I am an aspiring video game journalist and freelance writer. I spend my time playing, reviewing and blogging about games. You can read my blog over at; www.joystickculture.com
Published June 22nd 2012
In today's gaming landscape it's refreshing to just pull away from all the first person shooters and highly detailed bloodthirsty action games and just appreciate a game that's a little more simpler. A game which places gameplay first and foremost, which exudes style and charm and uses its visual presentation to change how players interact with the game world rather than just show off how visually impressive and photo-realistic it is. A game which really encapsulates all of that, and more, is Kirby's Epic Yarn for Nintendo Wii.
Released in 2010, Kirby's Epic Yarn takes a new approach to this long running Nintendo franchise. When the evil wizard Yin-Yarn invades Dreamland, Kirby is inventively transported to Patch Land, a world made up entirely of string, yarn and fabric. Upon arriving Kirby witnesses a young boy being attacked by a monster. Naturally he tries to suck up the foe, though Kirby finds that he has been transformed in yarn, and that his traditional power is ineffective. Instead Kirby realizes he can change his form to save the young boy. He transforms into a car, rescuing the boy who reveals himself to be Prince Fluff. He tells Kirby that Patch Land has been torn apart by Yin-Yarn, and so Kirby decides to set out to help Prince Fluff restore Patch Land.
At its core, Kirby's Epic Yarn is a 2D side scrolling platformer. The game is played with the Wiimote titled to the side. To move, you use the D-Pad and the 1 and 2 buttons to attack and jump respectively. What makes this game stand out is how the game's art style and presentation influences gameplay. Everything is made of string, wool and fabric, from the level environments to the enemies themselves. Rather than being able to suck up enemies and fire them from his mouth, Kirby is able to use a whip like attack to unravel foes and turn them into a ball of wool. You can then use the ball to throw at other enemies, or to break orange blocks which often block your path to secrets (as each level contains three treasures to find).
Another rather cool aesthetic of the art style is in how you can change and alter the outlay of stages. At various times you'll come across a button tied to a piece of string. Use Kirby's whip attack and he will grab ahold, pulling it back. This will result in certain sections of the stage to change, often opening new or alternative paths. Too often we're used to interacting with the level design of a platformer too traditionally. By that, I mean we generally need to adjust our way of playing in order to traverse the environment and overcome its obstacles. Rather than adhering to this formula, Kirby's Epic Yarn grants the player the ability to change, shift and alter the environment, albeit in very subtle and non game breaking ways. The game does this by not granting you any special powers or abilities, but rather in how the game world is constructed.
Though the presentation and style of the game's visuals doesn't just allow gamers to change their environment, Kirby himself does it. Having Kirby change forms and granting him special powers by sucking up enemies is a classic staple in the series, and while the latter is absent here the former takes on a new approach. In this adventure Kirby is made up of yarn, allowing him to do some special things indeed.
For example, double tap the D-Pad in the direction you're walking and Kirby will change shape to a car, doubling your walking speed and acting as a type of 'dash'. Kirby also changes form if you go into water, shifting into a cute little rotund submarine. This isn't limited to just different inputs into the controller, or environmental influences, but extends to limited time abilities. In certain levels you'll find power-ups which'll change Kirby's form drastically.
During a particular fire themed stage you'll be transformed into a fire engine. You'll move left and right by using the D-Pad, and the 1 button to fire water from your hose, but you can tilt the Wiimote to control the flow of the water up or down. In a later underwater based level you'll be granted a power-up to change Kirby into a dolphin. This will allow you to swim much quicker underwater, as well as perform charges which can destroy enemies and let you leap high into the air from underwater.
The game can be a little on the easy side. The inability to die is somewhat freeing, though I can see how some people may not like it. If you can't 'die' in a game then you essentially don't learn anything from the mistake you made which resulted in you losing the life in the first place. Instead, you simple lose a massive chunk of the colourful beads which you collect throughout the levels, which apart from being addictive to collect also acts as the game's currency (more on that below). Then again the Kirby games have always treaded on the more easy side to begin with. There's rarely been a time where I was truly faced with a challenge during Epic Yarn, apart from a few complicated sections during a level and the occasional boss fight.
Aside from the standard levels, you can chill out at your apartment in Patch Land's main town. Here, you can use the furniture you find in completed stages, or purchase by using your collected beads, to decorate your living space. Next to your apartment is a charming little character who will challenge you to a game of hide and seek. This involves replaying past stages, though this time your given a time limit and must find the character and his brothers and sisters. While these extra elements really have no use when the main game is concerned, they act as nice distractions between stages.
If you own a Wii and haven't played Kirby's Epic Yarn, I suggest you go out and buy it. The game flips traditional 2D platforming on it's head and offers something new and unique, which is quite refreshing given the genre's long, long history. The bright and cute visuals will warm the heart of anyone at any age, and will no doubt be a hit with young kids. The difficulty isn't punishing like other more well known platformers, though veterans will certainly find a challenge in attempting to gain a gold medal score, as well as locate the three treasures for each stage. The inclusion of co-op mode means that families can play together. All in all, there is really no major flaw to this game in my opinion. It's an instant classic.