While heroes like Mario and Samus have graced the Wii multiple times, Kirby seems to have dozed off in Dream Land for the past few years. Now the puffy protagonist finally returns in a world made entirely out of fabric and yarn. Does the surprising new direction of Kirby's Epic Yarn weave a beautiful tapestry or end up frayed at the ends?
Kirby doesn't start this journey all strung out in his new form. It's all the doing of an evil wizard named Yin Yarn. After a chance encounter with the hungry hero, the sorcerer uses a magic sock to banish Kirby to a place called Patch Land. This unfortunate world has already been unraveled by the wizard's magic, and while Kirby searches for a way home, he offers to help Prince Fluff weave its pieces back together.
Epic Yarn's storybook plot is clearly for the kids. The narration evokes a father telling a bedtime story, altering his voice to read each character's lines. The random whimsy of sock portals helps prop up the plot, and fuzzy logic justifies Kirby's transformations and his inability to vacuum up enemies as before. It's Epic Yarn's storybook plot is clearly for the kids. The narration evokes a father telling a bedtime story, altering his voice to read each character's lines. The random whimsy of sock portals helps prop up the plot, and fuzzy logic justifies Kirby's transformations and his inability to vacuum up enemies as before. It's a simple tale, but one that's charming and tightly knit.
While Kirby games are often notoriously short, Epic Yarn rolls out to a respectable length. There are seven different lands containing over 40 levels, and there's extra incentive to hunt down collectible treasures. Whenever you complete a stage, you'll earn a patch that triggers an event on the map, altering the terrain and granting you access to the next level. After a few levels, you'll confront a boss, take back a piece of magic yarn, and if you score highly enough, snag a bonus patch that grants access to extra stages.
Since Kirby is away from home, he's put up in a local apartment building which you can decorate with wallpaper, furnishings, and toys found in chests or bought at a nearby shop. The building manager also asks you to decorate vacant rooms to attract new customers, using silhouettes to hint at the required swag. As new tenants come in, they'll take you back to conquered levels for mini-games involving hide and seek, bead collecting, and busting baddies. The extras aren't quite as fun as the main game, however. There's little value to personalizing your apartment, and you'll see the same mini-games so frequently that they can get a little worn-out.
There are no competitive aspects to Kirby's Epic Yarn, but the whole game can be played cooperatively, with a friend taking the role of Prince Fluff. Players need to stay together on the same screen, but if one player lags behind, a friendly angel will sweep them back to their partner. The game never requires cooperation to reach new areas, but players can literally carry their friend through sticky areas or toss one another to out-of-the-way treasure troves.
Crafting its world out of fabric isn't just a neat visual trick -- it leads to a creative style of gameplay. Kirby can duck into hidden passages between layers of material, wind up pulleys to raise ledges, and grab buttons to swing over gaps. You'll also yank strings to put wrinkles in the world, shift platforms, or open passages. Some of these mechanics are used throughout the adventure, but the game will consistently surprise you. You're never quite sure what will happen when you tug on a string or rip off a tag.
Since he can no longer simply eat up the opposition, Kirby whips out a string of yarn to pull apart enemies, ball them up to use as weapons, and grab objects. Even without the ability to inhale his enemies, transformations remain a strong part of Kirby's repertoire. A simple dash turns him into a car, and he can form a parachute to float to earth. Sometimes more dramatic changes switch things up from the standard platforming. Kirby can turn into a massive tank-bot to blow away enemies, become a UFO to float through levels, or bounce off enemies as he surfs through obstacle courses.
Most of the game is played with the Wii Remote held sideways like an NES controller. At times, you'll tilt to aim the hose of a Kirby fire truck or point at the screen to draw tracks for Kirby's train form, but there's nothing sophisticated enough that it requires MotionPlus.
Epic Yarn's main curiosity is that it's entirely impossible for Kirby to die. Like Sonic and his rings, if Kirby gets hit or drops in a hole, the beads you've gathered will go flying. However, unlike Sonic games, if he loses all his beads and is struck again there's no real consequence--even in boss fights. The game offsets this by awarding you medals for the number of beads you collect in each level and keeping track of your streaks, making the game's challenge less about survival and more about striving for that perfect run
The look of Kirby's Epic Yarn goes beyond a creative concept with an amazing execution that makes you wonder if these levels might have actually been crafted by hand. The attention to detail is outstanding. Cotton stands in for snowballs, chewed vines show tattered shreds, and volcanic activity results in burnt backdrops. There's such a wide variety of textures and patterns that no environment seems overused, and the game continually creates moments of wonder with unexpected touches like the lens flare at the beach. The jazzy, piano-driven soundtrack is also high quality with new tunes and Kirby classics, but there a few songs that are a bit too sleepy and serene. You'll want to be wide awake to experience everything the game has in store.
It's rare for a visual direction to have such a profound impact on gameplay, but the two are seamlessly interwoven in Kirby's Epic Yarn. It's certainly not one of the more challenging platformers out there, but it's a breathtaking experience nonetheless.
Reviewed on Nintendo Wii.