Much like its infinitely versatile mascot, the Kirby series has always been comfortable in taking many forms; Kirby has starred in several roles that diverge significantly from the copy-ability platforming of the mainline series. Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn – an enhanced re-release of the seminal 2010 title – falls in this lineage of off-beat sequels, exchanging the floating and power-copying with a more traditionally-focused platforming experience that features a striking visual art style. This new release also features a host of new gameplay and content updates to elevate its status above that of the original, making some welcome and much-needed changes while losing none of the charm that marked the initial release as such a classic.
The story opens with Kirby encountering a mysterious magician named Yin-Yarn while roaming Dreamland, and after a brief conflict, Yin-Yarn transports Kirby to a magical universe called Patch Land where everything is made out of yarn. Here, Kirby no longer has the ability to eat foes or fly indefinitely, but his new, stringy form allows him to shapeshift in myriad ways while also granting him a trusty whip that lets him unravel and ball up his enemies. The story – narrated by a hammy, but charming narrator – then follows Kirby’s adventures with Patch Land’s Prince Fluff, as they embark on a journey to sew Patch Land back together, get Kirby home, and defeat Yin-Yarn.
A typical stage in Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn plays out a bit like a level in the Yoshi series, where the focus is less on raw platforming challenge and more on taking things slow and finding secrets tucked away in all the nooks and crannies that pack each level. Along the way, you collect beads – the game’s main currency – along with furniture items and soundtracks hidden in obscure places. In the main mode, enemies are relatively harmless and Kirby can’t die; should you find yourself falling into a pit or crushed by a ceiling, Kirby simply respawns after spilling out a significant amount of beads. In the original release, this lack of death garnered plenty of criticism for the game being ‘too easy’, but we’d argue that misses the point. Every level awards you a bronze, silver, or gold medal upon completion depending on how many beads you finish with, and getting that gold on every level can sometimes prove to be a stiff challenge. With this set-up, less skilled players can still see all the content that the game has to offer, while those going for a full completion still have some resistance.
Those of you that still find Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn to be too easy an experience can then also choose to play any level in the new “Devilish Mode”, which sees Kirby having to clear a level while constantly being pursued by a flying demon of some sort – think the angry sun from Super Mario Bros. 3 – while also being restricted by a five-celled health bar. Should you take damage from the demon (or anything else) and have your health emptied, the level resets and you have to do everything over again. What’s nice about this system is that it neatly addresses the complaints of difficulty while not radically changing the base game; those of you that want more challenge can certainly find a more balanced experience here, while those of you that want something lighter and easier can just ignore it entirely.
Each world consists of a series of four levels that, once completed, unlock a boss battle, which then unlocks two extra levels. Each level is memorable and lovingly crafted around a central gimmick, such as how one stage is populated by dinosaurs that must be ridden across fast-moving rivers. Other levels orient the gimmick around a transformation for Kirby, such as how he can turn into a fire truck that can put out fires with its hose or a digging machine that can claw its way through loose cotton. These transformation levels are infrequent, but act as a nice break from the usual action of the rest of the levels, offering up the opportunity to try a different playstyle.
New to this re-release is a mechanic called “Ravel Abilities”, which brings gameplay a little more in line with the traditional Kirby experience. At key points of just about every level, you can find special hats for Kirby to wear that grant him something like copy abilities, and these can alter your approach to the level in fascinating ways. For example, one ability is a bit like the traditional Tornado ability, but here it essentially gives Kirby an extra jump, while also acting as a way of drawing in any nearby beads. It’s clear that the Ravel Abilities weren’t a part of the original design; their presence can seem kind of awkward in some levels that were obviously built with just the whip in mind, but their inclusion helps to add some replayability while also not muddling the original experience too drastically. We would’ve liked to have seen more content developed specifically with these abilities in mind, but it’s still a neat way of bringing Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn more in line with the core series without losing what makes this release so unique.
All those beads that you collect on your adventures can then be taken back to Quilty Square, which acts as a sort of home base that you can build up over the course of the campaign. At the outset of Kirby’s adventure, he’s given an apartment that can then be decorated with all the treasure you find, and more furniture can then be bought at a nearby store. On top of this, you can occasionally give a sizable donation to the apartment manager which can then be reinvested into building new floors that can host additional tenants. These tenants act as the main mini-game portion of Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn, allowing you to run through slices of cleared levels with new objectives, such as playing hide and seek or collecting a set amount of beads in exchange for new wallpapers to decorate your apartment with. It’s clear that Quilty Square isn’t meant to be the main focus of your experience with Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn, but it acts as a nice diversion from the main game that still ties in nicely with your overall goal.
Speaking of side content, two other, more substantial mini-games – called Slash & Bead and DeDeDe GoGoGo – have been added in for this re-release, both of which build on the ideas of the main campaign in interesting ways. Slash & Bead stars Meta Knight, and sees him flying and cutting his way through hordes of enemies in custom auto-scrolling levels that are built almost around a brawler style of gameplay. As the screen moves, Meta Knight must collect as many ‘Fuse Beads’ as possible while fighting through a relentless barrage of enemies and obstacles. These auto-scrolling segments are then punctuated by occasional timed arena-based segments where enemies pour in from all sides of the screen; racking up enough kills adds a few seconds to the timer and gives Meta Knight more time to collect those precious beads.
DeDeDe GoGoGo is similar, but here King DeDeDe is the star and gameplay functions more alike to an auto-runner. Here, the penguin king runs wildly through a stage and must collect as many Fuse Beads as possible while smacking things with his iconic hammer and dodging obstacles as they rush at him from the right. Both of these modes only feature a handful of levels, but are oriented around pushing for a high-score by repeated attempts that help to build up muscle memory. You’re graded at the end of each stage according to how fast and how efficiently you cleared it, but the main hook comes in the kinds of fuse beads you collected. Earning higher grades gives you more “Mats” that each require different colours and amounts of Fuse Beads; completing them allows you to craft elaborate, pixel art-like decorations that can then be hung in your apartment. Though neither of these mini-games prove to be an enormous draw, they each provide just enough extra challenge and fun to be worth the few hours that it takes to clear them, while further adding to the overall experience of Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn.
We’d be remiss to talk about Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn without mentioning the presentation, which drew enough acclaim and attention to warrant two (arguably) spiritual sequels in the Yoshi series. Though the details have taken a bit of a hit in the transition to a portable and sadly stereoscopic 3D has been omitted, the strength of the yarn-centric visuals still shines through and resonates just as much today as it did nine years ago. Little details, like unraveling yarn representing the downward sinking motion of quicksand, show immense creativity on the developers’ part, and using the yarn whip to do things like pulling on buttons and zippers creates a nice link between gameplay ideas and art style. Meanwhile, the colourful and cutesy visuals are backed by a similarly charming soundtrack that relies heavily on relaxing and chipper piano solos. Much like the visuals, the music creates a loving and friendly atmosphere that actively invites you to continue exploring new levels.
Nine years on from the original release, Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn displays how focused gameplay design, creativity, and strong art direction are timeless qualities that can keep a game enjoyable and relevant for years to come. This design is then made even stronger by the inclusion of all the ‘extra’ elements, such as Ravel Abilities, new mini-games, and optional harder difficulty, which range from being harmless to actively changing the base game for the better. For those of you that never got the chance to play the original Kirby’s Epic Yarn, this is certainly the best way to experience it, while those of you that have played it will find this to be a solid portable version that loses none of the quality of the original. Either way, Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn is a fantastic and standout addition to the deep software library of the 3DS; we’d highly encourage you to give it a go.