One must feel a little bad when it comes to Kirby. Despite starring in some classics (including the various Smash Bros. games) he has always played second fiddle to Mario, Luigi, and all the other various Nintendo stars, bar perhaps Pit from Kid Icarus. Hopefully this is set to change with the release of the side scrolling platformer ‘Kirby’s Epic Yarn’.[boxout]Those who know about Kirby will be all too familiar with his special power. Kirby has the ability to inhale objects (and people!) and temporarily absorb their powers to use as his own. It’s using this power that sees Kirby thrust into his latest adventure. It all starts on an innocent enough day, which sees Kirby happily stumble upon a rather delicious looking tomato. After scarfing this tomato it becomes clear that it was the property of the evil wizard Yin-Yarn. When I say it “becomes clear”, I mean that Yin-Yarn turns up and lays the smack down on Kirby’s candy-ass, sucking him into a magical sock.
When Kirby comes around he not only finds himself in ‘Patch Land’, but that he is now made entirely out of a single piece of yarn – totally negating his absorption power. From there he meets Prince Fluff, and finds out that Patch Land has been torn asunder by Yin-Yarn. Together they set off to reunite the land and kick wizard butt. As far as plots go, this one is sweeter than a newly born puppy, dipped in sugar and then rolled in honey (I hear that’s actually a TuffCub delicacy).
Following in the footsteps of the latest batch of Wii platformers, Kirby’s Epic Yarn is played with the Wiimote on its side so it resembles a NES pad, which makes for a delightfully simple experience. Despite losing his key power, Kirby is far from defenceless. By pressing the jump button in mid-air he can turn into a parachute and float for a distance; he can turn into a car which provides a bursts of speed; he can turn into an anvil and slam down on enemies, and more importantly he can use a piece of yarn as a whip to unravel enemies or use as a grapple line.
At key points throughout levels Kirby is also granted the ability to transform into a whole host of things; I won’t ruin them for you but let’s just say there’s a section which turns the level into a top-down space shooter. It’s this variety that marks it out as something special as levels never get boring, and at no point did I feel I was playing anything that had been rehashed from other games in the genre.
The level design itself is fantastic, and sticks true to the Nintendo formula. What I mean by this is that you can speed run through every level and have an enjoyable experience but for those who want more there are stacks of hidden areas, bonuses and collectibles all ripe for the taking. At the end of every level you are graded depending on how many gems you have collected (the games version of Mario’s coins or Sonic’s rings) and whether or not you managed to pick up the key bonus items. Those wishing to 100% the game will need to keep an eye out, as some secret levels won’t open until you meet certain criteria.
It’s at this point I would like to offer an advance warning, as I am now going to gush (metaphorically, of course!) over the games art style. It is, in a word, phenomenal. I have never come across a game that has had so much time and attention lavished upon it. A prime example of this would be the way that Kirby goes from level to level. In most games of this ilk you finish a level, head out to the world map, move on to the next level and enter it – not so with Kirby’s Epic Yarn. Upon completing a level you are given a badge, and throwing this badge up into the air triggers off a sequence which will reveal the next door you can enter. For example the badge will open a door which you can’t reach, however this will disturb a bear which is hibernating underground, and the bear will stretch up, pushing up the ground above it and creating a hill for you to climb to get to the door.
This is one of the earlier and simplest sequences, by the time you reach the later levels there is a genuine sense of anticipation as you wait to see what the game could possibly come up with next – and this is just getting from level to level! The graphics themselves are gorgeous and amazingly detailed, despite looking simplistic. The backgrounds are made of patchwork and you can see everything right down to the stitching in the seams. Hidden areas can also be found by unravelling these stitches and unzipping parts of levels; something I felt was a nice touch. This game is a real labour of love, and nothing has been rushed or done half-heartedly.
The only negative I can pinpoint is something that will prove quite divisive. The game is very, very easy; to the point where I didn’t die once. Whilst expecting a Kirby game to be rock hard is foolhardy, an adjustable difficulty level would have been welcome. That said, whilst it is easy there is a lovely flow to proceedings. Think of it like the climbing mechanic in Assassin’s Creed; it was very simple but it made climbing fast and smooth. The same can be said for Kirby as you can transform into a car and dash straight into a jump, grapple a mid-air point and jump to a higher platform, using your parachute to slow your descent. Marvellous stuff. I think I may have found the easy difficulty more jarring than most as I have recently finished a main course of Donkey Kong Country Returns, followed by a side dish of Super Mario Anniversary Edition – both particularly tricky games.
- Utterly gorgeous
- Attention to detail
- Fantastic level design
- Leaves you wanting more
So once again I find myself being totally bewitched by a platform game on the Wii. Whilst perhaps not surpassing the latest Donkey Kong game, Kirby’s Epic Yarn is certainly sitting there at the peak of platform gaming. Even the most ardent platform hater will find something to like here, be it the level design or the fact that in co-op you can curl your partner up in a ball and chuck them off a ledge – it really does cater for all.