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Kirby’s Epic Yarn

Something’s gone wrong in the realm of Dream Land. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but it looks…off. It’s not the color or shape; the atmosphere is still bright and cheerful, and the enemies are still the same. It’s as if everything has been stolen and replaced with things that only resemble the originals. Mere imitations trying to pass off as the real thing. They’re watching you, waiting to see if you’ll be fooled. Their little scheme would have worked, if it weren’t for one thing: they’re made of yarn. Not just their clothes, but everything. Their limbs, flesh, and eyes, all of it crafted in some kind of finely-woven tapestry that mocks your understanding of biology. While Dream Land is slowly being consumed, its savior is nowhere to be found. Kirby has been thrown into Patch Land, an alternate dimension that has already been ravaged by the same fabricated evil. Can he stitch up that world and get back to his home before it unravels at the seams?

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Those last few puns may be bad, but the story isn’t much better. Rather than taking a serious, in-depth approach to Kirby’s latest adventure, the game’s narration is presented like a light-hearted children’s book. Combined with a decent amount of humor and offbeat writing, it works surprisingly well. After getting sucked into a vortex inside of a magical sock, Kirby’s first reaction is that the world ‘feels like pants.’ The villain’s goal is to conquer Dream Land, but even he admits to not knowing what to do afterward. There’s also a healthy assortment of references to the older games; longtime fans will be treated to cameos, stages, boss fights, and music that haven’t been seen or heard in years. There’s not a lot to the plot, but it unapologetic cuteness is strangely endearing.

That goes for Kirby’s new powers as well. In the previous games, his primary mode of attack was to suck nearby enemies into his mouth, consume them, and steal their powers. It was an interesting premise, and it offered plenty in terms of versatility and experimentation. But since Kirby has lost his body – he’s only got a string of pink yarn for an outline – he can’t swallow anything anymore. Instead, he can grab a baddie and unravel them, and then use the leftover balls of fabric as makeshift projectiles. He can also change into a car (complete with a soft horn honk) to pick up enough speed to make longer jumps. Hardened Kirby veterans will appreciate how he can still float around in midair as a parachute and perform a weighted ground-pounding attack. Not only does the game make you use all of these abilities in tandem, it gives you the freedom to master them as well. Aside from a brief tutorial, you’ll often have to figure out how to use the moves to their fullest extent on your own. Bouncing on a trampoline-like surface might get you somewhere, but using the added velocity of your ground-pounding maneuver makes a difference. Since the game gradually focuses more on mastering these powers, you’ll have to learn quickly.

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It’s not that the game is hard. Far from it; unless you’ve got some obscenely poor timing, you shouldn’t have much trouble beating the regular stages. Their ease is balanced out by some incredibly creative designs. For example, there might be a seemingly impassable wall or gap in front of you. All you’ve got to do is find the piece of string holding the level together and give it a tug. The entire section will get yanked aside, letting you access otherwise unreachable ledges. Or you could find a zipper and pull it away, revealing hidden rooms and bonuses. You can even duck beneath the background, crawling through the linen and uncovering alternate routes. There are whole stages devoted to a parachuted Kirby getting blown around by a strong wind, narrowly dodging an endless barrage of fiery meteors, drifting through zero gravity, or using his body as pendulum to navigate a maze of moving grappling points. The stages become increasingly complex, culminating in some awesome boss fights. If you think yarn can’t be badass, you’ll be in for a nasty surprise when you have to face dragons, phoenixes, giant squids, and a few other fearsome beasts.

As epic as these confrontation are, they’re almost overshadowed by the special power-up sequences. Once you get to a certain point, Kirby will come across a magical vortex that temporarily changes his shape. He’ll morph into a giant (but still adorable) tank, letting you spew out missiles against an army of invading foes. Or he’ll change into a UFO, sucking up stray baddies and blocks to fuel his laser beams. The racing sections in which he turns into a dune buggy – complete with insane platforming and strategically-placed speed boosts – are some of the best moments in the game. There’s even a couple of stages ripped straight out of Gradius. Others aren’t quite as good, though; the locomotive-themed power-up forces you to lay out train tracks on the screen by pointing with the Wii Remote. Its detection is often unreliable, forcing you to frantically draw all over the screen in hope of getting Kirby back in the right direction. While these areas are tedious, they’re only featured in a couple of stages. They may not be always perfect, but these sequences offer an excellent change of pace and give the stages more variety.

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They won’t be what keeps you playing, though. While the game mainly focuses on platforming and clever designs, you’ll be more concerned with collecting everything. Every level is littered with gems, and picking them up means a bigger high score. If you nab enough of them, you’ll be rewarded one of three medals, which can go towards unlocking additional stages. Since you lose gems by touching enemies or falling into bottomless pits, you’ll have to play carefully. There are also many well-hidden pickups, which could lead to end-level bonus points, unlockable music, and other items. Both gems and pickups go towards the game’s secondary feature: the mini-games. Not only can you use items to decorate Kirby’s apartment, but you can use your extra gems to buy new wallpapers, floors, and textures for it. You’ll also be able to unlock an assortment of challenges that range from playing Hide and Seek in a level, collecting gems under a time limit, or killing a certain amount of enemies. These challenges keep the game from getting stale long after you’ve mastered the regular levels. Since the game keeps track of every last shred of fabric you acquire, completionists are going to have their hands full.

But if you’re not so dedicated, things won’t last nearly as long. Even if you’re not trying to breeze through everything, the main adventure clocks in at around seven hours. While the game’s length might not justify its price, its artistic style more than makes up for it. You’ll wander through sun-blasted wastelands, explore murky underwater caves, go skating through a snowy wonderland, and climb through an enormous dessert buffet. Despite the bright colors and cutesy themes, the stages are surprisingly detailed and animated. Just watch Kirby walk; you can see the fabricated ground slightly bend under his weight. When he unzips a portion of a stage, the resulting effect looks strangely realistic in its depth and motions. Many of the backgrounds look like patchwork quilts and blankets; you’ll often want to pause the game just to enjoy the scenery. That goes for the music as well; the light piano-based tunes are the perfect complement to the graphical presentation. Not to mention the remixed music from the older Kirby games; old school fans will be glad to hear the familiar, frantic themes of a couple of returning characters. It may not be the biggest soundtrack on the Wii, but it’s definitely one of the best.

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That goes for Kirby’s Epic Yarn as a whole. It might not seem like much; it’s a 2D platformer that only takes about seven hours to beat. Its seldom-used motion-based sections seem tacked on. But it’s got everything else where it counts, and it runs with them. The stages are superbly designed; the need to master all of Kirby’s moves and the wide assortment of power-ups offer tons of variety. The game might not be difficult, but the sheer amount of effort required to get perfect ratings on the individual levels and unlock all the extra content is staggering. Given all of the mini-games and superb soundtrack, however, you’ll have all the incentive you need to go for a full completion. Even if you’re not, you can still take the time to enjoy the superb artistic work that goes into the levels. These factors are what make the game so memorable. If anything, Kirby’s Epic Yarn definitely lives up to its name.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2005.

Gentle persuasion

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