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Kirby’s Epic Yarn
3 1/2 stars (out of four)
The background: Kirby graduates from the Nintendo 64 to the Wii, and longtime Kirby fans are in for some changes, although none should be too jarring. Returning fans know that Kirby is transported out of his home world of Dream Land and into a place called Patch Land, a continent ripped apart by the evil sorcerer Yin-Yarn.
Newcomers: Don’t panic at all the weirdly named wizards and unknown lands. This is a Kirby game and not a continuation of “Lost.” Just know that Patch Land is made of yarn, as are its inhabitants, and that now includes Kirby.
The goal: Kirby must help Prince Fluff, a smirking blue puff of a yarn ball, stitch the continents of Patch Land back together. This is done by way of some clever twists on the side-scrolling platform experience. Kirby vets will soon see that the trusty spherical pink creature no longer has the ability to inhale his enemies and assume their power. Instead, Kirby has a snappy yarn whip, which can be used to unravel his enemies or smash them up into a weaponized yarn ball.
How far can I get without opening the rule book? Pretty much the whole game. Kirby’s Epic Yarn is easy to grasp and boasts unfussy controls (users will hold the Wii-mote horizontal for much of the game). The uncomplicated approach allows gamers instantly to start exploring Patch Land – or shaping it. Kirby isn’t much of a jumper, but a snap of the whip will close any cavernous gaps, shifting the land of fabric to suit Kirby’s needs. For a side-scrolling platformer, Kirby’s Epic Yarn manages to create an immersive world, one with a multidimensional feel. Kirby can weave his way in and out of columns of yarn, take a stroll on clouds or turn into a toy-like submarine to traverse the seas.
Sounds like a kids game: The heavily detailed Patch Land has the look of a hand-drawn animated world. There’s definitely a cartoonish bent, and at times it feels as if the universe takes its cues from Disney’s popular It’s a Small World attraction – even the playful music seems ripped from the Richard Sherman catalog. But details abound and ensure that Kirby’s Epic Yarn rarely feels repetitive. Need to plow through a land quickly? A double tap of the Wii’s directional pad will turn Kirby into a car. Stuck in a narrow passage? Morph Kirby into a yarn snake. Feeling bored with Kirby’s bouncy ways? Grab a secret patch and watch Kirby transform into a flying saucer or a giant robotic tank, which uses the Wii’s motion controls to great effect. No silly shaking here, as Kirby’s tank only needs some skillfully aimed tilts.
In terms of difficulty, Kirby is no doubt geared toward the little ones. For instance, Kirby cannot die. The game forgoes the dexterity challengers of New Super Mario Bros. and instead turns what looks and feels like a traditional side-scrolling platformer into a game of exploration. The colorful and smooth animations make it all the more inviting, and challenges lie in steering Kirby in and out of every crevice of this beautifully painted land.
How much game play can I get out of it? If your goal is simply to stitch Patch Land back together and beat the game, you can probably tackle Kirby’s Epic Yarn in a weekend – or a day. I plowed through the first two levels in about 30 minutes but then slowed down and wanted to see more of what Patch Land had to offer. Levels aren’t long, and players can leave them at any time, so you shouldn’t get frustrated repeating the same scenes. Yet there are often treasures or environments left unexplored, and as Kirby makes “friends” in Patch Land, the character will engage in mini-games, such as a timed hide-and-seek, that allow Kirby to see the lands from a different viewpoint.
What’s more, the relatively short stages make Kirby’s Epic Yarn a game that’s easy to pick up and relax over with a short session, or it’s a way to calm down after the sometimes-taxing frustrations of New Super Mario Bros.
More value is brought to the game with a two-player addition. Playing with a friend is a delight, as the characters work together no matter what mistakes a player makes. Whereas the two-player mode of New Super Mario Bros. could bring serious gaming couples close to the break-up point, Kirby’s Epic Yarn turns the co-op mode into another way to explore the game’s universe — characters can unravel and throw each other to discover new routes and heretofore-unknown twists.
This is, essentially, what the Wii does best. The graphics aren’t top of the line, but they carry the classical polish of an animated feature. Motion controls are used not as a gimmick but mixed in sparingly to compliment Kirby’s transformations. The look is oddly cute and shows off the Wii’s inventiveness. Kirby and his pals might be little more than balls of yarn, but they’re allowed to run loose in an expertly detailed virtual quilt.
– Todd Martens
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