Kirby's Epic Yarn ReviewJason Venter
There's no point in trying to make the plot in Kirby's Epic Yarn sound like anything more than it is: another excuse to play a fun game. As the story goes, a magician made out of yarn comes to Dream Land and sucks Kirby into a magical sock. Inside, Kirby finds an entire world that is made of yarn and similar fabrics. That world has been torn apart by the magician, meaning that anyone who might be inclined to help Kirby is in no position to do so. In order to return to his own home and plan it from the nefarious magician, everyone's favorite pink puffball will have to reunite that which the fiend tore apart.
Dig deeper in the story and you won't find much. Any embellishments primarily center around Prince Fluff, a monarch who comes along with Kirby on the adventure. Their exploits feel like fodder for a Saturday morning cartoon, or maybe even just a commercial for cake, and that impression is cemented by a narrator who reads the tail in a voice you might expect from an old Sesame Street episode.
Yet in spite of the childish presentation, Kirby's Epic Yarn is a good game that gets nearly everything right. That's true right down to the tight and responsive play control, which makes it a pleasure to play through a new game with such old school sensibilities. Kirby's movements are controlled using the d-pad and the '1' and '2' buttons but not much else. The player holds the Wii Remote sideways, like an old NES controller. For the most part this is the sort of game that could have worked on the NES... if technological limitations hadn't been what they were at the time.
Technology has come a long way, though, and you won't have to play for long before you come to appreciate how fresh everything feels thanks to the proficient use of improved console hardware. Wavy, colorful lines fill the environments that Kirby explores, making vivid foregrounds that have as their backdrop denim skies and patchwork walls. There's a definite charm to everything, a sense that even though a magician came through and tore things apart, what's left fits together precisely as it should. Kirby can grab onto zippers and tassels to open pockets and secret areas. He can interact with buttons and swing from them like a marshmallow version of Indiana Jones. It all works splendidly.
Some degree of disappointment is inevitable, though, because the game's developers have done away with Kirby's traditional ability to suck in enemies and acquire their skills. That unique skill was always part of what made the franchise tick, so it seems like a risky choice to step away from that now in a "core" Kirby game. Instead of dropping onto the ground near an enemy and gulping him down like a vacuum cleaner, Kirby now swings a strand of yarn out like a lasso. That's enough to either unravel the hapless foe, most of the time, or to catch him up into a ball that can then be tossed at other enemies and objects.
If you're worried that Kirby is a wuss now, though, don't be. He can still leap into the air, turn into a brick and slam down onto the ground. Besides that, he has gained the ability to hop onto a skateboard, to turn into a speeding car and even to morph into much larger vehicleslike a spaceship, complete with spread shotwhen the time is right. If anything, Kirby has become too powerful... only that's not really the case either, given that it's literally impossible for him to die.
Jump or fall into a pit and you might expect everything to end. That's not what happens, though. Kirby will fly out of the abyss and return to the last solid bit of ground that he passed (whether he actually touched it or not). If he gets hit by a flying enemy projectile, the blow will hardly phase him. Kirby doesn't take damage; he loses gems. Those gems are precious, the currency that enables you to earn good rankings on stages and afterwards to buy collectibles at the shops in town. The net effect is that any damage you take almost feels worse than if you had actually died and found yourself forced to restart the stage. It's particularly frustrating if you've just about crossed a series of narrow ledges and you fall just short of making the last jump... then get to watch as Kirby rises out of the pit and flies back over the whole series of ledges, showering gems into the pit that you have no chance of recovering. You can still finish the stage at that point, but you've failed and you know it.
Though it's occasionally frustrating, the new setup means that players of all skill levels can get caught up in the adventure and can play the game the way they want. Whether you're a long-time gamer who has seen Kirby to the end of several adventures or a franchise newcomer, there's something to like here and there's something to challenge you. There are some familiar friends to see along the way, too, and some surprises near the end of the whole affair that make it clear that you're playing a genuine Kirby title... if somehow you were starting to wonder.
Playing through Kirby's Epic Yarn won't take you long. Most long-time gamers can probably clear it in five or six hours. There's plenty more to experience even after the credits roll, though, in the form of unlockable furnishings for Kirby's house, mini-games, challenges for stages and even the fun of playing with a friend. Combine all of that with the effective visual design and you have a title that is definitely worth your consideration the next time you head to the video store in search of a pleasant gaming experience. Just know ahead of time that you won't be getting Homer's version of an epic.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.