Here's the premise: Kirby is sucked into a magical sock by the evil Yin-Yarn, depositing him in Patch Land. He teams up with his new friend Prince Fluff, in order to collect the magical yarn needed to mend the splintered Patch Land, and then to prevent Yin-Yarn from invading Dream Land with his army of yarn Waddle Dees. (Did I mention it's aimed at kids
?) Kirby can't use his "Copy" ability because, as an insubstantial loop of yarn, he has no belly into which to suck up enemies. Instead, he and Prince Fluff have loose strings of yarn that they can use to grab and unravel enemies, rolling them up into balls of yarn that can then be used as projectiles.
Kirby's newfound textile nature allows him to change shape easily, which manifests in normal gameplay as the ability to turn into an anvil to drop down, become a car to dash, or take a parachute shape to slow his fall. Essentially, it's normal Kirby abilities recontextualized. He also has more dramatic transformations, becoming a giant robot, a fire truck, a UFO and other things in special sequences. These are totally exciting interludes, especially in co-op (Kirby and Prince Fluff operate the robot together!) with one exception: the train, which I'm going to do my best to forget about. There were no awful, broken
train sequences in this game -- that's the memory I hope to make.
Patch Land, like Kirby, is made entirely of fabric. The grass "feels like pants," Kirby notes when he first arrives. Every surface has a visible fabric texture, from denim to velour. Good-Feel lavished attention on this conceit, making sure everything on screen was convincingly fabricky. The ground squishes down when Kirby walks on it. When you go into a building, Kirby bulges through the wall like he's in a big pocket, and you can tell where the platforms are from the seams. Enemies have buttons for eyes. Quicksand is represented by a panel of fabric that is continually being unraveled.
This design choice leads not just to aesthetic cleverness, but lends itself to interesting gameplay as well. Kirby can pull on a loose thread to cinch up part of a level, bringing a platform closer. Volcanoes are represented as pouches, whose drawstrings can be closed to ensure safe passage. Zippers in some stages will even cause new areas to appear. The game is full of cute little interactive details that make the felt-and-yarn levels enjoyable to explore. Exploration is important: in addition to simply clearing the level, you can find three hidden items in each level, along with as many "beads" (the game's currency/score item) as you can find. These affect your rank in each level, open access to bonus stages in boss levels and allow you to buy furniture and wallpapers for an adorable apartment-building minigame -- which unlocks access to even more
minigames like hide-and-seek and racing.
We don't have to be challenged every single time we play a video game. Occasionally, it's enough to be happy.
Bead collecting is the only source of tension or challenge, as you'll drop a bunch of beads like Sonic and his rings if you fall or are hit. Of course, you can pick them right back up if you didn't drop them down a bottomless pit, and you aren't penalized in any way for taking a hit without any beads. You actually cannot
die. If you fall into a pit, you'll be picked up and placed on the last platform (the same mechanism used when one player gets too far away from the other). You have to figure out the bosses' patterns -- like the squid boss whose knit cap you have to unravel, an example I'm using entirely because it was so cute -- in order to hang onto your beads and unlock the bonus stages, not because you fear you won't be able to succeed.
Honestly, the lack of difficulty didn't bother me. I spent around 10 lovely hours exploring the intricately detailed, painfully cute Patch Land in co-op, and came away feeling, well, lovely. Kirby's Epic Yarn
makes a convincing case for the idea that we don't have to be challenged every single time we play a video game. Occasionally, it's enough to be happy
This review is based on the retail version of Kirby's Epic Yarn provided by Nintendo.