Kirby has been around a while, though he has always sort of been viewed as one of Nintendo’s more ancillary characters. Sure, he’s had plenty of his own games, many of them quite good even, but the little pink fluffball has never really reached the high profile status he deserves. Looking to bring Kirby to the next level, Nintendo handed him over to Hal Laboratories, the makers of Smash Brothers, and Good-Feel, who have mostly done educational games in the past. Taking Kirby in a slightly different direction than usual, is Epic Yarn truly epic, or does it come apart at the seams?
The game begins with a storybook style opening cutscene, complete with narration. Dreamland has been taken over by a an evil sorcerer named Yin-Yarn who is intent on turning everything into yarn. Kirby tries to get in his way and is subsequently sucked into Yin-Yarn’s magic sock, which transports Kirby to Patch Land, where most of the game takes place. There, he meets Prince Fluff, who needs Kirby’s help stitching Patch Land back together to undo the damage that Yin-Yarn’s has caused. The story is simple and enjoyable, but largely inconsequential, mostly serving as a backdrop for the game’s superb art style.
In terms of gameplay, Kirby’s Epic Yarn clearly has 2 things in mind: simplicity and variety. For most of the game, you only need to worry about 2 buttons and the d-pad. You hold the Wii remote sideways like an NES controller and there is really very little of the Wii’s usual motion-controlled gimmickry. In fact, the only times Epic Yarn becomes less enjoyable are the times when you are forced to play it like a Wii game, pointing the controller at the screen. Fortunately, those moments are few and far between and don’t even come close to ruining the overall experience. The only other issue I had with the controls isn’t even the game’s fault, but the Wii’s fault. See, I have pretty large hands and the Wii remote’s tiny d-pad takes its toll on my thumb fairly quickly. So it would have been nice to have an option to play using the Wii’s classic controller, but still, not a game ruining issue. Epic Yarn also features a co-op mode that has a second player taking on the role of Prince Fluff. You can toss each other around to reach high up obstacles and the like. It doesn’t really add a whole lot to the game, but it can be fun.
As far as variety goes, Epic Yarn has it in spades, both in terms of level design and gameplay. One level will have you navigating a giant beanstalk, the next level will have you riding dinosaurs across a river, while the next level will have you sliding across snowy slopes. One level will have you dealing with rising and receding tide levels, while another will have you dodging underwater volcanoes. There are 50 levels spread across 7 worlds and every one of them feels unique, so Epic Yarn will constantly find new ways to surprise and delight you. Kirby no longer absorbs the abilities of his enemies, instead presenting you with "Meta-Melons" that will change Kirby’s form. As with the level design, there is a wide and enjoyable variety of these transformations. From Tank Kirby to Firetruck Kirby (one of my personal favorites), UFO Kirby to Dolphin Kirby, you will see Kirby take many forms. You can even transform into a little starship which turns the game into a top down shooter. Only one of these transformations misses the mark, and that’s Train Kirby. When you become a train, you point the Wii remote at the screen and draw train tracks to guide Kirby. It’s just unwieldy and a little awkward.
There has been some fuss concerning Epic Yarn’s overall level of difficulty. That is to say, it’s been called too easy by various sources, but that really is a bit misleading. You can not die in Kirby’s Epic Yarn, so in that sense, yes, it is easy. The health system works a lot like it does in the Sonic games. You collect gems, and when you take damage, a bunch of your gems scatter all over the place, giving you a chance to pick them back up. However, unlike Sonic, if you get hit at zero gems, nothing really happens. The thing is, there is more to do in each stage besides simply reaching the end. There are patches and audio tracks to be collected, medals and high scores to set. Collecting patches and gems will also allow you to unlock various challenge levels. There are 5 different kinds: bead run, hide and seek, escort, enemy hunt and race, and there are really quite a few of them. If you’re trying to get a good score on a level by not taking damage and collecting lots of gems, the game can indeed become quite a challenge. Overall, Epic Yarn was not designed to frustrate you, but to be rewarding, enjoyable, and even relaxing.
Graphically, Kirby’s Epic Yarn is one of the best looking games on the market, both from an artistic and technical standpoint. It’s probably the first time I’ve ever been able to say "this looks great" without adding "for a Wii game" at the end. The yarn and patchwork look is reminiscent of the Yoshi’s Island games, Yoshi’s Story in particular, and it’s just so consistent and pleasing to look at. It’s more than just an art style, too, as it is literally woven into the fabric of the gameplay, if you’ll pardon the pun. You’ll latch onto a zipper and pull it to unfold previously inaccessible sections of the level. When you enter a door, you’ll see Kirby moving around behind the fabric. When you become tank Kirby, you’ll see the grounding bending under your weight. The attention to detail is phenomenal and I really hope they stick with this style for future Kirby games.
Not content to simply be visually appealing, Kirby’s Epic Yarn features a fantastic audio offering. You’ll hear all the classic Kirby sounds and his enthusiastic exclamations, but the best part is the music. There are 52 different tunes to collect in the game and they are uniformly excellent. There is a lot of really nice piano work infused into all of the music. Most of the tunes are new to the series, but there are also a lot of really great remixes of classic Kirby music. The Green-Greens theme, King Dedede’s theme and Tankbot theme in particular are fantastic additions and will bring back fond memories for Kirby fans.
Kirby’s Epic Yarn is an unexpected success. When I first saw it at E3, I was interested in but skeptical of Kirby’s new direction. My fears were clearly misguided, as Kirby’s Epic Yarn stands as one of my favorite games of 2010. Clocking in at around 10-20 hours, depending on how much of a completionist you are, you will be getting your money’s worth out of the game. I haven’t purchased a Wii game in 2 years, and I’m glad it Epic Yarn came around to remedy that. While several of Nintendo’s other upcoming games seem content to continue the status quo (I’m looking at you, Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Donkey Kong Country Returns), Kirby’s Epic Yarn stands out as a bold, fresh face for the little pink puffball, and I couldn’t be happier with it.
Kirby’s Epic Yarn was released on October 17th, 2010 exclusively for Wii. Review was published retroactively.