Kirby's Epic Yarn
The debate over whether or not Nintendo has abandoned its hardcore fans in favor of the new casual market has been raging for years, and Kirby’s Epic Yarn is the latest first-party release sure to stoke the fire of that undying argument. This isn’t the textbook example of an overly cute, just-for-kids game that it might look like, though. Kirby’s latest adventure is a perfect reminder of what a Nintendo game is at its best: something anyone can appreciate that leaves plenty of room for skill and mastery.
Kirby fans will notice two big changes in Epic Yarn. Firstly, because of his change into yarn form, Kirby has lost the ability to suck up enemies. This has been replaced with a useful whip/lasso that he uses to unwind his opponents or grab onto patches. Secondly, though previous Kirby games tended to be extremely easy, Epic Yarn maintains a surprising difficulty balance. Although Kirby and co-op buddy Prince Fluff can’t actually die, making the game breezy for anyone who wants to rush through it, you’ll have to spend time mastering each level if you want to see all the game has to offer.
As Kirby progresses through a level, he collects beads by unraveling enemies and uncovering secrets. The beads are tallied at the end of each area, and you’re awarded medals (and sometimes open up bonus levels if you did well enough). Collecting beads isn’t all you need to worry about – keeping them in your possession is an even greater challenge. Like Sonic and his rings, whenever Kirby is hit by an enemy or falls into a pit, he drops a massive number of his precious collectibles.
The tight platforming becomes tricky enough that the tension of trying to hold onto a huge stash of beads feels dangerous, even if you cannot technically fail the level. Nintendo seems to have discovered a very elegant solution for bridging the gap between casual and hardcore here. Less intense gamers can drift through levels, taking hits and receiving smaller rewards, while others can find a challenge in learning the levels well enough to end with a full pocket of beads. Beating the game is a relatively painless task, but getting 100 percent will take dedication and skill.
You’ll want to go for that full completion and make sure you see everything, though. Epic Yarn is bursting at the seams with original ideas that make each new level a delightful discovery. One moment, I was pulling at a loose thread that crunched the background together and moved a far-away platform closer. Then I transformed into a tank to blow the crap out of woodland creatures with motion-controlled yarn missiles. Then it was on to UFO saucer mode, where I had to suck up enough enemies and items to power up my destructive electrical storm. Even the underwater levels ended up making me smile when Kirby and Prince Fluff were changed into dolphin form.
Kirby also features a two-player co-op mode. The risk/reward balance for adding a buddy reminds me of New Super Mario Bros. Wii and LittleBigPlanet. Hidden treasures and beads are easier to access with a friend to toss over to them, but throwing your partner into a pit remains a constant temptation, even if you’ll lose progress. The only downside to letting someone play as Prince Fluff is that you’ll likely accidentally grab your co-op partner on occasion when trying to lasso an enemy or a button in the environment.
Honestly, the only crowd that I can imagine not enjoying Kirby is jaded gamers who are too cool for something so whimsical. Maybe they didn’t grow up with the equally family-friendly Nintendo games of the ‘80s and ‘90s, or maybe they’ve just forgotten their roots amidst the constant flow of first-person shooters and gory action games. Whatever the case, they’re missing out on a colorful, unique game that reminds me of why I fell in love with gaming back on my NES: imagination, challenge, and fun.