In the past, Kirby has tilted and tumbled, pinballed, air rode and whatever the heck dream coursing is. To say Kirby has gone under some heavy reimagining for a new title isn’t exactly out of the ordinary, as history shows that almost every other cute little entry in the series is off the beaten path. The pink, fluffy whatsit is as flexible as he is collapsible. So how does a franchise with a history of reinvention, reinvent itself? Well, the folks at HAL cleverly decided to attack the problem at its roots with Kirby’s Epic Yarn, reassembling Kirby’s platforming origins with a radically different approach and changing nearly everything except how ungodly adorable it is. Is this newly knit creation a gorgeous weave? Or will it unravel and alienate fans?
Kirby crossed the wrong thread, cheesing off a strange sorcerer named Yin-Yarn, Kirby has been transformed into thread and string and thrown into Patch Land, a world made entirely out of yarn. There he meets Prince Fluff, a string boy who looks not unlike Kirby excluding the blue skin, little crown and permanently angry eyes. The two set out to stitch up Patch Land while Yin-Yarn wreaks havoc in the mostly delightful world of Dreamland. Now that Kirby is made of yarn, he can no longer inhale, steal powers and hover about, uncanny abilities that have become staples in one form or another throughout most of the franchises history. Instead, Kirby can whip an inch of thread from himself to attack, pick up enemies and pull buttons to affect his environment. On top of this, while Kirby can no longer steal the essences of others, he can still transform in certain levels into forms and vehicles that openly mix up the affair.
This is a pretty fresh start for Kirby, and even stalwart fans who’ve stuck through with alternative incarnations may be shocked at how great a diversion this is. Many familiar enemy types are gone, and those that do return do so sparsely. Only after many other newly themed worlds, does the separate classic Kirby themed area with the teary Whispy Woods and the like appear. For some, it may be a shock to the system but for others it will probably feel like a long overdue deviation for a series that has stuck to its core imagery as if there was nothing else. All of the abilities you’ve associated with Kirby, including eating and hovering, are gone. Now Kirby can transform, being made of a very flexible material is also very flexible in uses. To accomplish a variety of goals, Kirby will turn into a car to dash, a weight to drop, a submarine to swim and a parasol to slow his incline and catch gusts of wind. Some levels include segments where Kirby will become a more drastic creature, like a UFO, fire truck, dolphin and even a giant mech that freely rocks the world in front of it.
First impressions can be deceiving, Kirby’s Epic Yarn can appear almost simplistic in comparison to some of the more puzzle heavy entries of the past, and though the bright and friendly art style is clearly aimed at younger audiences, the game is far from easy. Kirby cannot die, you can throw him and Fluff in harm’s way, into spikes and off cliffs but there are no casualties. Penalties however, depends entirely on the way you play games. Each level has a rating meter, levels are filled with collectables and plenty of gems to accumulate, all as a means of decorating a fake apartment with cute furniture. When damaged, instead of losing health you will use the little stones, sometimes in great amounts. If you’re not into virtual interior decorating, there is at least one reason to seek out these collectibles; Collecting gems and items during boss battles can lead to unlockable levels, which may give players some incentive. There is also full co-op, and being able to use each other as a piggy back may help you find easily overlooked paths to secrets the game left for you.
While the game type may seem pretty humble, where it truly shines is through ingenuity and near flawless presentation. Epic Yarn isn’t really the progression of the Kirby franchise, in fact, this game seems to be the could-have-been/should-have-been Yoshi’s Story. You remember Yoshi’s Story? The much hyped N64 Yoshi game that then became a textbook definition of ‘mediocre’? Yoshi’s Story was ‘supposed’ to feel like a pop-up book, using levels and textures to give a nostalgic artistic flair. But it didn’t. Epic Yarn does though, and it struts through the entire process. Character animation is fluid and nothing short of amazing. Main characters pop in and out of gestures without so much as a stutter, and their fabric-like material is incredibly convincing.
HAL also shows the right side of gimmicky, using the yarn and fabric theme to draw out some really delightful platforming events. There’s a Christmas themed level inside a series of cozy homes where a heavy drape of fabric slowly rolls down in place of what would usually be a boring lowering wall. There’s a computerized level where vibes in the string slink around like bolts of energy. Buttons and patches are a rewarding part of the experience, pulling and tugging on them releasing the same anticipation and satisfaction of exploration you’d get from fiddling with tabs in a children’s book. The bosses were a real highlight, starting slowly but elevating to some really memorable battles with a magician, octopus and even familiar foes. The bosses consistently became more interesting as the game went along.
If you had been upset at the Wii’s early years for feeling too child-oriented, here’s Nintendo using that sentiment against you. Easy, youthful and nostalgic aren’t bad things, especially when utilized in such an original way. This is unlike any Kirby game before, especially because it chooses to completely redesign a familiar format instead of inventing a new one. If you don’t mind being talked to like a child, instead of acting like one, Epic Yarn can be an incredibly gratifying experience.