Ten years. That’s how long it took Kirby to get another console entry after Kirby 64. Hal’s pink hero featured in a number of handheld games during that decade-long interim, but the only title starring Kirby on a home console during all that time was the racing game Kirby’s Air Ride on the Game Cube. Sure, Kirby began life on the Game Boy, but it seemed strange for him to suddenly be entirely confined to handhelds after appearing in a quartet of memorable games on the NES, SNES and N64. But in 2010, Kirby finally returned to a home console, when Kirby’s Epic Yarn arrived on the Nintendo Wii. Epic Yarn wasn’t your normal Kirby adventure, however, and did away with most of the series’ usual elements. Despite the changes, Kirby’s Epic Yarn quickly garnered critical praise. Though in typical Kirby fashion, Epic Yarn seemed to just ad quickly fall under the radar. This is a crying shame, because Kirby’s Epic Yarn remains one of the best entries in the series, and one of the Wii’s unsung gems.
Developed by the aptly-named Good-Feel (who previously made the gorgeously animated Wario Land: Shake It), Kirby’s Epic Yarn is quite likely the most charming video game ever made, and a rare instance in which striking visuals actually enhance the gameplay.
Naturally, the story begins in Dream Land, where a sorcerer named Yin-Yarn – hailing from the parallel world of Patch Land – has invaded, turning everything and everyone into yarn as to take control of Dream Land (for reasons he himself is not sure of). Yin-Yarn stumbles across Kirby, and transforms our hero into a yarn version of himself, unable to inhale objects and enemies. The sorcerer then banishes Kirby to Patch Land – which Yin-Yarn has unstitched – in order to move on to Dedede’s castle. In Patch Land, Kirby meets Prince Fluff, who teaches Kirby his new yarn body allows him to transform into a variety of shapes and sizes. Kirby and Prince Fluff then team up to find the Magic Yarn needed to stitch Patch Land back together, find a way back to Dream Land, and stop Yin-Yarn from wreaking havoc. It’s an appropriately simple (and even silly) plot that adds to the game’s charms, as does it’s narration, which evokes a grandfather reading a storybook.
Cute though the story may be, the fabric theme also adds to both the visuals and, most importantly, the gameplay.
In the world of Patch Land, everything is made out of fabric. Whether it’s the fuzzy environments, string-like enemies, or zipper-laden castles, Kirby’s Epic Yarn is one of those rare titles where you can imagine everyone involved with its production had a blast thinking about how everything in the game world comes together. It’s an absolute joy to look at, and dare I say Kirby has never been cuter.
What ascends Kirby’s Epic Yarn’s visual aesthetics into the realms of all-time great video game art directions, however, is how it integrates into the gameplay. Kirby can often zip, stitch, and patch up the environment around him. And his new yarn form allows him to change shape to glide as a parachute, ground pound as a weight, and take the form of a car to move faster. Many of the game’s puzzles are built around the aesthetics, making Kirby’s Epic Yarn the first game to turn the concept of knitting into an engaging gameplay mechanic.
On top of all this, certain sections will see Kirby full-on transform for a limited time. Throughout the adventure, Kirby and Prince Fluff can take the forms of a robot-tank, a UFO, a train, a surfing penguin, a dolphin, a mole, a fire truck, and a race car. With the variety of ways the developers used the fabric motif, Kirby’s Epic Yarn would already be a game full of variety. But with the transformations added into the mix, the game stays fresh throughout its entirety (though some may find the motion controls of the train form a tad cumbersome).
Another twist to the Kirby formula – and video game conventions as a whole – is that Kirby can’t die in Epic Yarn. Being the overpowered character Kirby is, his games have always tended to be on the easy side, and you might say Epic Yarn increases the ease ten-fold now that Kirby is essentially invincible, which won’t sit well for everyone. That wouldn’t be an entirely accurate claim, however, as Kirby’s Epic Yarn does manage to give a challenge for completionists in the form of beads.
Beads are scattered throughout every stage, and depending on how many beads Kirby manages to hold onto by the end of a stage, players can earn bronze, silver and gold medals. Even a single hit from an enemy will result in Kirby’s collected beads being scattered about Sonic rings style, disappearing completely after a short time. Some players may find themselves restarting a level should they fall down a bottomless pit, and see bead after bead fall into the abyss as Kirby is brought back to safety.
Additionally, every stage also hides two secret objects and a music CD to find, making for an extra challenge for those seeking that elusive 100% completion. The objects in question can be used to decorate Kirby’s new apartment at the player’s leisure (bringing a little taste of Animal Crossing into the mix), and certain objects can be placed in other apartments in the same building to get new tenants to move in, with each new arrival providing their own series of time limit-based mini-games (like trying to find friends hiding within a stage, or defeating a set number of enemies). So in case the adventure itself somehow weren’t enough, the collectibles and mini-games give Kirby’s Epic Yarn some great replay value.
The game features seven worlds in total, each with four mandatory levels and a boss fight, along with two additional levels that can be unlocked if you collect enough bead during that world’s boss. Though it may not be the most difficult game out there, Kirby’s Epic Yarn still provides a hefty and undeniably fun adventure for one or two players, with Prince Fluff joining Kirby in the game’s co-op mode.
To wrap the experience up nicely, Kirby’s Epic Yarn features one of the most memorable soundtracks in the series. Fittingly, the music is softer and more relaxed than most Kirby soundtracks, with beautiful live band and piano pieces ranging from cute and sweet to surprisingly beautiful. This makes hunting down those aforementioned CDs well worth the effort.
Kirby’s Epic Yarn is a rare kind of game, one that happily defies the status quo of its time. The 2000s were riddled in video games aiming to be as ‘mature’ and violent as possible, starring parades of angry bald dudes seeking vengeance on one thing or another who, in retrospect, almost seem to be making fun of themselves with their edginess. Meanwhile, most games released during the 2010s have tried their damnedest to replicate the look and feel of cinema out of a misguided means to earn legitimacy. Kirby’s Epic Yarn defied the decade that came before it, and still stands out in the years that have followed by emphasizing sheer joy and creativity over all else. Kirby’s Epic Yarn takes most of the trappings of what normally constitute ‘good’ video games and disregards them, aiming instead to simply leave a smile beaming across your face. It’s all the better for it.