Good-Feel and An Epic Yarn

That title sounds pretty weird, doesn’t it? Yet it’s rather representative of what I feel (har har)

When I first saw the title screen, I thought nothing of it. “Oh, yay, another Kirby adventure! Frolicking, delight and wonder await!” I should have known from the title screen that I wasn’t getting a Kirby game. Not really, perhaps just in name.

Kirby's Epic Yarn Title Screen


Let’s see if anyone knows what I’m talking about. Observe this screenshot and figure out what I mean. It’s relatively obscure, granted, but I think there’s enough information there that you MIGHT be able to get what I’m gesticulating at.

Did you see it? Certainly, the developer’s HAL Labratory, in part. They’ve developed most, if not all, of the Kirby games I can imagine as well as Super Smash Bros. Look a litle closer, though, and you’ll see primary development duties went to Good-Feel. If that name sounds familiar to readers of this blog, they developed the platformer Wario Land: Shake It! Somehow, I’ve never seen anyone point this out; it’s as if every game reviewer on the planet played or describe the game in isolation from its roots.

In no way does Kirby’s Epic Yarn represent a “new” game design; half the elements (if not more; I’m not going to count them) are nearly lifted wholesale from the previous game. Collection of useless objects (in this case, stars rather than coins)? Check. Finding exactly three “treasures” in chests throughout a level, usually involving some kind of puzzle element? Check. Double tapping forward or back making the player character dash, thus allowing for further jumps? Check. Nearly the exact same jumping physics in both games (that is, somewhat slow-paced and never requiring fast reflexes)? Check. Context-sensitive places in levels that allow the player to transform in order to complete a puzzle? Check. Boss fights at the end of each world that also rank on score? Check. A progression system that, in part, uses score in coins/stars to dictate what levels you unlock and how far you go in the game? Check. A unique visual aesthetic unlike anything you’ve seen before? Check.

Well, I’m a little harsh on that last one! Still, it seems as if someone at Nintendo has a bright idea for a visual style. Then, someone yells compulsively “use this in a platformer! People play those on Wii!” Nintendo executives meet, trying to find out what developer to use. They select Good-Feel, a game developer who’s primary track record was educational games for kindergartners and below. Because of this, the game isn’t that difficult by any stretch, and neither was their previous Wii game. It’s full of useless collectibles that aren’t so much for challenge’s sake as busy-work. To quote myself:

Warioland: Shake It!, simply put, exists in that dreaded “mediocre” category. It’s competent, surely, in presenting a fun, varied platformer-style experience with lush visuals and excellent music, but one can’t quite shake the feeling that they’ve seen all this before. Nothing new ever comes before the player, nor does any section of the game (barring an uncharacteriscally difficult final boss) challenge anyone with even basic familiarity with Mario games. Given the Wario’s series touch for the eclectic and experimental, it’s disappointing, yet still fun.

And you’d imagine that would be the long and the short of Kirby’s Epic Yarn. Still, what I find is that I’m enjoying it much more than Shake It! There’s a relaxed vibe to the piano-centered music that really puts you in a certain mood, one looking for a downbeat experience rather than some intense affair. You can’t die (yet another similarity to its predecessor), yet I found myself restarting levels when I did get hit – I wanted that gold score, darnit, and I wasn’t going to get a bad score just because I made one mistake. Not that this decision was rational in any way, for as long as you don’t take damage before the end you’re bound to have more than enough to win the gold. Getting those treasures also gives you the ability to decorate your “room”. If you like Animal Crossing’s house customization, it’s rather similar even down to the neighbors. Me? I don’t care for those games, so your replay incentives may vary.

The use of the “yarn” aesthetic, unlike Shake It!’s lush Production I.G. visuals, exists for a reason. Kirby can no longer “suck up” enemies, and uses a yarn whip instead. The whip basically lets you “pull apart” enemies, strings, and other devices in a level, opening up hidden passages. Most of the game’s simplistic puzzles involve some clever, if not especially challenging, use of the string. It’s a contemplative game more than a demanding one.

In fact, I would go as far to say this isn’t even a platformer – it’s a puzzle game with platforming elements. It’s also a puzzle game for five year olds. Also, the story consists of small vignettes told by a narrator who definitely KNOWS he’s talking to five year olds. That limits the audience appeal somewhat.

No, seriously?

No, seriously?

Still, if you like the ADORABLE CUTENESS, or maybe you’re just not in the mood to beat yourself to death in a masochistic fit of brutal serial killings and murder (see: Hotline Miami), this game’s a welcome remedy from that kind of style. Which happens to be every game sold to mainstream audiences in the past few years. I’d say at the price point I got it (ten dollars), it’s hard to pass up a Kirby game. Yet again, I find my expectations usurped and then reawakened. I went in looking for one thing, but I found another that I enjoyed equally as much.

Of course, God has the ability to exceed abundantly anything that we could possibly imagine. Don’t bother keeping your expectations in check. Rather, know that you have a God who, according to Ephesians 3,

…is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

That’s a pretty comforting thought. Even when we don’t know the end result of a circumstance, or the solution to a problem we currently face, it’s no reason to fear and no reason to doubt. What looks like an impossible task may become the easiest thing in the world. What looks horrible and doesn’t fit to YOUR standard may in fact be the perfect thing for you at some point in time. I guess I say a lot about perspective, don’t I? But the same principle applies here – your expectations are not necessarily God’s expectations. He has greater things in store for everyone if they’d just listen. And here’s my bad pun for the day: God has an Epic Yarn for all of us – something to subvert our understanding of how things SHOULD work.

I call that awesome.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.