Review: Kirby's Epic Yarn (Wii)

A game that truly lives up to its name

Kirby has enjoyed success on Nintendo's various portable systems in recent years, but he hasn't shown up in a game of his own on a home console since his Nintendo 64 adventure Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards back in 2000. Nintendo obviously took notice of this when it put Good Feel Games on the task of creating a brand new Kirby title for Wii, but rather than create another standard Kirby adventure, the developers chose to take things in a much different direction, both from a visual and gameplay standpoint, and the result is one of the most unique video games you're likely to experience.

In the traditional Kirby spirit, the game is set up on a world map where Kirby must open up doorways in order to access the many levels he must traverse throughout his adventure. While only the first level doorway is open when Kirby first reaches a new area, he'll be able to open up additional doors by earning special patches as he completes levels. After completing a certain number of regular levels, the door to the boss will be opened and must be completed in order to move on to the next area.

While the world map and doorway system familiar to most long-time Kirby fans remains intact and well implemented, the gameplay is drastically different. Instead of inhaling enemies and taking over their special powers, Kirby is armed with a piece of yarn that can be used as a whip. You control the game by holding the Wii Remote on its side and a quick press of the "1" button will extend the yarn whip and unravel any enemies or yarn blocks where they stand. You can even hold down the "1" button in order to grab an enemy, wrap them up in yarn and carry them above your head, allowing you to use them as a projectile for taking out certain objects and enemies. Kirby also has a couple of other built-in abilities that range from turning into a car for a dash move to transforming into a parachute in order to float short distances.

Your ultimate goal will be to reach the bell at the end of each level, and along the way you'll have the opportunity to locate and pick up two hidden treasures and a music CD containing the musical track that plays during that particular level. You'll also be able to pick up a wealth of beads strung around each level that can be used to earn special medals upon completion of the level; the more beads you end up with, the better medal you'll earn. And since you don't really die when you take damage, the game instead penalises you by stripping you of the beads and stars you've collected up to that point, but you'll always be able to check the Bead Gauge at the top of the screen to see how many you've collected and what medal you're currently at. This medal system is also a nice incentive to go back and replay levels in order to earn better medals and pick up treasures you missed the first time through.

To add even more enjoyment to the experience, the game also offers you a host of special vehicle transformations that are carefully placed throughout the game's many levels. These range from a UFO that can grab enemies and objects using its magnetic field to a cute little fire truck that can spray a stream of water to put out fires. You'll soon find that these transformations are not only extremely fun, each with its unique skills, but overall nice additions to the standard gameplay mechanics.

There are a host of additional elements that further round out the package. If you've got another player on hand you can take on any of the game's levels in a two-player cooperative mode that allows a second player to take control of Prince Fluff. While this is a good way to get another player involved, it does tend to make an already easy game even easier.

Another interesting twist involves the game's Quilty Court. Here you're given your own room that you can decorate and furnish with items you've picked up in levels or bought, not to mention a host of other rooms that you can fix up in order to attract tenants. These tenants will offer you special challenges in levels you've already completed, including gathering up a specified number of beads or locating hidden characters within a set time limit. The tend to feel more like mini-games than actual levels, but they can be very challenging for those who take the time to complete them. The game will even allow you to take snapshots of certain areas of the game that can be saved to your photo album and shared with friends.

Even with the completely new gameplay, the developers have still managed to create a wonderfully responsive set of controls that are not only very well executed but offer up a huge degree of variety. The vehicle transformations only add to this variety and tend to fit in perfectly with the type of level they're included in, rather than feeling like tacked-on additions. The inability to die in the game does take some of the challenge away, but the incentive to earn medals and beads will definitely make you more careful about taking damage.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful game on any console than Kirby's Epic Yarn. The cloth visual styling is an absolutely stunning sight to behold and the bright and vivid colours used really make the game's scenery jump off the screen. The stringy designs not only give the characters and enemies a very interesting look, but the extremely fluid animation means they move brilliantly too. The developers obviously spared no time and expense when it came to giving the entire game a rich look and it ends up being one of the most original visual presentations you're ever likely to see in a video game.

As if the stunning visual performance wasn't enough, the musical score of the game is equally amazing. The overly cute theme of the game carries over into the soundtrack and the sugary sweet musical tracks only seem to get better as you progress into the game. It's also uncanny how well each track fits in with the look and feel of the level they're found in. There are even a few Christmas-themed tracks to give the game a little holiday spirit. The narrator tends to overdo it a bit as he lays out the game's storyline, but it does tend to fit in with the game's light-hearted theme, so it's difficult to complain too much.

Conclusion

Kirby's Epic Yarn is absolutely filled to the brim with whimsical charm and light-hearted humour, but it's the unique gameplay elements that make it truly shine. Obviously some long-time Kirby fans might end up being rubbed the wrong way due to the game's completely new mechanics, but it will only take them a few minutes of play to realise just how well it all works and how much playability it brings to the table. The toned-down difficulty might also concern some gamers who tend to prefer their platformers to be a bit more intense and challenging, but it's difficult to fault the game's more relaxed and deliberate style of play, especially considering the sheer amount of fun you'll be having while playing it. Kirby's Epic Yarn is everything that's great about video gaming all rolled into one cute and cuddly adventure that absolutely every gamer should experience at least once.