With the release of Kirby’s Epic Yarn, after numerous cameos and bit-parts in other projects, Nintendo is hoping to boost the flagging career of its indomitable fluffy pink errr, thing, and catapault it from C-List nobody to A-List superstar. But with Wii sales dwindling due either to market saturation or just a general decline in popularity, is the release of Kirby’s Epic Yarn destined to lead to a tightening of the purse strings and endless puns about money for old rope? Or could this release earn the console a whole new legion of young fans who’ll cling to their Wii Remotes like a frayed old blanket?
Weaving that Nintendo Magic
The first thing that strikes you about Kirby’s Epic Yarn is just how stunningly beautiful it is. In case you haven’t been keeping up and have somehow managed to avoid all preview coverage of the game, there’s a rich textile tapestry quite literally weaving its way throughout. The main protagonist is made of pink thread and every single background element and enemy has been carefully crafted to resemble yarn, fabric, string, fluff, buttons or anything you’d find, for those of you of a certain age, in a fuzzy felt pack.
Even the coldest of hearts cannot fail to be impressed by its warmth and authenticity. Levels are stitched, zipped or buttoned together. Pulling on a piece of string will draw part of a level to one side revealing an otherwise hidden area, undoing a button will see the appropriate piece of cloth realistically fall away while watching as lava is animated as knitting with the stitches pulled back always brings a genuine smile to your face. This is proper blue-sky gaming.
I'm a frayed knot
Portraying Kirby as consisting entirely of yarn, for the first time in a Kirby game allows his unique shape-shifting abilities to make perfect contextual sense. Instead of just randomly morphing into another character like he would traditionally, Kirby’s outline simply changes shape. And never is this more satisfying than when a quick double tap of left or right on the d-pad morphs him into a little speeding car. It’s oh-so cutesy but terrifically endearing. Meanwhile, holding down on the d-pad mid-jump morphs Kirby into an anvil, launh him into some water and he'll transform into a submersible and holding A while free-falling turns him into a parachute. It’s brilliantly executed and is perfectly at odds with the rest of this delightfully realised patchwork world.
At certain one-off moments throughout levels Kirby will also unexpectedly morph into a vehicle such as a dune-buggy, monster-truck, fire-engine or steam-train and you’ll then be tasked with using his new-found abilities to make your way towards the end of the level. Morphing into a fire-engine and tilting the Wii Remote to aim the water nozzle is delightful and catches you off-guard, instantly reminding you of all those similar out-of-the-blue game-changers that were so prevalent in Super Mario Galaxy. Nintendo specialises in surprising you when you least expect it and Kirby is full of ingenious ideas that are presented once and then discarded, never out-staying their welcome.
Li-ving in a mat-er-ial world, material
But then there’s a price to pay for all of this sugar-coated beauty because the game is sickeningly twee. In fact it’s saccharine to the point that it becomes embarrassing as an adult to play it in front of other grown-ups - I speak from experience after being cruelly chastened by my girlfriend. Particularly cringeworthy are the infantile and sickly-sweet cut-scenes which demonstrate no sense of irony whatsoever. And as is tradition with first-party Nintendo games, the plot is banal and hackneyed but is exactly what appeals to children of a certain age.
I began playing the game under the assumption that like New Super Mario Bros before it, while it was undoubtedly a game that could be played and enjoyed by kids, it was still going to be sufficiently challenging and choc-full of nostalgic references and mature winks and nods deliberately dropped in solely for the benefit of the adults. It took some time for it to sink in but I eventually realised that Kirby has no such hooks.
And these concessions to a younger audience are further reinforced by the fact that it’s almost impossible to die in the game. Throughout each level, and maintaining the textile imagery, you’ll collect beads as opposed to coins, rings, fruit, flowers or whatever collectable acts as your own gaming touchstone. Get hit by an enemy or a projectile and you’ll simply lose some of your beads, which can then be conveniently re-collected. Your overall bead total will be reduced but you’ll get through most levels first time and without too much travail.
For the main part, the game’s difficulty level is also particularly elementary and extremely accessible, and apart from the odd tricky boss – soon beaten once you learn its attack patterns – you’ll have no trouble working your way through the game’s numerous varied worlds. But you’ll eventually no doubt find yourself wishing for a bit more of a test, a test which unfortunately never materialises.
Pulling the wool over my eyes
Kirby’s Epic Yarn is undeniably cute, delightful and brilliantly well designed. Every single stitch looks painstakingly hand-sewn and even in standard definition the Wii yet again makes the point that strong visuals are more often than not down to fantastic design. As for how much you’ll get out of the game, well that will depend on how long you can stomach the shrill high-pitched voices, the nonsensical plot and the extreme over-dose of colour, cheese and shmaltz. But for those of you with children, nieces or nephews, thanks to the well integrated two-player co-op, it’s absolutely the perfect game to introduce kids to videogaming. Standard platforming fare then with the odd dash of genius make this a worthy addition to any Wii collection but Mario still reigns supreme.