fire truck to a dolphin. These transformations help to break up the pace and sprinkle variety in to an otherwise simplistic platformer. Speaking of simplistic, Epic Yarn is definitely a title which skews towards a much younger audience. Kirby’s inability to die means that just about anyone can make it out of Patch Land without breaking a sweat. However simply making it to the end of each level is not what Epic Yarn is about. Instead, the game encourages you to earn gold medals on each level by collecting as much beads and hidden items as possible. Much like in Sonic titles, each time Kirby is hit he’ll lose plenty of his collected beads so ideally your true aim should be not only to complete each level, but to complete each level without getting hurt.
One thing that transcends Epic Yarn beyond the average platformer is the inclusion of drop-in/drop-out Co-Operative multiplayer. The entire game can be completed with a friend who will assume the role of Prince Fluff. As a duo you can throw one another to gain access to hard to reach areas, use each other as weapons and even co-pilot vehicles together. The levels do not scale to accommodate for the extra player so having a friend tag along can also have some negative effects. As I mentioned earlier Epic Yarn is an incredibly easy game and having someone beside you who you can repeatedly use as a makeshift weapon only makes the game even easier. On the other hand, if your aim is to achieve gold medals then the last thing you’ll want is another player on screen who could potentially cause you to lose precious beads. For those reasons co-op is only recommend for casual playing and not for those who like a challenge or hate relying on others.
While it’s entirely possible to plough through Patch Land in a single sitting, those who consider themselves to be completionists should find Epic Yarn completely satisfying. Earning a gold medal on each level is no easy task and on top of that each level contains three hidden items for you to find. Additionally performing well in boss battles will open up bonus levels, as will using the items you’ve found to decorate vacant apartments. Kirby also has an apartment of his own which you can doll up if you so choose, sure it’s ultimately pointless but I actually found it quite addictive.
Sans the beautiful visuals I’m not sure how infatuated I would be with Epic Yarn but as a complete package it is one of the best platformers I have ever played. The game is oozing with charm and contains dozens of excellently crafted levels which are a joy to discover. The inclusion of co-op is genius and will lengthen the overall experience by several hours. Kirby’s “invincibility” might initially deter hardcore gamers but underneath the cutesy graphics and adorable characters is a hidden layer of challenge for us hardcore gamers. I just wish it never had to end…