Kirby’s Epic Yarn
Kirby’s long-held penchant for assimilating the abilities of his enemies reached a pinnacle in Super Smash Bros Brawl. Here the pink ball from Dream Land was a neat metaphor of Nintendo’s unparalleled knack for recycling their intellectual properties, the company devouring and regurgitating their many iconic characters in ever more unlikely and appealing ways, with the aforementioned chaotic Wii fighter being just another great example of this quality.
Two further exercises in this process complete what is, alongside Kirby’s Epic Yarn, something of a mini-trilogy of Wii 2D platformers. For the seasoned gamer there was the punishing Donkey Kong Country Returns, and for the retro twist there was New Super Mario Bros Wii. Kirby’s Epic Yarn, then, is the aesthetes’ choice – embracing a boldly wonderful visual design and (arguably) an even bolder gameplay mechanic. It’s adorable look and extreme accessibility reflect what is often derided by non-converts as the Wii’s innate childishness, when in fact Epic Yarn is another notable Nintendo success: playful, joyous and lovingly childlike in feel.
The patchwork aesthetic is explained in the game’s storybook-style opening. Kirby finds himself in Patch Land, which has been ripped apart by evil forces (his first line upon landing on the unfamiliar terrain is the hilarious “It feels like…trousers!”); Kirby must traverse the game finding magic yarn, so that Patch Land’s various worlds can be stitched back together. Although Kirby is to all intents and purposes made of air in Patch Land, and therefore unable to inhale foes as per usual, his new thread-based body is able to transform into various shapes with a touch of the d-pad. From turning into a car to dash across levels, to lassoing enemies, Kirby’s movements in Epic Yarn are a delight, and completely in keeping with his character.
The game’s overriding strength isn’t merely that it looks fantastic, which it does, but that the tactility afforded to the developers through the use of thread as a gameplay device is fully exploited to some quite ingenious ends. Each level has buttons to hang onto, zips to pull across, cloth to fold over so that jumps are suddenly smaller…the pleasure from Epic Yarn isn’t derived from merely progressing through the game, but from exploring each level, and the manner in which you’re invited to test the very fabric (no pun intended) of everything on-screen. It would be going a little far to say that the boundaries of 2D game design are being stretched here, but neither should the modestly clever way HAL/Good-Feel have used game space and platformer convention be overlooked.
It will come as no surprise to anyone with even a passing interest in the Kirby series that Epic Yarn isn’t particularly taxing. It is in fact impossible to die in the game, with any missed jumps or successful enemy attacks being corrected by a quick return to the last point of action. Punishment comes in the form of a loss of beads, the game’s most common collectable; as collectables (which also include bonus items such as music tracks and, er, pieces of furniture) are the main reward Epic Yarn offers the player for the thorough exploration of levels, their loss is a strong incentive to finish the stage carefully. But generally the cuddly exterior isn’t deceptive and there’s no fiendish challenge or devious level design being hidden away for unsuspecting gamers to stumble into.
These collectables link into the game’s wider structure, and it’s here where a few of Epic Yarn’s idiosyncrasies come to the fore. Very early on in the game Kirby is given his own flat in Patch Land(!), which you can decorate with any of the items found throughout the game (there are three unique to each level, including such random features as a frog umbrella stand and a chandelier). The landlord then starts asking for more beads from Kirby, which slowly expands the number of flats available. These flats become occupied when the correct pieces of furniture are found, with the subsequent inhabitants offering passage into such bonus modes as time-trials and mini-games. Arranging Kirby’s flat can get strangely absorbing, providing a weird Animal Crossing-esque distraction from the main game. Other weird – yet brilliant – things in Epic Yarn include: the sweet couple sitting under a tree that you can kill, the cowering enemies (who you can also kill), and the myriad vehicle set-pieces in the game (our highlight being the first world’s tank, which gives way to a lovely lullaby as soon as it ends).
In designing everything around the delightful textiles of Patch Land, co-developers HAL and Good-Feel have ensured that Kirby’s latest and greatest transcends any concerns of style being prioritised over substance – the substance of Epic Yarn is in the style. There are other, equally fine, games for those looking to test their co-ordination, or bathe in the rays of nostalgia. Epic Yarn is a title for the player looking to be reminded what it’s like to have the emotion of curiosity triggered by a videogame. A game cut from the finest Nintendo cloth.
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