Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Review: Kirby's Epic Yarn (Wii)
Kirby's 2010 adventure transports Nintendo's pink cream puff to an enthreaded world of fabric, seams, and buttons. Instead of inhaling enemies and stealing their abilities, Kirby has a lasso that he can use to unravel his foes. The lasso is a multifunctional tool that is also used to traverse across the patchwork 2D levels, swinging from buttons, pulling open zippered compartments, and ripping off tabs to reveal hidden items. The world plays like an exquisitely designed playground. Individual levels offer a breezy play-space where the largest penalty is having to regather collectible beads strewn around you after getting hit or falling down a hole. There's something very Montessori about the whole experience.
Michel Gondry video. If the gameplay fell into the overly simplistic and repetitive realm of something like Dora the Explorer where characters pedantically beat mechanics and clues into you until you can recite them backwards and in Spanish, then there wouldn't be anything to vouch for in Epic Yarn on behalf of adults. Thankfully, this is definitely not the case. There is challenge in this game, though it is by no means "hard," and most of the trickier parts are optional. The ease with which Kirby's Epic Yarn opens the world to your availability is one of its greatest assets.
The amount of time I have available for playing games is nowhere near where it used to be, and somehow this "kids" game really understands and accommodates that. The game's levels are built on a hub system quite similar to Kirby's Adventure (a franchise favorite of mine), allowing you to pop in and run through in short bursts. The collectibles and medal awards make for impulse retries if you miss something the first time around. Achieving gold medals and completing side quest challenges are not necessary to progress in the game, but exist for the player seeking to maximize value out of it. This material is not padding though; individual challenges, issued by tenants of Kirby's apartment building, are clever puzzles that offer something for the player wary of a game without death states. Tasks like carrying ball-shaped creatures from one end of a level to another within a time limit push you to engage with individual mechanics from the main game in unique scenarios that showcase just how smoothly even the tiniest details have been executed. The cherry on top is the super friendly UI that lets you hop around the hub world with ease and bring in a 2nd player at the beginning of any level.
Despite my enthusiasm for this new character, I was surprised by how much Kirby fan service actually resonated with me. The game makes callbacks to its franchise history effortlessly, peppering recognizable enemies, music, and items throughout (moreso in the final stretch), in a way that co-opts them into Epic Yarn's world rather than relying on nostalgic winks and nods. Yes there's a cyclops lightning cloud at some point, but it's presented in a matter-of-fact way. There is a rich world here with some historical backstory probably, but not in a way that's important to enjoying the core gameplay or following the narrative. This nonchalance made me care about the realm of Dreamland even more since it allowed me to become invested in it through playing instead of being shown outright that I'm supposed to care.
Nintendo has increasingly used Kirby as an outlet to experiment with some out-there, ingenious game mechanics, and Kirby's Epic Yarn is yet another successful turn for the amoebic mascot. The only disservice of that statement is that it makes the game sound like a bit of an test subject: an interesting concept awaiting implementation in a "full title" somewhere down the line. Kirby's Epic Yarn is a fully realized vision; the trial and error has been worked out prior. I have no disclaimers, no excuses, and no reservations about recommending anyone with a Wii play this game. It's simply one of the most consistently satisfying games of recent memory.