12 Dec

The first Kirby game in quite a while, Epic Yarn was quite the attraction at video game trade shows due to its unique graphics and change of gameplay from the traditional Kirby style. One day, Kirby spies his favorite food, tomatoes, and quickly tries to inhale it. Discovering that it belongs to an evil wizard named Yin Yarn, Kirby is sucked into the sock around his waist and is suddenly transported to another world.

Now made completely of yarn, Kirby is woe to discover that his powers are useless, as inhaling anything simply makes air pass through his body. Not all is bad though; it turns out that the tomato was actually a Metamato, allowing Kirby to transform into various things to help in his quest. Meeting Prince Fluff, the heir to the throne of Patch Land, Kirby agrees to help him find the 7 pieces of magical yarn that Yin Yarn stole. Accomplishing this will allow the world to be put back together and for Kirby to return home.

The graphics in Epic Yarn are stunning, even without all that “for a Wii game” nonsense. More than any recent game, the visuals in this show that art direction is perhaps the most meaningful part of how graphics are designed. Far too many games today may look impressive, but they are all too similar to each other, with an overemphasis on dank, lifeless environments with the color brown far too prevalent.

Epic Yarn turns this all on its head with a splendidly designed world obviously based around the theme of yarn. The best part is seeing how the various stages work with this motif, be it through the ability to pull and stretch the landscapes or the enemy construction with its creative take on enemy archetypes. Imagine a dragon, pretty typical enemy, right? Now try and picture him made of yarn. If nothing else, you’ll want to see how they make it look simultaneously yarn like and dragon like at the same time.

This design theme is far from a gimmick with the whole world based around the theme, but this still leaves room for classic Kirby goodness. The little pink puffball is as recognizable as ever and you’ll delight to see many of the visually amazing transformations that each stage brings. From a giant tank complete with missiles to a fire engine, Kirby’s essence inhabits this new world without missing a beat.

Music is a bit harder to praise, if only because the visuals are so striking. Most of the themes sound fully orchestrated and pleasing to the ear. I smiled at the classic Kirby jingle up each stage completion. In level 4, the music takes on a serene tone to reflect the environment. A lot of this music is very soothing and fun to listen to. Later in the game you return to a familiar place and the music is full of fanservice, with one stage having the same theme as the original Kirby game, but suitably remixed and enhanced for Epic Yarn. I especially like the natural feel of the middle of the piece, as if the composers had fun trying something different.

Sound effects don’t fare as well. Kirby has a high pitched squeal in reaction to much of the game’s events as well as an equally unnecessary “yah” whenever he lashes out at enemies with his yarn whip. Most of the enemies use visuals to express themselves, so you won’t be hearing much from them to compensate for Kirby. Some of the transformation forms have neat sound effects, like the Kirby Tank with its barrage of missiles.

The voice acting is memorable as well, with a story narration by an actor who seems to be enjoying himself, mostly because he voices all the characters, often by simply slightly changing his voice. It’s a nonsensical performance to go along with a silly story. Much of the dialogue is amusing as well, with the bad guy often doing bad things mostly because it is fun. When asked by the narrator what his intentions are, he often is stumped, commenting that he’ll figure that out later.

Despite the inability to suck enemies and copy their powers, Epic Yarn still plays like a Kirby game, with running and platforming and other good stuff. The big change is that Kirby can use his yarn whip to break apart enemies or gather them into yarn balls to use as ammunition. This is often necessary for getting past obstacles throughout the levels. Bosses are pretty standard early on, with typical telegraphing of their weakness that you must take advantage of. These encounters do become more compelling, with later battles becoming a lot of fun. This is because of the fanservice that these enemies bring from throughout Kirby’s history.

This all controls pretty well with the Wiimote held sideways and fully up to the task. The game handles much like an old NES platformer, with Kirby making his way through levels while gathering various shaped jewelry beads. Dashing with Kirby in car form can be imprecise at times, but it is easy to deal with for one simple reason. You CAN’T die in Epic Yarn. Enemy attacks will just stun Kirby, regardless of having any beads or not. Falling in pits will cause a helper to appear and fly you to safety, at the cost of some beads. Seeing as these beads only serve as the game’s currency and not your life energy, only those going for 100% completion should worry about pits.

Kirby is a fun time, but given that it is geared more for the younger set of gamers, platform veterans might not like the easier gameplay. While it is true that Kirby games have always been fairly easy, with a plethora of extra lives and chances to earn some, Epic Yarn’s approach is definitely the most casual friendly game in the series so far. Good times will still be had with Kirby, but it is only his biggest fans that will want to pick this up right away.