Review: Kirby’s Epic Yarn (**** stars)

Kirby's Epic Yarn


TL;DR – Kirby’s Epic Yarn follows in the tradition of Nintendo platformers, with its interesting physics, inventive (and sometimes gimmicky) level designs, and quirky aesthetics. Although it falls into a more puzzle-like model, attributed primarily to developer Good-Feel’s pedigree in Wario Land: Shake It!, the game plays fundamentally like a Kirby game. By no means does it challenge the player significantly, nor does the “no death” rule do any favors for the game when playing for score, but the experience as a whole exemplifies the best elements of the genre.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

Phillipians 4:4

Kirby’s Epic Yarn strikes me as a weird game. Surely, anyone expecting a Kirby game wants a fast-paced action adventure, stuffed with abilities from enemies and sucking them up.  Epic Yarn does not provide this experience at all. Instead, Good-Feel presents a relatively slow-paced and contemplative style that’s equally platformer and puzzle with elements of Animal Crossing thrown in for good measure.

You control the game using the standard “turn Wiimote sideways” setup. Kirby has the standard jump, although it’s much slower and the arc’s much higher and wider. He can also move forward fast, turning into a car by double tapping forward or backward; for running jumps, this is a necessity. Since Kirby’s made of yarn, he uses what I call the “yarn whip”. Using it, he can pull apart enemies, interact with loose strings in the environment, swing along bottomless pits, and perform a hosts of other interesting feats. Good-Feel really takes advantage of their unique premise, presenting some rather innovative takes on the standard Kirby tropes. You can’t drop down platforms, unlike most Kirby games, nor can you fly; the yarn whip become invaluable because of this. Objects out of reach, then, may require you to think outside the box to reach them with a certain combination of elements in the stage. You never quite know how they’ll interact, lending a sense of excitement to these section.

If you play the game JUST to make it through the levels, though, you’re doing it wrong. From what other reviews say, the game’s not difficult. This is certainly true if you play simply to blaze through the levels and enjoy the sights. To truly play, you need a keen sense of exploration and a puzzler’s mind.  Many levels remain totally hidden unless you play the game in a particular way – that is, for bead score. Beads are the game’s main currency and also its “score” system – they’re strewn liberally throughout the game, much like coins in any Mario/Wario game. In most cases, there’s more than enough beads to get you a top ranking, so the game’s rather forgiving in this case.

Still, playing seriously in that sense brings its own pitfalls. You don’t gain any new abilities, but your skill in the basic toolset determines whether or not you’ll unlock things or find them.  Some levels won’t open until you achieve a particular score , and that isn’t always an easy task. Kirby can’t “die” in the traditional sense – instead, he loses a vast sum of his collected beads (which fall out of him) and he gets sent back a few screens. This makes getting a good score harder than you’d imagine, though; that one hit may make you lose a whole rank, a big detriment when you’re near completion of a level. Some levels go for twenty-thirty minutes at a time if you’re taking your time and pacing yourself; it’s more an endurance test for whether or not you get hit. That brings its own levels of stress when you FINALLY do find yourself losing all those precious beads. You pray for the sweet release of death, only to find the game gives you a slap on the wrist and sends you on your way.

This part frustrates me; it’s obvious the designers did not make the game for me. Then why have this scoring system, which punishes your single mistake heavily, with a relaxed standard of player failure? The two ends sit at odds with one another for no real reason – it’s obvious that the game’s meant as an accessible platformer for young children, but the bead collection component simply destroys that notion for anyone playing seriously. I found myself restarting stages more than once at times just to get a higher score. That shows some dedication on my part, and reveals this weird design misstep at the same time. They make it VERY easy if you don’t search for anything, and this “death” system just doesn’t work for any serious play.

Thus, Epic Yarn gives the player plenty of other activities in lieu of hardcore scoring systems. In a “collect-a’-thon” way, the game hides treasures throughout the levels that aren’t easy to find – three exist in each level, similar to Wario Land: Shake It!. Those treasures find use in an Animal Crossing-style sidegame where you can decorate your own room with the accumulated “stuff”. Neighbors may not move into the same complex unless certain items are placed in the apartment, and you can buy new items with the accumulated beads you gather. These neighbors also play minigames with you, leading to additional rewards. I don’t find Animal Crossing particularly engaging, so this particular feature did nothing for me and was generally ignored. Your experience may differ, though!

Furthermore, as per the seeming Nintendo mandate of “gimmick in every level”, many stages present transformations for Kirby. I liken these to similar mechanics in Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, although none of these versions find constraint by an arbitrary time limit. Kirby’s made out of yarn, after all, which means he can turn into many different objects, from a UFO to a dolphin to a snowboarding penguin. Each has its own little control quirks and abilities that remain bundles of fun to control and maneuver. Any time these elements are reused (which is rare), they come in different circumstances that highlight how the developer employs whole new controls schemes for such a little part of the game. It’s quite appreciated! There’s even a reference to Kirby Super Star’s final stage and the whole of the first game (The Gameboy one) in the series in what could only be called the best in-game tribute ever, though I really hate to spoil it.

All this variety and all these puzzles and all these, surprisingly, challenging levels (especially the last world – ugh) combine for a rather good time. However, its similarity to Wario Land: Shake It! means some element must stand out here. It’s nearly identical to that game in too many respects; sure, it adds a feature here and there (the aforementioned apartment things, furniture decorating, co-op, etc), but the similarities could bring the game down. What, then, makes it better? Well, it’s still fundamentally a Kirby game, though it tries lots of new and experimental ideas. For every time it fails, it succeeds two or three time.

In this case, the visual style and the tone of the game set it apart. I could like it to a young children’s show – a pleasant sounding narrator tells the whole tale as if in a storybook (hence the “epic” nature of the yarn/story). Kirby’s sucked into Patch Land, and Prince Fluff helps him return to Dream Land by patching Patch Land back together through magic yarns. Seriously! Still, everything’s just so cute and adorable that, even as I curse at the game for making me take a hit, or making me endure its horrible scoring system, or restarting levels, I’m still having too much fun. The scene where they eat cake made me laugh, at the very least! The stages all have different looks and perfectly fit the theme of a patchwork quilt; that the aesthetic also enhances the game experience means there’s a holistic integration of all these elements into a single game.

I felt a constant sense of joy just playing the game; generally, I was so relaxed that I fell into a trance of sorts, just quietly enjoying myself entirely too much given the game’s flaws. Sometimes the little flaws would break the experience or frustrate me, but I would slip back into the trance almost immediately after my stupid temper tantrums. If anything, the scoring placed a weird anxiety on me that shouldn’t be in the game, a design flaw of the highest order. Yet, looking past that, we can see something akin to what Paul says in Phillipians 4:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds inChrist Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

That there’s a game that can reflect that same feeling (at least in my view) makes it all the more enjoyable.

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.