Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Kirby's Epic Yarn

7.5 - [Great]

Gameplay: 7
Visuals: 9
Music: 8
Sound: 7
Value: 7

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Good-Feel
Multiplayer: Co-op
Console(s): Wii
Reviwed on: Wii
ESRB rating: E (Mild Cartoon Violence)
BMR rating: E (Mild Cartoon Violence)

Good points:

Fantastic and unique artistic style - Solid platforming - Smooth, well-implemented co-op - Creative levels with plenty of variety - Absolutely, positively impossible not to fall in love with

Not so good points:

A bit on the easy side - Extra content and collectables could be more interesting

The Kirby platformers have always been light, simple affairs with dreamlike worlds and cuddly characters. The pink puffball of a mascot hops along fluffy clouds, rides atop magic stars, and flutters through the air with his tiny arms. How could this series conceivably become even more adorable? If your answer was "Make everything out of yarn," then you're entirely correct. Kirby's Epic Yarn, as the title goes, takes you on a trip to Patch Land that is so lovable you won't be able to resist smiling the whole way through. Of course, Kirby begins his journey in familiar Dream Land where everything is going perfectly well. The peaceful day shatters, however, when Kirby swallows a seemingly innocent tomato that transports him to another world, courtesy of the diabolical magician Yin-Yarn. But that's more or less the extent of Kirby's trademark eating abilities, for the world of Patch Land is created solely from yarn and other patchwork material, including Kirby himself. It's terribly difficult to eat things when you have no stomach to speak of. Therefore he must resort to using a few new tricks to find his way back to Dream Land and topple Yin-Yarn's evil scheme. Luckily for the plucky hero, a fellow circle of yarn named Prince Fluff is willing to help take down the vile villain, which opens up space on the couch for another player. This doubles the fun to be had, and believe me, there's plenty of it to go around.

Epic Yarn's presentation is its greatest strength. The tale is unraveled in a storybook format by a narrator who does a great job at sounding like he really is reading a picture book to a small audience, complete with different voices for all the characters. The aww-inspiring cutscenes move the story along and provide a few chuckles along the way, making good use of the motif. Even more impressive is the consistent and utterly adorable art style that strings the plot together. Kirby and Fluff use their lasso-like bits of string to swing across buttons suspended in the air and splash into lakes that create the illusion of water with a single, rippling line of blue yarn. Backgrounds appear as images sewn together with all sorts of colorful fabrics, portraying locations like a wintry town tucked away in the quiet dusk, a lively beach with a bright cobalt sky, and a land of toys stocked with teddy bears and building blocks. Imaginative level design includes zippers that can be pulled to open new portions of the stage and holes in the wall that let the protagonists slip behind the backdrop and run to and fro, making spherical imprints beneath the fabric. Everything is bursting with life and emphasized by the silky smooth frame rate and amazing animations. Kirby and Fluff move about in an extremely endearing way, the former of who smiles happily through the entire adventure (unlike the oddly disgruntled Prince Fluff). All of this is complimented perfectly with a fantastic soundtrack featuring new and old songs alike. Some levels will employ a single piano, tapping out the melodies with an uncomplicated beauty, and others are highlighted with the gentle nostalgia of a music box. The remix of Green Greens from past Kirby games, on the other hand, utilizes not only a piano, but a recorder, a bell, a bass, and a harmonica to joyous effects. A whole range of other musical styles exist to liven up any level with a wonderful tune, many of them cheery and almost all of them excellent. Epic Yarn somehow manages to have umbrella-bearing Waddle Dees float through rainbows without talking down to the player; the game isn't sickeningly cute and its visuals can be enjoyed by anyone with an open mind and a toleration for yarn.

Admit it. You want to hug this screenshot.

