Despite starring in over fifteen of his very own games and appearing in countless others; Kirby still remains one of Nintendo’s lesser known characters. In recent years he’s had much more exposure after appearing in the Super Smash Bros series but he is still far from being a household name like Mario or Sonic. You can just tell from looking at Kirby why he is more popular in Japan than elsewhere, he’s a cute pink blob that screeches like a girl for heaven’s sake. Hardly a character that is going to impress the youth of today that are more impressed by the likes of Bayonetta or Marcus Fenix.
So if any of you do know Kirby already then you surely know that he has been gifted with a special power that lets him suck up and ingest his enemies, then take on the abilities of the digested foe. Well it just so happens that knowledge is totally useless because in this game Kirby loses that particular special power in favour of something more textile.
The story goes like this: As usual Kirby the ever hungry is in search for a snack. He is wandering around Dream Land just minding his own business when he spots the tastiest looking tomato he’s ever seen. So without hesitation Kirby goes to eat it and in doing so, disturbs a strange looking monster made entirely out of Yarn.
Funnily enough his name is Yin-Yarn and he’s suddenly very angry at Kirby for stealing the tomato. Without warning he sucks Kirby up into a magic sock (which is actually a wormhole) to a new dimension in which everything and everyone is made of fabric (yes including Kirby). Without boring you with too many details right now, Kirby soon meets up with Prince Fluff who informs him that this evil Yin-Yarn has stolen some magic yarn that is very important because it literally holds Patch Land together. Kirby and Fluff join forces in an attempt to reclaim all the magic yarn and stitch Patch Land back up again, hopefully defeating Yin-Yarn along the way too. Oh yes remember that Tomato? Well it turns out that it was a magic tomato and after eating it Kirby can now transform into any object he can think of, very cool.
So that’s the story, but what’s the game then? Well Kirby’s Epic Yarn is a brand new platform adventure from the clever people at GoodFeel; they created Wario Land Shake It for Wii a couple of years ago. How do I go about describing this platformer?
Well if you’re familiar with Mario, Sonic and Donkey Kong then you’ll know that the general premise of these game is to complete a series of levels by successfully getting from the left most area to the right most . Along the way there are items you can collect, bottomless pits you can fall down, enemies that can harm you and perhaps environmental obstacles such as molten lava. Kirby’s Epic Yarn doesn’t stray too far from that formula but does add a few twists to the genre.
Firstly absolutely everything in the game is made of fabric, it can be hard to get your head around to start with but after a few minutes of playing it will all make sense. This enables some very interesting new physics play, one of my favourite examples is that in midair Kirby can transform into a parachute and gently drift across a chasm – if there is any wind he’ll be carried along by it.
Second and most controversially is that the whole concept of ‘lives’ and ‘dying’ has been scrapped. Unless you give up and quit a level it’s impossible to lose and you’re never forced to start back at the beginning and try again. This initially might sound like a backward step or making the game too easy but if you think about it for a moment, it’s actually a rather good idea. For years platform games have been designed to continually ‘kill’ the player until they’ve memorised the level. Here in Epic Yarn the real challenge isn’t just getting to the level end, it’s also about finding all of the collectables and finding enough beads to get a gold medal.
Thirdly Kirby’s Epic Yarn tries to use its scenery in a much more physical and interactive way than other platformers. Despite being a 2D sidescroller the game has a unique sense of depth to it. You see that zipper in the sky? Well if Kirby pulls the zipper across a whole new layer of the level that was previously hidden is revealed. Also if there’s a hole in the fabric Kirby can get inside in the same way as he could climb through a whole in your jumper – you even get to see his fat little body create an imprint as he moves in the background!
Oh yes I was meant to be talking about the game….well it’s tough to describe a platform game. I guess as I mentioned before, the main goal is to get from the start of the level to the end. In-between that is a cool mix of your typical platforming stuff like jumping about, bashing enemies and new stuff like transforming into a UFO or a giant missile firing Robot. Each level contains several hidden items as well as hundreds of beads to collect, these are very similar to the coins in Mario or Bananas in Donkey Kong Country. Depending on the number you collect by the end of the level you might get a Bronze, Silver or Gold medal. Remember I mentioned it wasn’t possible to die? Well in Kirby, if you are struck by an enemy or fall down a hole you will lose beads (yup sort of like Sonic dropping his rings), if you want to get a gold medal you’ll have to be very careful not to get hit and explore the level for every last bead you can find. Indeed this is where things get tough in Kirby.
Okay about these items. Every level (except bosses) has two items of furniture and a soundtrack CD to find. These are usually hidden slightly off the beaten track and will need some exploration and perhaps puzzle solving to find. The furniture can be used to decorate Kirby’s house on the overworld map as well as some empty apartment blocks in Quilty Square. If you decorate the empty flats well enough, new tenants will move in and offer Kirby some special minigames to play as a reward.
Kirby’s Epic Yarn is a great little platformer and reminds me quite a lot of LittleBigPlanet both in terms of graphical flair and gameplay. If you enjoyed LBP but wished it had that little bit of Nintendo magic then you will find it here. The main story will last just 5 to 7 hours but actually getting everything in the game will double that to around 10 to 14 hours. It would have been nice to see a LittleBigPlanet like online level community but sadly we’ll likely have to wait until Wii2 for that. The level design is very impressive and it really does appear like Kirby is moving around inside a fabric world. Everything from the super impressive textures to the way things thump on the ground really do make it ‘feel’ like fabric. There’s a great range of level environments; Water, Ice, Clouds, Lava, Grass and even Outer Space – all made of fabric, crazy but you’ll have to see it to believe it. Very understated but this is one of the best looking games on Wii and if you’re not paying attention, it will fool you into thinking it’s High Definition. Let’s not forget the music because it’s awesome, gentle toe tapping tunes very reminiscent of Mario, heck there’s even one song that really reminds me of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” by The Beatles. All that goes by the wayside when it comes to my favourite element of Kirby’s Epic Yarn for Wii – the excellent story narration by Paul Vaughn for the European English version. His voiceover takes you back to the friendlier days of kids TV, shows like Postman Pat, The Wombles, The Clangers etc.
Kirby’s Epic Yarn may appear easy from the outset but a real gamer will find plenty of challenge hidden here, you just need to look beyond the cuteness. If you have a friend and want to play coop then bring them along for some extra fun in this rather cute and rather excellent platformer. 9 out of 10.
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