While Microsoft and Sony play catch-up with the Nintendo Wii’s motion controls, Nintendo seems more or less content to down-play that aspect of their console while focusing on more of a an old-school feel for many of their games. From New Super Mario Bros. Wii to Metroid: Other M to the new Donkey Kong Country and of course Kirby’s Epic Yarn, not only are these games classic, 2D platformers in their core design, they also have a minimal amount of motion control. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however, for as the other console makers are trying to make the most of the gimmick, the initial allure of it seems to have faded for Nintendo, and they’re getting back to the basics of solid game design. Kirby’s latest outing is a perfect example of that kind of thinking.
When first revealed at this year’s E3, what immediately grabbed everyone’s attention was the unique art design for Kirby’s Epic Yarn. It looks like a game inspired by Hobby Lobby, with all of the backgrounds, settings, characters, items, environments and more being made of craft materials such as yarn, quilts, buttons and so forth. It gives the game instant and endearing charm that doesn’t easily wear off. In fact, with each new level you’ll encounter yet another clever use of this design motif. I was continually surprised, pleased and impressed with how such a simple idea could be put to such excellent use. Everything from fire to water to rain and snow and ice and characters and vehicles and big bosses are all made of the craft store materials. It also doesn’t hurt that the graphics render it with a crisp, colorful look that at times adds an almost photo-realistic look to the materials used to make this delightful world. Truly, I could go on and on about the beautiful look of this game and all the clever ways it makes use of the design motif, but it’s really best just to see it for yourself.
Of course pretty graphics alone don’t make for a great game, it has to be fun as well. Fortunately, Kirby delivers in this arena as well. Much of it should feel very familiar to seasoned gamers, especially if you’ve spent any amount of time with New Super Mario Bros. Wii (my girls made repeated observations on the similarities between the two as we played). While there are a lot of similarities, Kirby has plenty of flair to set himself apart from other games in the genre. While Kirby fans may miss is ability to suck up enemies and steal their powers, he has other tricks up his sleeves which are just as fun. When Kirby gets changed into a simple outline of yarn, he also gains some impressive shape-shifting abilities. From cars to anvils to UFOs to fire trucks to, well I don’t want to spoil it all, Kirby is constantly changing his yarn form to help him make his way through delightfully fun levels.
The levels themselves are also cleverly designed and make the most of their unique, craft elements. However, this game isn’t nearly as challenging as Mario. You don’t ever die, but if you do get hit by an enemy, you’ll loose your carefully collected beads, which function as the game’s currency. Truth be told, although the game itself is fairly simple but still fun, it can be a challenge to collect enough beads to get gold on every level, and find all the treasures, and also find the hidden patches. If you do manage to do that on the main levels, you can unlock bonus levels which present a bit more challenge than the main ones. So just because Kirby is aimed more at the younger ones doesn’t mean older gamers won’t find plenty to enjoy. Besides, the very cuteness and playfulness of the game make it fairly irresistible to play and the levels do get a bit more challenging and complex as you move on, but it’s never overwhelming.
I should also mention that while the game does feature co-op, that has its up and downsides. Don’t get me wrong, it works just fine and is a lot of fun, but if you want to collect enough beads to get gold, sometimes that’s easier to do on your own. However, if you want to find everything on a level, you’ll need your partners help to get to some hard to reach places. Personally, I find the game to be more fun when playing with a friend (or a wife or daughter) than just on one’s own, but it’s still an adorable blast either way.
The story, like everything else in this Epic Yarn, is pretty simple. Kirby gets pulled into a magic sock (yes, you read that right) and must help patch back the world he finds himself in by finding magic threads that help hold everything together. These are generally found by defeating bosses at the end of a level (and those fights are always fun and challenging in unique ways). The story got me thinking about the threads that hold our lives together. Truth is, a lot of the things we count on to hold our lives together don’t always last. They fray, they unravel and they snap, leaving our lives in pieces of patchwork. I think we could all use some magic thread to hold things together, and while I wouldn’t call it magic, I think the Bible is very clear on what that thread should be. In Ecclesiastes it talks about a cord of three strands not easily being broken. It’s a reference to how having the strand of God’s love and presence can strengthen the patchwork of our lives. Having that thread running through every aspect of our lives can help hold things together without fraying, unraveling or snapping. Which isn’t to say that life as a Christian is problem free, but rather when those problems arise, there’s something threading through our lives that’s strong enough to hold it all together. Now I understand that some people like to just rely on their own strength, but there will come a time when we’ll come to the end of that; what then? Personally, I’m glad for a little help in keeping the patchwork that is my life in one piece.
Kirby’s Epic Yarn is charming, cheerful, a delicious visual treat and a charmingly simple yet fun game to play. The art design is inspired and permeates every nook and cranny of this game. Quite simply if this game doesn’t make you at least crack a smile, then you probably have an even smaller heart than the Grinch. If you’re looking for that perfect family game to include under the tree this Christmas, or just want a simple, fun platformer to relax with in between all of the shooters that are releasing this fall season, then you can’t go wrong with Kirby’s Epic Yarn. After such a long absence by the little, pink puff ball, I can’t think of a better way for him to have made his triumphant return.
Score out of 7:
Graphics: 7 - One of the best looking games on the Wii with a bright, unique, colorful design that takes it’s simple little gimmick - a world made of craft store supplies - and uses it in original, funny and interesting ways in every single aspect of the game.
Sound: 6 - A cheery soundtrack provides the perfect compliment to the visuals. All of the sound effects have a cheery, cartoony charm to them that fits the world they’re in.
Gameplay: 6 - A simple, straight-forward platformer that has plenty of variety. The only draw back is there’s very little instruction on how to use Kirby’s various forms, or even what they are. I discovered most of that through trial and error.
Controls: 6 - A minimum use of motion controls. It’s the classic layout used in Mario where you hold the controller sideways and use just two buttons. Like I said, Nintendo seems to being going old-school again, and it’s working for them.
Story: 5 - It’s not terribly complex but has a charming, story-book feel to it that perfectly suits the whole design of the game.
Content: 7 - This is about as cute and sweet and innocent as a game can get. Fun for the whole family.
Final: 6 - The look of the game is instantly endearing and the fun and unique ways it takes advantage of the craft store materials is always a delight. While the platforming itself is pretty basic, it’s still engaging if simple fun. For collectors there’s plenty to look for,and for the rest it’s a relaxed jaunt through a cheery, colorful world. One of the best and most unique looking games of the year that’s also a lot of fun. The charm of Kirby’s Epic Yarn is practically irresistible, so just give in already.