But fear not, Epic Yarn does indeed have gameplay! It's a departure from Kirby's past expeditions, but that doesn't take away from the breezy, collection-based platforming fun found here. Still two dimensional and still relatively easy, this new installment robs Kirby of his flying and scarfing talents. Yes, chowing down on an enemy won't grant a special power, and a single hop (along with a floating option via a second button press) is all you'll get for air movement. But that doesn't mean Kirby won't be transforming: double tapping a direction will change him into a speedy automobile, which is useful for quick dashes and long jumps. The aforementioned floating move turns him into a parachute, which also comes in handy for tricky situations, and slamming to the ground by morphing into a weight rounds out his new move set. Special sequences will see the perky puffball changing into a variety of wild transformations, but let's not get ahead of ourselves here. Most of the time playing will be spent as regular old Kirby and his new friend Prince Fluff, which is where the co-op comes in. Although the game can be played with only one person, it's far more entertaining to leap around the always entertaining levels with a friend. The surprisingly versatile lassos can be used to do just about anything, from taking out enemies to activating switches to swinging across chasms. Foes can be unraveled and thus defeated outright or picked up to be throw at blocks or other enemies. Both Kirby and Fluff can also be used as projectiles, opening up a whole new world of teamwork and revenge. Aside from reaching the stage's end, collecting dozens upon dozens of beads will be your main concern. These shiny objects don't only determine your rank for a particular level, but can be used to purchase items from the local shop. Death isn't a problem-- in fact, it's apparently nonexistent in Patch Land. Instead, taking a blow from an aggressive minion or a sharp spike simply causes your chosen character to lose a mess of beads in a similar fashion to the recent Lego games. It's not particularly challenging, but this style of play fits like a glove for the carefree quest. That's not to say you can get lazy, though: if you don't watch your step you'll miss out on the best scores and gold medals, which in turn presents an enticing reason to revisit past levels.

Of course, glittering medals aren't the sole reason to replay Epic Yarn's well-designed stages. An expert amount of creativity and variety has been poured into each and every location, and it's a joy to explore the unreservedly charming landscapes. The core gameplay generally remains the same throughout each world, but you'll always be doing something different depending on the circumstance. Topsy-turvy gravity and musical instruments that react to every footfall are just a couple of the scenarios you'll run across, and the transformation scenes add even more spice to the experience. Kirby and Fluff will morph into UFOs, dolphins, tanks, and more, each providing its own control scheme and play style. It's great fun to discover how each of these forms tick, and they do wonders in giving the game a diverse mixture of things to do. Speaking of things to do, the hub world known as Quilty Square gives you some nice motivation to take a break from beating level after level. An apartment building comes stocked with empty rooms, one of which Kirby claims for his own. You can find objects within levels to place in the humble abode, and a nearby shop soon opens up for you to spend your beads on. Honestly, this whole setup is little more than a glorified sticker book, allowing you to put up wallpaper, lay out carpets, and stamp couches, fountains, coffee mugs, and a load of other items in the quaint room. Trying to collect all the collectables is a good extra bit of challenge, but there's nothing very enthralling about arranging the earned prizes. The other apartments will eventually become occupied if you can hunt down the necessary items to attract tenants, and doing so will open up mini-games from Kirby's new pals. These tasks occupy your time with hide-and-go-seek matches, races to collect enough beads in the time limit, and other such activities. While they make fine distractions, there isn't much meat to the side quests and they certainly don't hold the appeal of the main course. For even more collectathon goodness, soundtracks are hidden inside levels for the curious hunter to find, which can be listened to at your leisure. Taken as whole, the numerous activities in an already solid game add to the inherent value and make for a fuller product overall.

Kirby's hanging from that dinosaur by a thread! LITERALLY! BAAA HA HA HA HA!!!

Seven worlds, fifty levels, and a plethora of extras ensure that you'll have more than enough platformer goodness to tide you over until Nintendo's next home-run. Epic Yarn may be held back a little by its simplicity, both in difficulty and in features, but its shining quality and sheer dedication to fun more than makes up for the drawbacks. Good-Feel certainly created a game that lives up to their name, and in doing so brought a beloved character back to home consoles with resounding success. If you're looking for a platforming experience less demanding than something like Super Meat Boy and Limbo (especially if you have a second player along for the ride), Epic Yarn is wholeheartedly recommended. Playing it will put a smile on your face and make your spirits rise, all the while sweeping you through an amusing adventure of lighthearted delight. It's true that money can't buy happiness, but it most definitely can secure you a copy Kirby's Epic Yarn, which is close enough.

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