I’ve been a fan of Kirby ever since I played the original “Kirby’s Dreamland” on Gameboy in Japan. Since then I’ve played Kirby’s Pinball Land, Kirby’s Dreamland 2, Kirby’s Adventure, Kirby’s Superstar, Kirby’s Canvas Curse, Kirby’s Squeak Squad, and now Kirby’s Epic Yarn.
Hal Laboratories has never been shy of departing from the original gameplay – Kirby has had excursions as a pinball, a golf ball, and as part of an excellent stylus-driven game. Here Kirby is transformed into yarn and adventures within a world made up of fabric, string, and buttons. It’s an formidable design vision, and the patchwork graphics extends beyond textures and animations into gameplay: Kirby will unzip areas, scrunch up the fabric of the world, unravel obstacles, and turn into a piece of strong in order to squeeze through narrow tunnels. It’s all very charming and innovative.
A surprise is that Kirby no longer flies; instead can turn into a parachute that floats downwards slowly; when running he turns into a car, and when dropping onto enemies he turns into a weight. Because he unravels enemies he can no longer absorb their powers – another major departure, unseen in platform Kirby games since the original. However there are many transformations available with their own control schemes: a roadster, snowboarder, UFO (with abduction powers), a mole-like digging entity, a train (using the pointer-functionality of the Wiimote to draw track), a dolphin, curtain-shooter-style spaceships (vertical and horizontal), and a gigantic all-powerful “Tankbot”.
Kirby is accompanied by Prince Fluff – a American macho-version on the puffball: blue, with thick frowning eyebrows and a crown (which I dubbed his spiky armour). He shares the same powers as Kirby (unless they have transformed into a combined entity like the Tankbot mentioned above), and provides very pleasing cooperative gameplay: there are many puzzles that are a lot harder without the ability to break blocks by throwing the other player, to double-jump by standing on top of the other player’s head, or to attempt a leap and “ghost mode” back to the other player if unsuccessful. However Kirby and Fluff bump into each other frequently and have to share the screen movement, which adds back some difficulty.
Perhaps the most surprising revelation was that you can’t die. Kirby collects beads and when hit drops them (similar to Sonic and his rings, back when Sega was a competitor to Nintendo); however there is no penalty for losing all your beads and you can attempt the sequence again. Having become something of a casual gamer, I appreciated this: there’s a decent amount of difficulty in grabbing the secret items and finishing boss battles with enough beads to unlock hidden stages anyway.
Storybook-style voiceovers tell a fairly childish story, and a “cast list” enumerates Kirby’s friends and foes with humorous descriptions. Old favourites like Dedede, Kracko, Whispy Woods, and Meta Knight (who seems to be the most popular of all Kirby’s foes) turn up. During the game you enlarge an apartment block and decorate units in order to unlock a variety of mini-games, playable 1p or 2p.
The level design is brilliant. A level in a snow-covered world involves raiding houses by climbing Christmas trees outside and descending down the chimney, fleeing before curtains fall upon the segment; another involves tangling with Waddle Dees throwing snowballs and eventually riding the bigger balls of snow. A futuristic world has Kirby ride space-age trains, play with gravity, and turn on and off square-wave platforms. There’s a deep-sea level with glowing enemies, some of them truly gargantuan.
I really enjoyed Kirby’s Epic Yarn; it’s easy and not too long a journey, but one that kept a smile on my face the entire time. I’m really looking forward to the next Kirby game, announced to be released in a few months.